In 1984, a group of the UK-centric pop stars came together to form Band Aid. The group recorded a song to raise money for the famine that was crippling Ethiopia at the time. The resulting single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raised about $14 million for the cause. Artists included Duran Duran, Boy George, George Michael, Sting and Bono.
It’s my favorite Christmas song because of its upbeat tempo and heartfelt message. I remember watching the video for the song with my dad, and he would name all of the artists as they appeared on the screen. However, they all looked the same to me because of the helmets of 80s hair.
Fast-forward 30 years and we have Band Aid 30. This time, I recognize all of the artists in the video, as they are some of the biggest artists from the UK and Ireland today.
The original songwriters — Bob Geldof and Midge Ure — came together once again, but this time, they wanted to do something about the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
The all-star lineup includes One Direction, Ellie Goulding, Ed Sheeran, Chris Martin, Rita Ora, Sam Smith and Bastille, just to name a few. The single sounds quite similar to the original, but the lyrics have been changed slightly to reflect the change in cause.
The hysteria surrounding Ebola — be it real or put on — has made the disease somewhat of a joke in the U.S. We might have things under control here, but it is still a huge issue in West Africa. The difference with Ebola compared to other diseases or causes is that many of those infected are quaranteed and die alone, without their family and friends surrounding them. They can’t touch their loved ones for fear of spreading the disease.
This horrible truth is reflected in the new lyrics, especially the line “Where a kiss of love can kill you,” sang by Bastille’s Dan Smith. Besides raising money for Ebola relief, the song is important because it brings the realities of the disease to the forefront — realities that we try not to think about.
The charity single is a great way to fundraise because the artists seemingly feel an obligation to participate. We see the backlash that Adele got for deciding not to participate in Band Aid 30, even though she chose to donate to the cause instead. But really, it doesn’t take very much effort for these artists to go to the studio for a few hours and sing a line or two of the song. It’s an honor to be chosen for something like this, and I would think they enjoy having a chance to work with other great names in the music industry.
Charity singles have become a tradition in the U.K. Besides the Band Aid recordings, a big charity organization in the U.K., Comic Relief, has released 22 charity singles since it started 29 years ago. Combined, they have sold about 8 million copies.
This brings to mind the question: why couldn’t something like this happen in America? The biggest charity single we’ve had like Band Aid was “We are the World” in 1985, by USA for Africa. It’s not that charity work isn’t a big deal in the United States. It seems that everywhere we look there is some sort of charity event with a celebrity’s face attached to it.
It is great to support the causes, but nothing compares to actually recording a track.
The difference with making a single is that there is something tangible that we can all buy, and whether we care about the cause or not, we want the single because of the sheer talent and star power that went into it.
Case in point: I bought One Direction’s single for Comic Relief without knowing anything about where the money was going, and I’m sure others did the same. It would be great if we could harness this power with American artists to raise money for other important causes.
I look forward to a Band Aid 40, 50 or even 60. But the hope has always been and still remains that we won’t have a reason to do it.