Friday, December 23, 2011

Do they know it’s Christmas?

In late 1984, there probably was no bigger song than “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid (video above). In October 1984, Bob Geldoff saw a BBC report by Michael Buerk highlighting the famine in Ethiopia. He contacted Midge Ure of Ultravox, and the two quickly wrote the song to raise money to help.

The record was made by a who’s who of popular American, British and Irish acts of 1984, and this video captures them in all their youthful glory. Then as now, what struck me about the video is how serious they all look.

I bought the 12" version, which included a lot of extra material, some of which I made fun of (a topic for another day). But among that extra material was an earnest plea from David Bowie that became the answering machine message in December 1984 for me and my then boyfriend.

It’s hard now to listen to it and its often naff lyrics and still remember how seriously we all took the song back in the day. Okay, that’s not true: For me, it’s not hard at all. One listen to the song and I’m transported back to 1984 and feel the earnestness with which it was presented and, if I’m really honest, I may even tear up. Such is the power of emotional memory.

The song and the “Live Aid” concert the following year did raise money, but the problems in Africa didn’t end. It turned out that a song couldn’t fix things, no matter how earnest and sincere the intentions—and they were both sincere and earnest. But for a very brief time, one song helped people to feel a little less powerless and also a little more connected to their fellow humans in dire straits. Whatever Band Aid and their famous song did or didn’t do, that one thing ought to be remembered: For short time, at least, we really did wonder: “Do they know it’s Christmas?”

And, just to update things, here's the Glee cast version. I like it, too. The video "has been removed by the user".

Update: Writing on Salon, Tod Goldberg calls this "The most insufferable Christmas song ever." (Tip o' the Hat to Roger Green for the Salon article). The critique may be harsh, but it's not entirely unwarranted.


Roger Owen Green said...

A number of us over at Byzantium Shores have been vivisectioning the original of this song.

Roger Owen Green said...

And yet I DO own the single; have it somewhere...

Arthur Schenck said...

I believe I left the single in the US, though the song was part of at least two Christmas compilation CDs I bought over the years.