Band Aid, a name synonymous with the collective effort of British and Irish musicians in the mid-1980s, represented more than just a musical endeavor. It stood as an emblem of humanitarian outreach, responding to the desperate call for help from famine-stricken Ethiopia.
A Response to a Crisis: The Ethiopian Famine
The Ethiopian famine of 1983-1985 was nothing short of devastating. Media, notably the BBC, played a vital role in bringing the plight of starving Ethiopians to the forefront of global consciousness. Those heart-wrenching images acted as the catalyst for a significant musical initiative.
The BBC’s Influence
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was instrumental in broadcasting the severity of the crisis. Their poignant coverage stirred the conscience of many, including prominent figures in the music industry.
Band Aid’s Genesis: Geldof, Ure, and Yates
The formation of this supergroup can be credited primarily to three individuals:
- Bob Geldof: The lead singer of the Irish band, The Boomtown Rats.
- Midge Ure: Member of the group Ultravox, responsible for the melody, backing track, and production of the iconic single.
- Paula Yates: Partner of Bob Geldof and the force behind the inception of Band Aid. Her dedication and inspiration became the driving factor that propelled Geldof to rally top pop stars of the era.
The name “Band Aid” cleverly conveyed its mission: providing aid, much like a band-aid on a wound, aiming to heal and comfort.
The Anthem: Crafting ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’
The song, a reflection of the bleak Ethiopian landscape during the famine, painted a vivid picture with lines like “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow.” The lyrics also touch upon the difference in festive celebration, noting Ethiopia’s Orthodox calendar, which observes Christmas on January 7th. The geopolitical backdrop, with Ethiopia under a Communist regime, further complicated religious festivities.
A man on a mission, Geldof, determined to maximize the charity single’s impact, set his criteria for artist selection: sheer fame. His aim was simple – to ensure record-breaking sales and consequently, higher funds for aid. In a notable move, instead of promoting The Boomtown Rats’ new material on BBC Radio 1, he unveiled the Band Aid plan.
A Day at SARM West Studios
On 25 November 1984, a historical recording session took place at SARM Studios in Notting Hill. With only 24 hours granted by the studio for both recording and mixing, the pressure was palpable.
Inside the Session
Starting at 11 am and stretching until 7 pm, the day was tightly scheduled. Group choir choruses were among the first to be recorded, amidst the glare of international media. Noteworthy contributions include Phil Collins’ drumming and Tony Hadley’s vocals. Fascinatingly, the song’s introduction samples “The Hurting” by Tears for Fears, a 1983 release. While artists like Paul Weller, Sting, and Glenn Gregory collaborated seamlessly, others like Status Quo had their segments replaced.
One dramatic entry was Boy George. Hailing from the US, where his band Culture Club was touring, he arrived at the studio at 6 pm. It took a wake-up call from Geldof and a transatlantic flight on George’s dime to ensure his participation.
The original song was produced by Midge Ure, with the 12″ version receiving a mix from Trevor Horn. The process wasn’t just about the audio; director Nigel Dick filmed the recording, providing visuals that would accompany the charity single.
The Song’s Release and Monumental Impact
‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ hit the shelves on 3 December 1984, soaring straight to No. 1 in the UK singles chart. Its record-breaking pace made it the fastest-selling single in the UK at the time, with over a million copies sold in its initial week.
Despite its success, there were challenges. A significant contention arose regarding the VAT on sales of the single. Geldof, undeterred, challenged Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher publicly, leading to the government ultimately donating the tax to the charitable cause.
In terms of accolades, the original music video for the song was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986 for Best Music Video, Short Form.
The Aftermath: Live Aid and Beyond
The influence of Band Aid extended with the organization of the Live Aid concerts in 1985. Further, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ saw multiple re-releases in subsequent decades, raising funds for various causes.
While Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” later surpassed the sales of Band Aid’s single, the legacy of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ remains intact. This effort went beyond mere charity; it sparked a movement, inspiring other endeavors like Media Aid, further promoting humanitarian efforts.
The story of Band Aid is one of unity, compassion, and resilience. The single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, stands not just as a musical masterpiece but as a testament to the collective power of artists coming together for a noble cause. The reverberations of this initiative, led by Geldof, Ure, and Yates, are still felt today, reminding us of the transformative power of music.