The phenomenon began in 1984, when Bob Geldof, singer with new wave band the Boomtown Rats, and his wife, the late Paula Yates, were watching a BBC news report by journalist Michael Buerk on the devastating famine in Ethiopia. The presenter described it as “the closest thing to hell on earth”.
Lynne Sutherland / Alamy Stock Photo
Band Aid origins
The report brought the world’s attention to the humanitarian crisis and Geldof decided to personally do something to help. At the time, Yates was the presenter of the Channel 4 music show, The Tube. One of the live acts performing that week was Ultravox, whose lead singer, Midge Ure, was an old friend of Geldof’s.
Following a phone call from Geldof to Ure in the dressing room during the show, the idea of Band Aid was formed. The first meeting of the Band Aid organisers took place on 5th November 1984, when they discussed the ambitious idea of bringing together a host of top artists to record a fundraising record.
Geldof then began recruiting other stars to sing on the record, the first one being Sting, lead singer of the Police, who agreed straight away. Other stars, such as Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet, Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo, Paul Weller of The Jam and Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17 were soon on board too.
Finally, a massive cast was assembled to record the song, Feed the World (Do They Know It’s Christmas?), which was written by Geldof and Ure. The combined artists called themselves Band Aid.
Other artists included the girl group Bananarama, Bono of rock band U2, Boy George, Phil Collins, Chris Cross, George Michael, Paul Young and more. The recording was co-produced by Ure and Trevor Horn, who was one of the most in-demand producers of the 1980s, who had already produced Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s three number one singles.
A surprise addition to the recording was the American soul band, Kool and the Gang. Signed to the same record label as the Boomtown Rats, they were in London visiting Phonogram when Geldof walked in to discuss his idea for the charity record and they said they would like to be involved.
It was the first time such a gathering of stars had joined forces to record a charity song and it was one of the most momentous occasions in the history of popular music. The song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, which was donated free of charge for the duration of the recording and mixing.
The resulting song became one of the biggest Christmas hits of all time. Released on 3rd December 1984, a million copies were sold in the first week. By the final day of 1984, it had sold more than three million copies. It was the UK’s number one hit single over Christmas and it also took the top spot across Europe and in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
It went on to replace Mull of Kintyre by Wings as the UK’s biggest-selling single of all time, notching up 3.8 million copies, until it was displaced by Candle in the Wind by Elton John, which was released in 1997 to commemorate the death of Princess Diana.
Initially, Geldof’s aim had been to raise £70,000 for the Ethiopian famine victims, but the song surpassed all expectations and raised an incredible £8 million within a year. It also raised awareness of the need for financial aid for Ethiopia, leading to other charity singles being recorded in the UK and the American aid effort for Africa, We Are the World.
The recording also spurred spin-off charity events such as the annual fundraiser, Comic Relief, plus the momentous Live Aid concert in July 1985. There were three further recordings of Do They Know It’s Christmas – in 1989 and 2004 (1.8 million copies sold), it raised money for famine relief, while in 2014, it raised money to combat the West African Ebola crisis.
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