A Much-Maligned But Still Beloved Christmas Song

During the Christmas season, the radio airwaves are filled with yuletide tunes, some classic, some schmaltzy.  One of my favorites is "Do They Know It's Christmas," recorded in 1984 by Band Aid, a collaboration of British and Irish pop stars, singing together to raise awareness for the famine in Ethiopa.

Some argue that the song is overly sentimental, but I consider the lyrics (written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure) to be powerful, sincere, and moving.  The holiday has become overly commercialized, so there's no harm in making people remember the less fortunate. 

The song starts off slow, like many traditional ditties, as Paul Young sings (with dramatic bells and drums in the background), "It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid.  At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade."  Then Boy George jumps in with, "And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy.  Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time."  So far it sounds like a typical pop melody, something that Culture Club may have released.

Then it kicks into a new level, as Phil Collins of Genesis bangs the drums and George Michael of Wham! belts out, "But say a prayer, pray for the other ones at Christmas time," followed by Simon le Bon of Duran Duran, "It's hard, but when you're having fun, there's a world outside your window."  Sting of The Police joins him as they tug at our heartstrings, "And it's a world of dreaded fear, where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears, and the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom."

Then Bono of U2 delivers the line that brings it up another notch: "Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you."

Altogether now with the chorus that includes Kool and the Gang, Bananarama, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Big Country, and others: "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time.  The greatest gift they'll get this year is life.  Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow, do they know it's Christmas time at all?  Here's to you, raise a glass for everyone, here's to them, underneath that burning sun, do they know it's Christmas time at all?"  Then the chant -- "Feed the world, feed the world, feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time."

The song has been mocked and criticized, but it's an enduring anthem, much more beloved I would dare say than the American mega-star charity collaboration USA for Africa (which also had a noble mission to battle famine) from a year later in 1985, "We Are the World."

"Do They Know It's Christmas" inspired many other celebrity projects, including Live Aid and Farm Aid.  Despite its detractors, I think it's a strong song with solid intentions.  Band Aid's heart was in the right place.


Andrew said…
I used to hate this song, but over the years it has grown on me. It's still a better song than Paul McCartney's Christmas song though.