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'Do They Know It's Christmas?' Band Aid Asked In 1984

Music | December 25, 2020

Left: Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in Notting Hill, London, during the recording of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' on November 25, 1984. Right: Sleeve art for the single. Sources: Photo by Larry Ellis/Express Newspapers/Getty Images; Amazon.com

With its poppy melody, inaccurate lyrics, cheesy aura, and all-star lineup of musicians, "Do They Know It’s Christmas" was composed of all the elements of a perfect ‘80s Christmas song. Written by Irish singer Bob Geldof (of Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (of Ultravox), the song was one of the earliest charity singles that raised massive funds for the famine occurring in Ethiopia. It certainly didn’t hurt that the tune was recorded by the British supergroup Band Aid created specifically for the occasion. Although some critics have felt skeptical about the song’s lyrics, "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" definitely raised holiday spirit through good intentions.

Do They Know It’s Christmas Was An Inspired By A News Report 

Source: Pinterest

The idea for "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" came to singer Bob Geldof as he was watching a BBC news report that revealed the devastating famine happening in Ethiopia. Geldof had the idea that maybe some really popular music might raise money to offer some amount of relief for those suffering. He called up his then-girlfriend Paula Yates who was hosting her live music program The Tube featuring Midge Ure that day. Geldof told Ure his plans and asked if he could help produce the single while Geldof would work on booking the acts, and Ure agreed without any hesitation. Geldof built upon a melody he had recently written for The Boomtown Rats, but together with Ure wrote lyrics pertaining to the tragedies in Africa. 

 Geldof then set out to assemble a broad spectrum of huge musical artists, and succeeded thanks to an unorthodox approach. Instead of reaching out to managers, labels, and agents, Geldof contacted the artists directly -- who, of course, could not deny the chance of contributing to a great cause. It also helped that Geldof was promoting the idea on radio stations, which was stirring up great interest in the project. 

Some Of The Greatest 1980s Musicians Contributed To The Single

Source: Pinterest

Through his efforts, Geldof gathered an impressive, mostly-British list of musicians including Boy George, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Paul Young, Sting, members of Kool & The Gang, Bono, and Bananarama to record the song credited as Band Aid. Paul McCartney and David Bowie could not attend the live session, but they sent in their own recorded parts as they still wanted to be involved. The song was rushed because the holidays were approaching and the goal was to get this out in time for the Christmas season. Recording took place at SARM West Studios in London on November 25, 1984 and took an entire 24 hours. Studio owner Trevor Horn (himself a famed producer and formerly member of The Buggles and Yes) admired Geldof for his charity project and allowed the group to record for free. Guide vocals had already been finished by Sting and Simon Le Bon (of Duran Duran) so the rest of the artists simply followed along as they recorded their verses individually. The session was recorded on video also, and the footage was used for a music video.

Boy George Was Tardy In Another Country 

Source: Pinterest

Boy George was one of the biggest ‘80s acts who was featured on the song, and with Geldof locking him down the single was sure to be a success. But the Culture Club singer had been partying a little too hard the night before -- all the way in a different country. When everyone had gathered for the recording, Boy George was missing. Already stressed, Geldof had to waste more of his time making international calls until he finally reached him at a hotel in New York City. Geldof asked, “Where are you, you’re meant to be here.” Boy George responded sounding as if he was just waking up, “Oh, is it today?” Geldof was extremely upset and urged the singer to jump on a Concorde flight, and fortunately he made it to London in four hours to record his part.

Do They Know It’s Christmas Raised Millions For Ethiopia

Source: NME

"Do They Know It’s Christmas?" made its debut on November 29, 1984, only four days after the long recording session. Geldof handed a cassette to the BBC, and it was played every hour that day. Even singer Jim Diamond who was topping the charts in the UK at the time with his single "I Should Have Known Better" encouraged listeners to buy "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" instead. After the tune was officially released on December 3rd, 1984 it reached the top of the sales charts (dethroning the then-#1 "The Power Of Love" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and stayed there for five weeks. It sold 3.9 million copies in the UK and 12 million across the globe raising over $28 million for Ethiopia. This still wasn’t the last of Geldof’s philanthropic efforts as the decade also saw him organize the mega-benefit concert Live Aid and another charity single, "We Are The World."

The Song’s Lyrics Have Been Deemed 'Controversial'

Source: Pinterest

Although "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" had good intent, some have criticized the song for its “colonial western-Centric viewpoint” and feel it places demeaning stereotypes on Africa. Many were offended by the song’s assumption that the entire continent is full of poverty and all of its citizens were naïve about Christmas. In reality, there were many Christians in Africa who did celebrate the holidays. The song also mentions the lack of snow and rain, which has upset other critics who feel that a drought is emphasized for the cause of famine instead of government abuse. Geldof has responded that it’s simply a pop song meant to raise money, not an elaborate thesis paper.

The Lyrics To 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'

[Paul Young]

It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade

[Boy George]

And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

[George Michael]

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard
But when you're having fun

[Simon LeBon (Duran Duran)]

There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear

[Sting]

Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears

[Bono & Sting]

And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom

[Bono]

Well tonight thank God it's them
Instead of you

[Boy George & Others]

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life (Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

[Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]

Here's to you

[Paul Young]

Raise a glass for everyone

[Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]

Here's to them

[Paul Young, Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]

Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

[Chorus: All]

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Tags: Band Aid | Bob Geldof | Boy George | Christmas Songs | Do They Know Its Christmas | Midge Ure | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.