This is the 500th story recorded on all80s.co.uk, since we launched our new look. A fitting tribute with the biggest selling single of the whole decade. Thank you for your support.
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-famine efforts in Ethiopia by releasing the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the Christmas market that year.
On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released in the UK on Monday 3 December. The single surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release. Three subsequent re-recordings of the song to raise further money for charity also topped the charts, first the Band Aid II version in 1989 and the Band Aid 20 version in 2004 and finally the Band Aid 30 version in 2014.
The original was produced by Midge Ure. The 12″ version was mixed by Trevor Horn.
The supergroup was formed by Bob Geldof, who was then lead singer of the Irish band The Boomtown Rats. The BBC played a major role in capturing the poverty affecting Ethiopian citizens and thereby influenced Geldof to take action. Paula Yates, Bob Geldof’s partner, is considered to have been the brains behind the original Band Aid. It was she who became the driving force that inspired (and helped) Geldof to rally the most famous pop stars of the 1980s to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
The group was composed of forty artists to raise awareness and funds for the Ethiopian famine in 1983–1985 . The group’s name stemmed from the idea that the musicians were providing aid to the less fortunate and suggested that their project was likened to putting a band-aid on a wound.
Geldof was looking for support from all nations for Africa beginning in the United Kingdom. To do so, the artists recorded a hit single titled “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” depicting the poverty stricken African scenery of the time. Lyrics of the song included description of the country saying, “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow, do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Ethiopia follows the Orthodox calendar where Christmas is celebrated on the seventh of January, however, when the song was recorded (during the 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia), the country had a Communist government and as such religious festivals were not celebrated.
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, to maximise 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 25 November 1984. The recording took place at SARM Studios in Notting Hill between 11 am and 7 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 pm, after Geldof woke him up by phone to have him flown over from New York City on Concorde to record his solo part. (At the time, Culture Club were 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 3 December 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, modelled 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.
Additional spoken messages on B-side:
The hit single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was highly successful worldwide. It sold over two million copies around the globe and raised more than $24 million (USD). The super group’s success was seen as a large increase in Celebrity Diplomacy and inspired similar actions of support from countries such as Canada, France, Spain and the United States. The success influenced two organisations of live Benefit Concerts run by Celebrity Charity. The concerts were USA for Africa and Live Aid and were broadcast in over 160 countries across the globe. Band Aid and Live Aid combined raised about $150 million (USD) for the famine relief effort in Ethiopia.
Band Aid II
This version, released in 1989, was produced by a British songwriting and production team formed by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman known as Stock Aitken Waterman. The only artists from the original Band Aid to be featured again on this version were Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward of Bananarama. This version topped the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, but ultimately achieved far less historical significance and status than its predecessor.
On Friday 1 December 1989, Bob Geldof called Pete Waterman to ask if he would consider producing a new version of the song featuring the big stars from that time. Waterman immediately postponed his wedding (planned for the same day) and began calling up the artists. With just two days’ notice, on Sunday 3 December, recording took place at PWL Studios in South London. Present in the studio was Bob Geldof, wife Paula Yates and six-year-old daughter, Fifi Trixiebelle, who was eager to meet Jason Donovan.
Production continued through the Monday, and by Tuesday 5 December the song was broadcast for the first time on London’s Capital Radio. Advance sales of the record reached 500,000. The song was released the following week on 11 December and spent three weeks at number one, becoming the ninth biggest-selling song of the year.
Many of the people involved in the original Band Aid single appeared on the 1984 Christmas edition of Top of the Pops, along with Slade, The Thompson Twins, Bronski Beat, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Jim Diamond to mime to the record.
This was the only time the original Band Aid single was performed live on television. However Bono could not attend, and Paul Weller mimed Bono’s line.
According to the film made by The Tube on the days of the recording 24–25 November 1984, Bob Geldof says The Edge from U2 was to have played guitar on the track but was unable to as he was in hospital at the time with a kidney infection.
The Band Aid project inspired other charity records around the world, including We Are the World by USA for Africa (in the United States), Cantaré Cantarás by Project Hermanos (in Latin America), Nackt im Wind by Band für Afrika (in Germany), Ethiopie by Chanteurs Sans Frontiere'(in France), Tears Are Not Enough by Northern Lights (in Canada), Show some Concern by The Concerned in Ireland, Sammen for Livet by Forente Artister (in Norway), Maksamme Velkaa by Apua-Orkesteri (in Finland), Chega de Mágoa by Nordeste Já (in Brazil), Za milion godina by YU Rock Misija (in Yugoslavia), Stars by Hear ‘n Aid (international heavy metal artists), Afrika written by Nanna with various Danish artists, Volare by Musicaitalia per l’Etiopia in Italy and many others.
A compilation of computer games for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum was published under the name Soft Aid. Each platform had its own selection of games from ten different publishers; Elite Systems, Ocean Software, Quicksilva, and Virgin were represented on both. The cassette also featured a recording of the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single.