November 25 – Did They Know It Was Nearly Christmas-time

Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and various friends got together at the Sarm West Studio in London (home to most of Island Records roster and one place Nick Drake had worked!) to record a record that would go on to change the world this day in 1984. Band Aid and their now-classic seasonal song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” came together 36 years ago.

Geldof , singer for the Boomtown Rats, had been deeply touched by the suffering he’d seen in a TV special on Ethiopia (suffering from a drought and severe famine). He approached Ure of Ultravox about doing something to raise funds. Ure remembers Geldof showing up at his place with a beat-up guitar and the seed of an old tune he’d worked on for the Rats. “He sounded like a demented Bob Dylan,” Ure told Rolling Stone, “there was no melody, no structure and every time he sang it, it sounded different.” By the end of the night they’d got the foundation for the fund-raising hit.

The lyrics were hard-hitting, he added because “it was a song written for a specific purpose, to touch people’s heartstrings and loosen the purse strings.” Which was fine with Sting, one of the first artists to agree to be on it… except for one thing. “The lyrics are bleak, but essentially so,” he said later, “a welcome change from the bromides of mistletoe and the saccharine Christmas fare that is usually served up.” But, he didn’t like having to sing the line “the bitter sting of tears.” “There’s a touch of irony there,” the ex-Police frontman noted, “it wasn’t an accident. I was still the King of Pain.” Likewise, Bono, one of rock’s more outspoken Christians at the time hated the line “thank God it’s them instead of you”, thinking it brutally selfish, but Geldof insisted.

With the help of a who’s-who of British music of that day, by day’s end the record was on tape and a mere four days later it was on sale in the UK! The record went on to be the biggest selling single in Britain for over a decade, (interestingly another sort of specialty fund-raiser overtook it, Elton John’s 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind” for Lady Diana), be a smash hit in North America, raise about $24M for charity and, indirectly, set up the next summer’s Live Aid shows.

16 thoughts on “November 25 – Did They Know It Was Nearly Christmas-time

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    Bono changed that lyric in a later version…I do remember it well and always liked it.

    Geldof got famous all over because of this and Live Aid of course… The Boomtown Rats were not huge everywhere…I know him primarily for Live Aid and to be fair…”I Don’t Like Mondays”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should look up the revised lyric. Strangely, the 12″ single of it is now one of…probably fewer than 10 vinyl records I have. Saw on for about 50 cents in a used thrift shop last year, but haven’t listened to it since the turntable is in storage! I like the song, and what it stood for.
      Boomtown Rats were , I guess,huge in Ireland, popular in Britain but over here known mostly only for “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They had a few good tunes…. they even put out a single called “Dave” once (but changed the chorus to “Rain” for North America.) I still remember them from their SCTV appearance though – “Teacher’s Pet” a spoof on “To Sir with Love”. It was great.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” has become “Tonight we’re reaching out and touching you.”

        He had to respected a lot over there to have the friends he did.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. it is a fine Christmas song. I guess the snow was referencing the contrast between our lives and how they don’t even get to dream of a “white” Christmas, I figure. Ure said Geldof originally sang “Ethiopia” but that didn’t sound good so he changed the name to “Africa”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: December 23 – A Royally Fine Christmas Song – A Sound Day

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