"It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid." Paul Young, virtually unknown in America, sang the first line of the charity single, "Do They Know Its Christmas?" It would be six months before he had a No. 1 hit here with a cover of Hall & Oates' "Every Time You Go Away." However, he was (as was every artist involved with the song) one of the biggest stars in British Pop music, and they came together for a common cause.
Some of the artists were familiar to Americans. Culture Club, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Sting and Americans Kool & The Gang, who were then living in London. Strangely, Spandau Ballet, having hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts the previous summer, were probably more widely known than U2, whose lead singer, Bono, sang the now famous line "Tonight, thank God, it's them, instead of you."
It was Nov. 25, 1984 and Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats (also not a household name in the U.S.) brought together what he described as the cream of British Pop music talent. Along with Midge Ure, then of Ultravox (see Boomtown Rats above), he composed a song that would be released as a single to raise money for the starving in Africa.
Geldof had been inspired to take action after seeing a documentary on the BBC about the suffering in Ethiopia.
He felt the single could help raise about $150,000 dollars. It did that almost instantly and went on to be the best-selling single in British music history.
Release in America quickly followed. According to the BBC, British groups accounted for a third of U.S. record sales in 1984, compared to about 5 percent now. The single debuted on MTV in mid-December with David Bowie introducing it and pleading for Americans to buy it. "If you don't like it, give it to the kid down the street," he told the viewing audience.
The song did manage to spend two weeks at No. 1 on this side of the Atlantic, and inspired Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie to form USA For Africa, an all-star ensemble of American artists. On Jan. 28, 1985, they recorded "We Are The World." Geldof was invited to join in and sang in the chorus. Though he later described it as being like "a Pepsi commercial," that song, too, raised millions for famine relief.
So successful were both singles that a concert was planned for that summer. On July 13, 1985, Live Aid was staged in London and Philadelphia. At both Wembley Stadium in England and JFK Stadium in the U.S., the artists did three song sets. The stages, which rotated, allowed one act to play, while another set up. Phil Collins played both shows, hopping on the Concorde and flying to Philadelphia after his set in the British capital.
Now, after 20 years, the concert has been released on video DVD. Geldof and the Band Aid Trust insisted for years that no such release would ever come, but with the existence of so many bootlegs, they relented.
The four-disc set contains the original BBC report that spurred Geldof into action, as well as the music videos for "Do They Know Its Christmas?" and "We Are The World." There is also INXS' set from Australia, B.B. King from Holland and Run DMC warming up the crowd before the official start of the JFK concert. However, you don't get the entire show. Almost all the sets are trimmed down to one or two songs, including The Boomtown Rats and Ultravox. Led Zeppelin, dissatisfied with their performance, asked to be left off entirely, as did The Who. Of course you get crystal-clear audio and video and a flood of memories from a day that many consider the most important of a generation.
In 1969, Woodstock defined a generation, but its signature message seemed to be "Don't take the brown acid." Live Aid's was "Feed the world," which is exactly what those artists, their fans and the music industry did. Since 1984, $144 million has been spent by the Band Aid Trust on famine relief in Africa.
Proceeds from the DVD set will also go to the Band Aid Trust, which Geldof is still involved with 20 years on. Also released this month is a single called "Band Aid 20," featuring the cream of today's British music scene, including Dido as well as members of Ash, Travis, Radiohead and Coldplay. Damon Albarn of Blur served tea. Available currently as an import single, it features a new version of the song, the original and the finale from Live Aid. The new version of the song recently topped the British charts (one report said it outsold the closest runners-up by a margin of 5 to 1) and has clinched the much-coveted "Christmas No. 1" honor this year. The single so far sold around 600,000 copies in just three weeks, with proceeds going to relief efforts in the Sudan and Ethiopia.
Seems the giving sprit that Geldof and Co. re-awakened 20 years ago is alive and well this holiday season. ©