For this “Things That Bring Back Memories” post, I am going to pick something pertaining to the topic of “Music“. There are so many songs that I can remember from years ago, and since music is a huge part of our family, the memories come streaming back when you hear a certain song.
Do you ever have that tune that comes on the radio, and you can just automatically remember where you were, who you were with and what you were doing? It amazes me, how as I get older, I can’t remember things from last week – but have that certain song come on the radio on a “Flashback” day, and “BOOM”, I am back in the place I was when I heard it. Don’t know if it’s the side effects of my brain surgery, which they said might affect certain memory, but I’m so glad that I can remember some things of the “good old days.”
So to get on with this “Things That Brings Back Memories” blog post for this week, I’m going to pick “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid, which was released in 1984. If you don’t know about the song that I’m talking about, here it is:
More Info on the “Do They Know It’s Christmas” Song:
Geldof was so moved by the plight of starving children in Ethiopia, that he decided to try to raise money using his contacts in pop music. Geldof enlisted the help of Midge Ure, from the group Ultravox, to produce a charity record. Ure took Geldof’s lyrics, and created the melody and backing track for the record. Geldof called many of the most popular British and Irish performers of the time, persuading them to give their time free. His one criterion for selection was how famous they were, in order to maximize sales of the record. He then kept an appointment to appear on a show on BBC Radio 1, with Richard Skinner, but instead of promoting the new Boomtown Rats material as planned, he announced the plan for Band Aid. The recording studio gave Band Aid no more than 24 free hours to record and mix the record, on November 25, 1984. The recording took place at SARM Studios in Notting Hill between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm, and was filmed by director Nigel Dick to be released as the pop video though some basic tracks had been recorded the day before at Midge Ure’s home studio. The first tracks to be recorded were the group / choir choruses which were filmed by the international press. The footage was rushed to newsrooms where it aired while the remainder of the recording process continued. Later, drums by Phil Collins were recorded. The introduction of the song features a slowed down sample from a Tears for Fears’ track called “The Hurting”, released in 1983. Tony Hadley, of Spandau Ballet, was the first to record his vocal, while a section sung by Status Quo was deemed unusable, and replaced with section comprising Paul Weller, Sting, and Glenn Gregory, from Heaven 17. Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran sang between contributions from George Michael and Sting. Paul Young has since admitted, in a documentary, that he knew his opening lines were written for David Bowie, who was not able to make the recording but made a contribution to the B-side (Bowie performed his lines at the Live Aid concert the following year). Boy George arrived last at 6:00 pm, after Geldof woke him up by phone to have him flown over from New York on the Concorde to record his solo part. (At the time, Culture Club was in the middle of a US tour.)
The following morning, Geldof appeared on the Radio 1 breakfast show with Mike Read, to promote the record further and promise that every penny would go to the cause. This led to a stand-off with the British Government, who refused to waive the VAT on the sales of the single. Geldof made the headlines by publicly standing up to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and, sensing the strength of public feeling, the government backed down and donated the tax back to the charity.
The record was released on December 3, 1984, and went straight to No. 1 in the UK singles chart, outselling all the other records in the chart put together. It became the fastest- selling single of all time in the UK, selling a million copies in the first week alone. It stayed at No. 1 for five weeks, selling over three million copies and becoming easily the biggest-selling single of all time in the UK, thus beating the seven-year record held by Mull of Kintyre. It has since been surpassed by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” (his tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales) but it is likely to keep selling in different versions for many years to come. In 1986 the original music video from “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” received Band Aid a Grammy Award nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form.
After Live Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was re-released in late 1985 in a set that included a special-edition ‘picture disc’ version, modeled after the Live Aid logo with ‘Band’ in place of ‘Live’. An added bonus, “One Year On” (a statement from Geldof and Ure on the telephone) was available as a b-side. “One Year On” can also be found in transcript form in a booklet which was included in the DVD set of Live Aid, the first disc of which features the BBC news report, as well as the Band Aid video.
Live Aid inspired a number of charity events, such as Media Aid that raised money for Save the Children. The single was released in the United Kingdom on December 3, 1984 and aided by considerable publicity it entered the UK Singles Chart at number one and stayed there for five weeks, becoming the Christmas number one of 1984. The record became the fastest selling single in UK chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone and passing 3 million on the last day of 1984, on the way to becoming the biggest selling single of all time in the UK. It held this title until 1997 when it was overtaken by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997”, released in tribute to Princess Diana following her death. The original version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has sold 3.78 million copies in the UK to date.
The song was also a major success around the world, reaching number one in thirteen other countries outside the UK. In the US, the single fell short of the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 due to a lack of airplay, but it had sold an estimated 2.5 million copies in the US by January 1985. Worldwide the single had sold 11.7 million copies by 1989. Geldof’s cautious hope was that the single would raise about $100,000 for Ethiopia, but in the event “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raised $24 million within twelve months of release. The single’s worldwide success in raising awareness and financial relief for the victims of the Ethiopian famine led the recording of several other charity singles in the UK and in other countries, such as “We Are the World” by USA for Africa. The song also led to various spin-off charity events, such as Comic Relief, and the Live Aid concert which would take place seven months later in July 1985.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was re-recorded three times in 1989, 2004, and 2014. All the re-recordings were also charity records; the 1989 and 2004 versions also provide money for famine relief, while the 2014 version was used to raise funds for the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa. All three of these versions also reached number one in the UK, and the 2004 version of the song was also a UK million seller, with 1.17 million copies sold.
