Happy Holidays! Since it’s the first year of my blog, and since it’s the last year for my Annual Holiday Show on my little 20-year-old 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), I wanted to present to you THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS, or, 31 of my favorite 80s holiday musical treats.
The song for Day 30 of THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS is prolly the biggest holiday song of my generation, written and spearheaded by Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Ultravox, in response to the TV reports of famine in Ethiopia – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid.
Bob and Midge first got together about this project in early November 1984, and knew they had a limited time frame to work with, if they wanted to get the song ready for the holiday. They put the song together, and then started recruiting many of the biggest recording stars in the U.K. and Ireland at the time (save for Chicago’s Jody Watley and Jersey City’s Kool & The Gang, who happened to be on the same record label as The Boomtown Rats and who happened to be in there when Bob Geldof pitched the idea to the label).
They then asked famed producer Trevor Horn (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Art Of Noise) if he would produce, but he told Bob and Midge that he would need at least six weeks to do it, which wouldn’t get the record ready in time for Xmas. Though Trevor Horn wasn’t able to produce the original single, he did offer a studio for them to use free of charge for 24 hours on Sunday, November 25, 1984, and he later produced and remixed the 12” single for a 1985 re-release.
Nearly 40 recording artists, including members of Duran Duran, U2, Culture Club, The Boomtown Rats, Bananarama, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox and Status Quo, as well as folks like Sting, Paul Young, George Michael, Phil Collins (who played drums on the song) and Paul Weller of The Style Council, participated on the benefit record. Artists who weren’t able to be there but who sent in recorded messages were David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Big Country. These messages were included on the single’s B-side and as part of the 12” extended mix.
It took only a week after recording ended to release “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The single had 250,000 advance orders and that number swelled to a million less than a week after its release. Phonogram (who put out the single in the U.K.) had all five of its European factories working on pressing that one single to help meet demand.
On December 15, 1984, just 12 days after its release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” spent the first of its five weeks at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart. It was the fastest-selling single in U.K. chart history and sold three million copies in the U.K. alone by the end of 1984. Until Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind 1997” 13 years later, it was the biggest-selling single of all-time in the U.K.
Around the globe, the response to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was phenomenal. It also reached No. 1 in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
Over here in the U.S., the video for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was played often throughout the holiday season on MTV, and the single was released on December 10, 1984 on Columbia Records. A few days before Xmas, it debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 65. For the first chart in 1985, it shot up to No. 20. But, despite the fact it was outselling Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” (the No. 1 single then) by a four-to-one margin (selling nearly two million copies in its first eleven days of release), the lack of airplay prevented it from charting any higher than No. 13. It was gone from the Hot 100 after just nine weeks, departing in mid-February.
Bob Geldof had hoped “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” would raise £70,000 for Ethiopia, but instead, it raised £8 million within a year of its release. And the support of the Ethiopian famine relief didn’t stop there.
In early March 1985, (mostly) American recording artists teamed up as USA For Africa for the “We Are The World” single and album. Canadian artists banded together as Northern Lights for “Tears Are Not Enough.” The LIVE AID concert on July 13, 1985 brought musicians and fans together in London, Philadelphia and around the globe to raise money for famine relief.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was re-recorded three times – in 1989, 2004 and 2014 – all three re-recordings reached No. 1 in the U.K. and all were charity records for Africa (the 1989 and 2004 versions went to famine relief, while the 2014 version raised money for the Ebola crisis in West Africa).
For this Xmas (and always), of course, the best gift I’d love to get is peace, love and understanding, especially for my wealth of family and friends. I’d also love to see more support for those less fortunate than you or I. On the 12” single for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” David Bowie puts out a plea for support: “It’s Christmas 1984, and there are more starving folk on the planet than ever before. Please give a thought for them this season and do whatever you can, however small, to help them live. Have a peaceful New Year.”
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (especially the 12” extended mix) will always have a special place in my heart. And from that 12” single, David Bowie’s plea, 32 years later, still resonates to this day.
In Maine, there are so many folks in need – of food, heat, medicine, shelter, and affordable health care, for starters. I’m sure it’s like that all over the US of A, and all over the world. 2016 has been a particularly rough year for a lot of reasons, and I do hope and pray that 2017 will be a peaceful New Year. But first, Happy Xmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever you choose to celebrate, if anything – be safe, have fun and do what you can to help those who won’t have much of either this holiday season…