“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” song is premised on it being “Christmastime”. Indeed the singers (as well as addressees) are very much in the midst of enjoying yet another holiday season. And they are relaying this sentiment from the perspective of British citizens or more to the point individuals who are actually privileged enough to not have any material concerns.

But at the same time they also acknowledge those who are in a less-favorable position. And in that regard, who they cite are people in Africa, where “there won’t be snow”. Most listeners are already aware that it does not (normally) snow in Africa. So this statement is meant to be more symbolic than literal.  And what exactly they are speaking to, once again, are people in that part of the world being less-privileged. In other words, snow on Christmas (i.e. a ‘white Christmas’) represents the joy of the holiday season. So what Band Aid is basically saying is that such people are completely devoid of this joy. 

Lyrics Focus on Food Shortage in Ethiopia

And they are not talking about all Africans. For instance, we see the part of the Motherland they are referring to is a place where “nothing ever grows”, and there is “no rain or river flows”. And a locality like this logically would also be devoid of food. As such the affliction which the artists are actually focused on in is food shortage. And in that regard, they are singing in relation to the well-publicized famine which struck the East African country of Ethiopia in the mid 1980s.

Lyrics of "Do They Know Its Christmas?"

Conclusion

So conclusively, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is actually what has come to be referred to as a charity song. The purpose of the track is for this supergroup of artists to shed light on the plight of the aforementioned Ethiopians. Also the money generated from the sale of the song was earmarked to be given to charity to relieve their suffering. Or another way of looking at this song is as a call to action to help Ethiopians, thus the phrase “feed the world”. And Band Aid are using the Christmas season, a time where sympathy for others is often at its peak, to give this presentation. Also on a wider level, it can be said that the purpose of this song is to encourage charity towards the less-fortunate during Christmastime in general.

Release Date of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” came out as a one-shot single on 29 November 1984.

The release of this song was understandably a big event. As such, it even had its own launch party, on the date of 7 December 1984, at Royal Albert Hall in London.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” inspired “We Are the World”

The artists, Band Aid, are what is referred to as a musical supergroup. That means this song is recited by a large collection of popular artists who don’t usually work together.

In fact “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is said to have been the inspiration behind “We Are the World” (which Bob Geldof was also involved in).  “We Are the World” is another supergroup-charity single, though this time helmed by American musicians.

Birth of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

As aforementioned, the inspiration behind this particular song was the famine which struck the African country of Ethiopia in the mid 1980’s. This was brought to light to the British public (including the writers of this song) by the BBC.

Prominent Members of Band Aid

This collection of artists, being primarily from Great Britain and Ireland, were assembled by the writers of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, music industry vets Bob Geldof and Midge Ure.

There were a vast number of musicians involved in this song. Amongst those were Bono, Phil Collins, George Michael and Sting, as well as the following:

  • Bananarama
  • Boomtown Rats
  • Culture Club
  • Duran Duran
  • Kool & the Gang
  • Spandau Ballet

And being that this is indeed a charity song, they provided their services for free.

In fact some participants, like Boy George, were so dedicated that he actually caught a last-hour Concorde flight the very day of the recording (25 November 1984) from New York to the UK to lay down his vocals.

Likewise a number of music magazines in the United Kingdom supported the cause by advertising “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” free of charge.  

Additionally some artists who couldn’t actually be present at the recording rather lent their voices to the B-side of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which featured spoken messages. Amongst those who participated in this capacity were David Bowie and Paul McCartney.

There were reportedly three artists who turned down Geldof and Ure’s offer to participate in Band Aid. However, who they are exactly is a mystery, as their names have never been revealed.

Why Queen didn’t join Band Aid

Moreover it is stated that legendary British rock band Queen wasn’t invited to join Band Aid. This was allegedly due to the fact that they performed in South Africa the year prior. At that particular time, many prominent artists were apparently boycotting the nation due to its Apartheid system.

Writing of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

M. Ure and B. Geldof wrote this song under a very-tight time strain. The aforementioned BBC reports came out in October of 1984. And they wanted to get the song released by Christmas. Moreover it was their goal to write an original piece, as covering another song would have meant a significant portions of the revenues would have to be paid to royalties as opposed to charity.

