With the holidays quickly approaching, Christmas music can be heard in shopping malls and on radio stations around the country. These songs range from the classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You”. One song in particular, however, holds a special purpose for many—”Do They Know its Christmas?” by Band Aid.
According to The Huffington Post, Boomtown Rats band member, Bob Geldof, was inspired to compose a song for famine relief in Ethiopia after watching a documentary about it in October 1984. Along with the Ultravox band member Midge Ure, they wrote the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in four days. Geldof and Ure also founded the charity group “Band Aid” who would later release the song. Several British pop singers, including Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, and Bono participated in the making of the song, and on Nov. 25, 1984, it was released to the public. The song remained number one for five weeks in Great Britain, and raised over $14 million.
After being re-recorded in 1989 and 2004, Geldof and Ure held a press conference on Nov. 11, 2014 to announce they would produce a new cover to raise money for Ebola awareness.
“Three weeks ago I got a call from the U.N. saying they required a 20% increase across the board [in funding to fight ebola],” said Geldof at the press conference. “They are very concerned about the situation in West Africa.”
This new recording includes recent British artists such as One Direction, Sam Smith, Bastille, and Bono (who returned to participate in the newer version).
Since this cover will be raising awareness for a disease rather than famine, Geldof and Ure changed some of the famous lyrics to fit the cause of Ebola. The UK newspaper The Independent reported that the lyric “where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear” replaces the former line “where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” The line “there won’t be snow in Africa,” which was often criticized for being inaccurate, has been changed to “no peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa – the only hope they’ll have is being alive.” The final verse Geldof and Ure changed was Bono’s infamous line “well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” which now reads “well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you”.
Even with the changed lyrics, critics still were apprehensive of the song’s message. Aaron Bady, who studies African literature at the University of Texas, wrote an article against the new song for Al Jazeera online.
“[The lyrics] are amazingly dumb,” said Bady in an interview with NPR. “It turns Africa into a kind of cartoon.”
Not everyone agrees with Bady, however. According to NPR, the single made over $1 million within the first few minutes of its release in late November 2014. British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was excited when he found out he was going to participate in the 2014 remake.
“I was already on board before I knew I was on board,” Sheeran told UK website EntertainmentWise.
Sophomore Claire Frankowski enjoyed the song and bought it when it first came out.
“I liked how they were doing it for a good cause,” said Frankowski. “The fact that they got popular artists to do it was cool too.”
Whether or not this is one of your favorite Christmas songs, it is no question that it has certainly impacted the world and will continue to play on radio stations for many holiday seasons to come.