Just a few weeks ago, the internet was buzzing with rumours that a new incarnation of Band Aid was about to occur for a 30th Anniversary version of the 1984 Charity hit ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. On the 10th of November, Sir Bob Geldof confirmed the project and five days later a rather offbeat but exciting nonetheless group of artists and bands turned up to a sea of paparazzi and fans at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London. The project attracted much media coverage, ‘Band Aid 30′ trended on Twitter for several days and excitement and curiosity hovered as many waited with bated breath to hear the new interpretation. So why, upon its première (during the results show for The X Factor – a rather strange decision in itself) did it just fall a bit… flat? Here, I look at why.
First things first, let’s reflect on the original track. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 to raise money for relief of the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia. The song was inspired by a BBC television report that Geldof witnessed and an assortment of some of the most popular musicians and acts of the era came together to form an eclectic super-group. The song became the fastest selling single in UK Singles Chart history, a record it held onto until Elton John’s 1997 version of ‘Candle In The Wind’ succeeded it. There were around forty musicians involved in the project including Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, Bono, members of Duran Duran, Kool & The Gang and Banarama and many, many more. The song and project was a huge success with record breaking sales, a Live Aid charity concert and many similar Charity super-groups since.
In 1989, the song was re-recorded by a second line-up, recorded as ‘Band Aid II’. This was a Stock, Aitken, Waterman produced version and therefore was understandably a rather cheesy disco affair and a much less memorable and significant effort. Nevertheless, the song reached Number One and featured many big names: Kylie Minogue, Chris Rea, Cliff Richard, Lisa Stansfield and Wet Wet Wet being just some of the names.
Twenty five years later, Band Aid 20 occurred. This is arguably the second most popular version and featured a diverse range of singers and bands, including Chris Martin of Coldplay, Dido, Beverley Knight, Robbie Williams, Busted and many more. There was also a rather unfitting rap by Dizzee Rascal wedged in the middle eight. This version was again, a massive success and became the biggest selling single of 2004. Whilst a still not quite as impressive as the original, it deserved its success. Many talented artists lent their vocals to the record and a great amount of money was raised for Sudan’s Dafur region. It was refreshing to see a greater amount of females on this version (the original song is noticeably lacking female vocals) and it introduced the song to a whole new generation.
Fast forward another ten years and we now have Band Aid 30. Judging by the list of participants alone, it’s relatively impressive. There are big names involved – One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding, Paloma Faith, Chris Martin and Bono again, Olly Murs and others. Then there’s some quite frankly bizarre participants. We have Sinead O’Connor (who we still don’t forgive for subjecting us to one of the most over-dramatic songs of the 90’s) who is an odd choice considering the rest of the artists are generally new to the Pop World. We also have YouTubers Joe and Zoe Sugg (an attempt to be even more ‘down with the kids’ maybe?!) and Angelique Kidjo – no, I hadn’t heard of her before this either. It’s far from an awful list of singers – there’s some very talented names in there and some popular artists to help publicise it. At the same time, it feels a bit thin on the ground. There’s just 26 artists involved – the least amount to ever participate in a Band Aid single. The worst thing is it actually shows in both the song and the video. It feels pretty empty, almost as if it was a last minute thing and these are the only artists they could get.
Then let’s look at the song itself – the production, vocal performances and these new lyrics that everybody appears to be slating. This version is produced by Paul Epworth, an established producer who has worked with the likes of Adele, Paul McCartney, Bruno Mars and many others. The instrumentation and production is perhaps most like the original which is a positive. It begins relatively low-key with just a synthesiser and vocals before a drum machine kicks in. It’s pretty trendy and more computerised than Band Aid 20’s version. It works, though. Band Aid 20 had a more live feel to it but Band Aid 30 appears to capture the same feel as the original.
The song opens with One Direction – not perhaps the greatest of choices. I have no issue with them vocally in the slightest but it just doesn’t feel right to have a band singing in unison for that well-known opening line. It’s a one man job! They would have been better lending their vocals to another part of the song. Chris Martin would have been better opening the track as he did for Band Aid 20. I have absolutely no issue with Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Sam Smith, Paloma Faith, Olly Murs and Angelique Kidjo’s parts. Their voices suit the song and each deliver their line powerfully. Then everything goes a bit ‘Hey, we’re trying to be a bit Indie here’. There’s that bloke from Elbow then the frontman from Bastille. Both have alright voices but it just doesn’t quite fit in with the record. Then we come to everybody’s favourite man of the year Bono, (hey, at least we haven’t had this record plonked into our online music collections…) ah finally – a voice that fits… but wait, what’s that?! They’ve changed the bloody line! Just as you’re preparing to scream along to ‘and tonight thank god it’s them instead of you’, we have ‘Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you’. It does NOT work. It sounds odd and it’s a weak lyric. Then there’s Seal. I love Seal’s raspy vocals and he is one of my favourite artists but again, we have new lyrics which completely ruin the song. ‘Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa’ – it sounds like an extract from a poem written by an eight year old. Then Ellie Goulding manages to absolutely murder her line in the song. I still have absolutely NO idea what she is warbling about but all I know is she completely overdoes it in every way possible. Then there’s the song’s ultimate lowpoint in which the weirdest vocal in song history is delivered by Sinead O’Connor. It’s something between a whisper and a panting creature but whatever it is she’s trying to achieve, she should never attempt it again. Ever. The famous climax works though. Then again, it’s hard to go wrong with that irresistible ‘Feed the world’ refrain when it’s sung collectively.
Basically, it just all feels a bit of a mess and like nobody could be bothered. Some artist’s voices just don’t fit the song, and others deliver their lines in such a way, they’ve managed to create a language of their own. The new lyrics, said to be added to make the song more ‘relevant’ to the current Ebola crisis are clumsy and patronising. The editing of the video is sloppy, not like previous efforts and the song just falls completely flat on its face this time around. Even Emeli Sande, who lent her vocals to the track, has since criticised it. She suggested that it’s time for a brand new song and I can’t help but agree with her. ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ is a fine song but there are only so many interpretations of it possible before it begins to become a far inferior version of the well loved original.
I’m all for Charity records and super-groups. I’m all for raising money towards the Ebola Crisis but I think it’s about time we now retire ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and let the original do the talking.