Band Aid is a British and Irish charity supergroup founded in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in order to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia by releasing a record "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for the Christmas market. The single became the Christmas number one on that release and on two subsequent releases. It was produced by Trevor Horn.
At a time of famine in Africa, you see, and Midge Ure and Bob Geldof didn't like the idea of people starving in Africa while people were getting fat in England. So they wrote a nice Christmas song and they called up their friends to help them record it, and the money they made went to African famine relief.
Thing was, they didn't invite the Americans to help, which is odd because the Americans are notoriously fatter than the English. Not to be outdone, a bunch of American singers got together and recorded their own African famine relief tune. They called themselves USA for Africa - the USA officially stood for United Support of Artists, but after being excluded by the Brits everyone knew exactly what the USA really stood for.
To make a short story slightly longer, the song - which was not even almost as good as Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" - was a really big hit and sold a lot of copies. The combined success of both tracks was so impressive that a big concert was held, simultaneously here in the States and in London. All the big names showed up, Bowie and Jagger made a cheap video, people phoned in contributions, advertisers coughed up for commercial spots, and a mountain of money was made.
The name "Band Aid" was chosen because it had a double meaning. At one level it means a band of musicians getting together to offer aid but, at another level, it is also an acknowledgement of the fact that such a gesture is like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound and does not address the full extent of the problem of world famine.
The charity set up to handle the money raised is called The Band Aid Trust. This project kick started Live Aid the following year which became a global phenomenon raising over ten times as much money as the original Band Aid single.
The group has been reformed on three occasions, each time from the most successful British and Irish pop music performers of the time to record the same song at the same time of year. Co-writer Midge Ure has commented that "Every generation should have its own version".
The original Band Aid single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (Geldof/Ure) (Mercury FEED 1) was released in the UK on December 15, 1984. It was recorded in one day on November 25. The song was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure and produced by Midge Ure and Trevor Horn and became one of the best selling singles of the year.
The single was released as a 7" (3'55") and a 12" version (6'18"). In 1985, following the success of the original 1984 Band Aid single, Geldof organised the charity concert Live Aid. The record was then re-issued and reached Number Three on December 7, 1985. In all it raised in excess of £8 million.
In 1989, a new line-up, reflecting the musical climate at the time, formed after a second famine struck Ethiopia. Band Aid II featured a different line-up and re-recorded "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (PWL/Polydor FEED 2), and the song was again Christmas Number One in the UK charts. A cassette single designated as FEED 3 was released in 1991. It contains the main 7" mixes of both previous versions. It did not reach the UK charts.
In 2004 a third line-up known as Band Aid 20, re-recorded the single for the 20th anniversary of the project. The style change between Band Aid 20 and previous incarnations of the song was greater than the change between the first two Band Aid projects. This was partly due to the length of time between the releases and because it was thought that releasing a third version too similar to the original would be less powerful than creating a new interpretation. The 2004 version entered the charts at number 1 on December 5, 2004, and went on to become the 2004 Christmas Number One.
Original Band Aid
Bob Geldof, after watching a television news report by Michael Buerk from famine stricken Ethiopia, was so moved by the plight of starving children that he decided to try and raise money using his contacts in pop music. (The news report itself has become famous, being voted among the greatest television moments of the Century.)
Geldof enlisted the help of Midge Ure from the group Ultravox to help produce a charity record. Midge Ure took Geldof's lyrics and created the melody and backing track for the record. Geldof called many of the most popular performers of the time, pursuading them to give their time for free. His one criterion for selection was how famous they were in order to maximise sales of the record.
The recording studio gave Band Aid 24 hours free to record and mix the record on 25 November 1984. The recording took place between 11am and 7pm and was filmed to release as the pop video. The first track to be put down was drums by Phil Collins including the memorable opening 'African Drum' beat. 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 the Paul Weller/Sting/Glen Gregory section. Paul Young has admited since 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..Boy George arrived last at 6pm after Geldof woke him up by phone to have have him flown over from New York on Concorde to record his solo part.
The following morning Geldof appeared on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show to promote the record and promised that every penny would go to the cause. This led to a stand-off with the British Government which refused to waive the VAT (tax) 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 15 December and went straight to number 1 in the UK pop charts 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 in the first week alone. It stayed at Number 1 for 5 weeks selling over 3 million copies and becoming easily the biggest selling single ever in the UK. (It has since been passed by Elton John's tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, but it is likely to keep selling in different versions for many years to come.)
The original Band Aid ensemble consisted of (in sleeve order):
The sleeve artist, Peter Blake, was also credited on the sleeve.
Band Aid II
The line up for the Band Aid II project consisted of (in alphabetical order):
Band Aid 20
The Band Aid 20 single was first played simultaneously on the Chris Moyles show on BBC Radio One and the breakfast shows on Virgin and Capital radio at 8am on 16 November 2004. The video was first broadcast in the UK simultaneously over multiple channels, including the five UK terrestrial channels, at 5:55 on 18 November 2004 with an introduction by Madonna.
British Artist Damien Hirst designed a cover for the Band Aid 20 single, featuring the grim reaper and a starving African child. However this was later dropped after fears that it might scare children. The single was released on 29 November 2004 and all money raised will go toward famine relief in the Darfur region of Sudan.
One of the new ways to buy the song by downloading it from the Internet hit a problem when Apple computer's iTunes initially refused to supply it due to their fixed pricing policy. A partial solution was reached after a few days enabling UK users to download the song at the standard iTunes price, with Apple donating an extra amount (equivalent to the price difference) to the Band Aid Trust. The CD version sold over 200,000 copies in the first week to become the fastest selling single of the year.
Bono, Paul McCartney and George Michael were the only artists asked back who leant their voices to the original Band Aid. There was a reported dispute over the line Tonight thank God it's them instead of you which Bono sang on the original version. Justin Hawkins of The Darkness laid down a version of the line but Bono insisted on re-recording his version, which was eventually used on the record. Strangely, although he wasn't invited, Blur's frontman and songwriter Damon Albarn appeared at the sessions, wanting to assist however he can the recording process of the charity single. He wasn't allowed to sing but Bono advised him how to be most useful for the singers. "I asked him to make the tea," the U2 frontman explained to Xfm, "I saw him on Thursday night. He said 'I dont know what to do' I said, 'Make tea,' he said 'You really think so?' I said, 'Yeah, make tea!'." Albarn quite happily responded and thus served biscuits and tea for the participants as well as appeared briefly in the video, at which Bono "fatherly" commented: "Good on him. I always knew that boy would turn out good in the end."
The single sold 72,000 copies in the first 24 hours when it was released on the 29 November 2004, and went straight in at number one in the UK charts on 5 December 2004. It stayed at number 1 for Christmas and the week after, all in all holding onto the top spot for 4 weeks, just one week shorter than the original did in 1984.
Who sings what on each version
The Band Aid project inspired other charity records around the world including We are the World by USA for Africa in the USA, Nackt im Wind by Band fόr Afrika in Germany, Tears Are Not Enough by Northern Lights in Canada and many others.
A Critical Perspective
In 1986 the anarchist band Chumbawamba released the album Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records as well as an EP entitled "We Are The World", jointly recorded with US band A State of Mind, both of which were intended as anti-capitalist critiques of the Band Aid/Live Aid phenomena. They argued that the record was primarily a cosmetic spectacle designed to draw attention away from the real political causes of world hunger. However, it appears that Geldof and Bono have much more influence on both the powerful and the public than the cynics might like. Live Aid is now widely recognised as the event which prepared a generation for the Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History movements.
LIVE AID MEMORIES
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