Sunday, 9 December 2012

DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?


On December 10th, twenty eight years ago, the single 'Do They Know It's Christmas' by Band Aid was released. 
 
It all kicked off shortly after Bob Geldof watched Michael Buerk's terrible bulletin from famine-wracked Ethiopia on the BBC News. Horrified by television footage depicting suffering of biblical proportions, Bob felt at once shocked and helpless, his gut telling him that he had to get involved. He had no idea how. He could do what he did best: sit down and write a hit single, the proceeds of which he could pledge to Oxfam. But his Irish punk band the Boomtown Rats were by then in decline, having not enjoyed a Top Ten hit since 1980. Their zenith, a Number One with 'I Don't Like Mondays', had been and gone in 1979. Music fans, he knew, would flock to buy a charity single provided the artist was big enough – especially at the Christmas-Single time of year. It was a question of finding a sympathetic star to record one. How much better if he could persuade a whole galaxy to collaborate on one song.

Bob had a chat with Midge Ure, whose band Ultravox were appearing that week on The Tube - a Channel 4 rock and pop show on presented by Geldof's then girlfriend, the late Paula Yates. Midge agreed to set Geldof's lyrics to melody, and to orchestrate some arrangements.  He  then went to Sting, Duran Duran singer Simon le Bon, Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet. His galactic list stretched as time ticked to include, among the many, Boy George, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the Style Council's Paul Weller, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham! and Paul Young. Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo went in willingly. Phil Collins and Bananarama followed suit. David Bowie and Paul McCartney, who were otherwise committed, made contributions remotely. These were sent to Geldof to be dubbed onto the single later. Sir Peter Blake, world-famous for his iconic artwork on the Beatles' album cover 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', was recruited to design the sleeve. Band Aid was born, the name a pun on a common brand of sticking plaster. This was to be a 'band' which would 'aid' the world.

'Do they Know It's Christmas?' was recorded free of charge at Trevor Horn's SARM West Studios in Notting Hill, West London, on 25th November 1984.  It went straight to Number One on its release in the UK, outselling everything else on the chart put together to become Britain's fastest-selling single since the chart's inception in 1952. A million copies were shifted in the first week alone. The record held the Number One slot for five weeks, selling more than three and a half million copies. It went on to become the UK's biggest-selling single of all time - ending the nine-year reign of Queen's magnum opus, the 'ba-rock' Bohemian Rhapsody. 'Do they Know It's Christmas?' would only be out-sold in 1997 by Elton John's double A-side charity single 'Candle In the Wind/Something About the Way You Look Tonight', re-recorded as a tribute to the Princess of Wales. This notched up sales of more than thirty three million copies, still, incidentally, the world's biggest-selling single since charts began.  

Hot on the heels of the British chart effort came America's contribution, in the form of supergroup USA For Africa and their single 'We Are The World'. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, the session brought together some of the world's most legendary musicians. It was recorded at Hollywood's A & M Studios in January 1985, and boasted a line-up including Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson and Huey Lewis. In all, more than forty five of America's top artists took part. A further fifty had to be turned away. When the chosen ones arrived at the studio, they were confronted with a sign instructing them to 'please check your egos at the door'. They were also met by an impish Stevie Wonder, informing them that if the song wasn't up to scratch nor down in one take, he and fellow blind artist Ray Charles would be driving them home. The record sold more than 20 million copies, and became America's fastest-selling pop single ever.
 
Live Aid the following summer was another story.  The Band Aid single now playing on loop in a supermarket near you was its genesis.  Do they know it's Christmas?  Perhaps they didn't in 1984.  They do now. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I remember it well. I heard an anecdote once about how Bob Geldoff spotted Gary Kemp through the window of an antique shop, went in and told him you're doing it. I could be wrong though.

    ReplyDelete