FFWDing to the Best Part: “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” Band Aid (1984)

Fun fact: This single was released one day after my 10th birthday.

A year before Michael, Bruce, Lionel, Ray, Billy, Daryl, Cyndi, Huey, and Dan Aykroyd (?) gathered to sing 12 choruses of “We Are the World” to raise funds for starving children in Africa, famed British pop icons did it one better. They raised funds for starving children in Africa AT CHRISTMAS.

The Bono solo line (at 1:29 in the video below): “But tonight, thank God it’s them [the starving African folks] instead of you [people of earth listening to this jam] …” is among the most oft-mocked lines of modern secular Christmas music. First off, the passion with which he belts it is derived from the most powerful section of his loins. Secondly, the phrasing (courtesy of Bob Geldof) is a touch un-self-aware at best, douchey at worst –“Well, God wants ‘you’ to eat figgy pudding, while those poor bastards just hope to survive another few hours without contracting malaria.” Thirdly, it’s odd to see Bono without sunglasses.

Best part? There was a time in my life, ’round 1993, where Sting, Simon Le Bon, and Bono were among my favorite men in this world.  And there, at 1:21, all three of them are huddled around the mic together!  Delivering a message of peace and goodwill!  Odd that Sting doesn’t really get his own solo line (though the camera does focus on him during the line “bitter sting of tears” BRILLIANT). Also odd that Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet appears at 1:16 in the midst of all these once-and-future superstars.  And of course, along for the whole ride?  Phil F*ckin Collins.


Would such a gathering happen now?  In 2001, there was that MTV All-Star Tribute reboot of “What’s Going On,” featuring Bono (again),  Britney, JT , Eve, Aaron Lewis, Fred Durst, and other stars of that era.  The intended charity was AIDS Research,but given the untimely release (October 2001), some of the proceeds went toward the Red Cross’ 9/11  efforts as well.   All well and good, but did they actually all gather in a studio together?  The video sure doesn’t look like it.

Now in 2010, many artists gathered for a re-imagining of “We Are the World” to benefit Haiti and it does appear  like at least most of them gathered live to record the damn thing.  But did anyone care?  So maybe it’s not that artists have grown less philanthropic; we as a people have become more apathetic.  Also, this version is riddled with offensive angles.  T-Pain autotuned, Stephanie Pratt (?) in the house, Celine bastardizing the iconic Cyndi solo.

Ugh.  Time to re-watch some Band-Aid and remember a simpler time.


2 thoughts on “FFWDing to the Best Part: “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” Band Aid (1984)

  1. A few stray thoughts on the almost- 30th anniversary of this song:

    Where are the women? We see some in the choral finale, but the solo lines all go to men. Wasn’t Annie Lennox a big star in 1984? Sheena Easton? Bonnie Tyler? Kate Bush? Even Bananarama (who were part of the chorale) had six Top Ten UK singles to their name by early 1984. Why don’t they get a line?

    For that matter, where are the Beatles? Apart from the odd Yankee inclusions of Jody Watley (then in Shalamar) and Kool & The Gang, this is almost exclusively a Post-punk/New Wave/New Romantics gig. No Elton John; no David Bowie (invited, but unavailable); no Pink Floyd; no Cliff Richard; no Eric Clapton; no Rod Stewart; no Cat “Yusuf Islam” Stevens, who had quit the music biz in 1977. Phil Collins is the only guy here who had a major career in the 70s, and of course he would go on to dominate the 80s even more.

    Musically too, we’re solidly in New Wave, where “We Are the World” (produced by R&B master Quincy Jones and Christian Music guru Michael Omartian) went solidly for gospel. Apparently every one of the featured vocalists recorded the whole song, and then the producers divvied up the song between them in post-production. However, Bono would later recall that he got stuck with his infamously condescending line because all the other lines were taken. The clear spiritual precursor to this song is John Lennon’s sarcastically activist “Merry Xmas (War Is Over).”

  2. Forgot to add: This is also a time capsule not just of “when they were younger,” but of a time in Britpop when not everyone was trying to sing like Bono. (See: Coldplay; Keane; Radiohead; Travis; etc.)

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