The song was inspired by a series of reports that Michael Buerk made for BBC television news programmes, which highlighted the famine in Ethiopia that was taking place at the time. The Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof and his wife, television presenter Paula Yates, watched the report broadcast on 23 October 1984 and were deeply affected by it. On 2 November Yates travelled from the couple’s home in London to the Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle upon Tyne where she was presenting the weekly live music show The Tube. Among the acts performing on that week’s programme were Ultravox, promoting their greatest hits album The Collection. Ultravox’s front man Midge Ure happened to be chatting to Yates in the dressing room after the show when Geldof called her. On discovering that she was with Ure, an old friend of Geldof’s, he asked to speak to Ure and told him that he wanted to do something to alleviate the suffering in Ethiopia. Ure immediately agreed to help and the pair arranged to meet and discuss ideas over lunch the following Monday, November 5, quickly coming to the conclusion that the best option would be to make a charity record.
Following their meeting, Geldof immediately set about recruiting other well known musicians to participate on the record. Geldof said, “I then rang Sting and he said, yeah, count me in, and then Simon Le Bon, he just immediately said tell me the date and we’ll clear the diary. The same day I was passing by this antique shop and who is standing in there but Gary Kemp, just about to go off on tour to Japan. He said he was mad for it as well and to wait 10 days till they [Spandau Ballet] got back in the country… suddenly it hit me. I thought, ‘…we have got the real top boys here’, all the big names in pop are suddenly ready and willing to do this… I knew then that we were off, and I just decided to go for all the rest of the faces and started to ring everyone up, asking them to do it.” Further phone calls from Geldof also secured promises of everybody involved in the record’s making to provide their services free of charge, including most of the UK music magazines which donated advertising space in their publications to promote the single, Geldof’s record label Phonogram who released the single, their parent company Polygram who distributed it, and the artist Peter Blake who created the single’s sleeve.
The artists included:
Robert “Kool” Bell, James “J.T.” Taylor, Dennis Thomas (Kool & the Gang)
Bono, Adam Clayton (U2)
Bob Geldof, Pete Briquette, Simon Crowe, Johnny Fingers (The Boomtown Rats)
Phil Collins (Genesis and solo artist)
Chris Cross (Ultravox)
Sarah Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward (Bananarama)
Boy George, Jon Moss (Culture Club)
Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17)
Steve Norman, Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet)
Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, John Taylor, Roger Taylor (Duran Duran)
George Michael (Wham!)
Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi (Status Quo)
Sting (The Police)
Midge Ure (Ultravox)
Martyn Ware (Heaven 17)
Paul Weller (The Style Council)
Additional spoken messages on B-side:
Stuart Adamson, Mark Brzezicki, Tony Butler, Bruce Watson (Big Country)
Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
Phil Collins – drums
John Taylor – bass
Midge Ure – keyboards and programming
Band Aid is a charity supergroup featuring mainly British and Irish musicians and recording artists. It was founded in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia by releasing the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the Christmas market that year. On November 25, 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released in the UK four days later. The single surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release. Two subsequent re-recordings of the song to raise further money for charity also topped the charts. The original was produced by Midge Ure. The 12″ version was mixed by Trevor Horn. In November 2014, a new version of the song was recorded by artists under the name of Band Aid 30 (below).
Some Other Interesting Facts:
- In England, and much of the Northern Hemisphere, snow and numerous displays leave no doubt that Christmas is near. In most of Africa, however, it’s quite warm on December 25th, since it’s summer there. This song asks us to think of those who are living in poverty and hunger in Africa during the Christmas season, reminding us that they might not even know it’s Christmas. While the sentiment and melody are full of good tidings, the lyrics are quite bleak: “The Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.”
- The artists were not all friends, but they set aside their differences and were at least cordial to each other during the recording – with one exception. In the book I Want My MTV, George Michael said: “The only person who didn’t succumb to the charitable nature of the day was Paul Weller, who decided to have a go at me in front of everybody. I said, ‘Don’t be a wanker all your life. Have a day off.'”
- This was the first of the big group charity efforts among musicians. A year later, US artists released “We Are The World,” and Geldof helped organize Live Aid. Other charity singles that followed include “Sun City” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”
- Who gave the most inspired vocal performance on this song? To Midge Ure’s ears, it was Bono. He told us: “When Bono took that line of the song – ‘Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you’ – I had originally sung it on the guide vocal an octave lower, and he just decided to let it rip, and it was phenomenal. Electric. It was just sensational.”
- Downloading didn’t exist in 1984, so obtaining the rights needed to sell downloads of this song proved very difficult, and for many years it wasn’t available on iTunes or Amazon except in knockoff versions.
- George Michael released “Last Christmas” around the same time. He gave all proceeds from the song to Geldof’s relief effort.
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