On the momentous date of 25 November 1984, an entire studio full of British pop stars came together in London. They came to be known as Band Aid and helped to turn a Bob Geldof and Midge Ure composition into a record that helped define the 1980s and sold 3.75 million copies in the UK alone.
‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ was recorded at Sarm West Studios on that Sunday, as the British music industry rallied in the most extraordinary fashion to Geldof’s outrage at the plight of famine victims in Ethiopia. His initial hope was that the all-star single might raise perhaps £70,000 for the cause; it actually realised an estimated £8 million in a year, as the entire nation got involved in special events to add money to the swelling coffers.
The featured solos on ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas,’ by such stars as Paul Young, Boy George, George Michael and Bono, soon became instantly recognisable highlights of the track. Other artists that appeared on the single included some surprising and sometimes incongruous contributors. These included members of Geldof’s Phonogram labelmates and soul-pop hitmakers Kool and the Gang; Jody Watley of another hit US soul crossover group, Shalamar, and Glenn Gregory of cutting-edge electronic band Heaven 17.
Several major British stars were unable to appear on the track because of prior commitments, including Paul McCartney and David Bowie; they added spoken messages to the b-side, as did Holly Johnson of the biggest new UK act of that year, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It’s not always remembered, either, that Phil Collins is playing drums on the recording, or that John Taylor of Duran Duran is on bass.
‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ entered the UK chart at No. 1 in mid-December and stayed there for five weeks, well into January 1985. The original returned to the bestsellers the following Christmas, reaching No. 3, by which time it, and the Live Aid extravaganza, had inspired the equivalent American contribution, USA For Africa’s ‘We Are The World.’ While the British song itself only made No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was certified gold in the US before the 1984 festive season arrived. After George Michael’s appearance on ‘Do They Know,’ Wham! donated all the royalties from their own festive smash ‘Last Christmas’/’Everything She Wants’ to the Band Aid trust.
Bob and Midge’s song has continued to reappear in new all-star recordings on significant anniversaries, in 1989 (billed as Band Aid II), 2004 (Band Aid 20) and 2014 (Band Aid 30). All three remakes topped the UK chart, and the original version also returned to the top 30 in Great Britain in 2007 and 2016. As streaming became ever more dominant in chart computation, ‘Do They Know’ made No. 7 in the UK’s Christmas charts of 2017 and No. 6 in 2018.
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