They were able to successfully do so largely due to the fact that the lyrics are based on a song that Geldof had already written with the intent of it being recorded by his crew, the Boomtown Rats. And the name of that piece was “It’s My World”.

Production

Midge Ure also produced the song. He did so alongside legendary British producer Trevor Horn.

Or more specifically, Horn produced the remix of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which came out in 1985. He was supposed to produce the original as well but stated he required a minimum of six weeks to do so. This meant it wouldn’t have been out in time for Christmas.

Moreover it should be noted that as far as the original recording, Horn did allow Geldof, Midge and co. to use his facility, Sarm West Studios for free.

How Kool & the Gang became a part of Band Aid

Also it may seem odd that members of Kool & the Gang, a funk band from New Jersey, appeared on the UK-based “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. But the reason for this was that at the time they shared the same label as the Boomtown Rats.

Geldof’s Feud with Margaret Thatcher

Geldof got into beef with the British Government (including Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher herself) as they refused to waive the VAT attached to the cost of the record, being a charity single and all. Eventually though they did donate this selfsame tax revenue to the cause.

Even Jim Diamond (1951-2015), who at that time had the number-one song in the United Kingdom, requested that people rather purchase Band Aid. That was indeed a really kind gesture from him!

A Number 1 Song

The original version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was a a success. It made it to position number 1 in as many as 14 countries, including of course the UK during the highly-regarded Christmas season.

But as far as the Billboard Hot 100, the highest position the song reached was number 13. This has been attributed to the fact that it didn’t receive substantial airplay in America.

However, it still went on to sell two-and-a-half million copies in the United States. As of 2019, it has sold almost four million copies in the United Kingdom. In fact “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” held the record for the best-selling single ever in the UK for well over a decade.

How much money did “Do They Know It’s Christmas” generate?

According to history, the revenue generated for the track resulted in $14 million raised for famine relief.

Part of the reason it blew up in the United Kingdom, aside from its star-studded vocalists, is once again due to it being supported by media organizations in general. For instance, it is said that BBC Radio 1 played the tune hourly, on the hour. Meanwhile under normal circumstances, a hit song would only get played eight times a day max.

Also worth mentioning is that the Trevor Horn remix to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which was released on 29 November 1985, also managed to reach an impressive number three in Britain.

Band Aid II

The second version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, this time by a supergroup dubbed Band Aid II, was released on 11 December 1989. The only artists from the original Band Aid to participate were Keren Woodward alongside Sara Dallin of Bananarama.

Other artists who took part included Kylie Minogue, Technotronic and even Luke Goss, who is better known as an actor.

This rendition also reached number one on the UK Singles Chart, as it did in Ireland.

Band Aid 20

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of Band Aid, another rendition of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was recorded in 2004.  This time the supergroup was called Band Aid 20, and the effort was spearheaded by the lead singer of Coldplay, Chris Martin.

Geldof and Midge are also featured as artists, in addition to serving additional roles on the project.

Paul McCartney and Bono, who was also part of the first “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, were likewise involved. So were Bananarama’s Woodward and Dallin, making this the third time they recorded the song.

Other vocalists who took part included Dido, Estelle, Robbie Williams and even rapper Dizzee Rascal. In fact Dizzee was the only artist, via his rap, to actually add lyrics to the song.

Band Aid 20’s version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” performed exceptionally well, topping the music charts in the regions below:

  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

Band Aid 30

And as you probably guessed, the 30th anniversary of the original “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” resulted in yet another gathering of artist to perform the tune. This time the artists went under the moniker Band Aid 30.

This particular project, which was officially released on 17 November 2014, was once again helmed by the duo of Midge and Geldof.

Some other prominent artists Band Aid 30 featured include the following:

  • Ellie Goulding
  • Sinead O’Connor
  • Rita Ora
  • Seal
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Bastille
  • One Direction 

Chris Martin was also down for the cause as he was in the previous version, and Bono likewise contributed to make his third appearance on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

The lyrics of this version were slightly modified, since this time around the cause was combating Ebola in West Africa.

Band Aid 30’s version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, like all of its predecessors, topped the UK Singles Chart. And it did likewise in Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland and Spain.

Moreover this particular version also made an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 (like the first version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”). However, it reached a humble number 63.

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