Band Aid: Do they care it’s Christmas time?

Christmas songs are almost unavoidable at this time of year and some are more palatable than others. But what about the biggest selling Christmas song of all time? Ross Keen tells us why he finds Band Aid’s 1984 fundraiser Do They Know It’s Christmas Time is more festive flop than Christmas classic for him.

I love Christmas songs. Not only do they provide the only chance for one to legitimately listen to Gary Glitter in public, but they genuinely fill me with Christmas cheer. I was even caught listening to Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon in mid-August by a cheeky window cleaner.

However I do have a problem with the biggest selling Christmas record of all time – ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’.

Rip a Band Aid (plaster) off quickly and it doesn’t hurt. Rip a Band Aid (plaster) off over the course of 4 minute and 33 seconds and it is excruciatingly embarrassingly painful. I highly recommend that you watch the video for it now.

Set in 1984 – the year Orwell pinned down his vision of hell – Band Aid, organised chiefly by ‘Sir’ Bob Geldof, united the leading UK musicians of the age to raise awareness and money for the famine in Ethiopia. Lovely stuff.

Perhaps the most memorable line belongs to Bono. ‘Well tonight thank god it’s them instead of you…’

This is the only recorded time that Bono, the now ostentatiously rich U2 frontman famed for the occasional poor record and his infamous dog biscuit company, can be seen not wearing sunglasses. Perhaps he wanted you to see the fear and passion in his lifeless Irish eyes as he channeled memories of the great potato famine.

That lyric itself – and indeed the whole song – smacks of a ‘rather you than me’ attitude. ‘I’d rather you than me…’ is the most common lowest form of joke recognised in England, plainly used as throwaway wit by all and sundry everyday. It is a joke.

Also ‘you’ are more likely to buy The Best Of The Best Of U2 than ‘Them’ (although with their naivity to Western music perhaps ‘them’ would be the more likely to buy ‘Kinky Boots – the extended version’).

Well. That is just salt in the wounds. They’re starving and thirsty remember?

There are of course many redeeming features to the song (aside from the fact that it raised millions and millions) that cancel out all of this and George Michael’s over vocals.

Boy George has the best voice on the record and if you watch the video he also has a Jeremy Beadle hand. Status Quo are there (oddly) and provide humourous relief, with Francis Rossi caught checking out the talent on film. Lad. And Paul Weller arriving by public transport amongst all the pampered star limos, and his subsequent discomfort at the ludicrous occasion (he even had to mime Bono’s line on Top Of The Pops).

This is mainly written in jest. Live Aid was a groundbreaking charitable effort that asked if the famine-ridden Ethiopians –a third of whom are Muslim – knew if it was Christmas time, whilst the rest of the world feasted and laughed.

Perhaps a 2012 update is needed for Sudan. In fact I will write one now. ‘I Believe In Darfur Christmas…’

All words by Ross Keen. You can read more from Ross on LTW here.

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