Elisabeth Kaplan

Singer & Songwriter

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Band Aid 30 - Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Ugh, Uncle Bob has dug out some leftover Christmas fruitcake from last year – no, wait, from 1984 – and thought it would be okay to serve if he just sticks in some new raisins and slaps on some fresh frosting.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure  in 1984, is currently in its fourth incarnation. The song itself is mediocre at best. Sure, we’ve heard it so often by now that of course we can hum along, but the melody is actually kind of clumsy in its construction. It also doesn’t give singers a whole lot to work with, which is what makes it so hard for them to hit the right tone. Either they go for a simple, “honest” interpretation, in which case they tend to come off as bland and rather unfeeling; or they go over the top, seeking an “emotional” approach, and ending up with totally overwrought performances that just come across as insincere and show-offy.

In comparison: Just months after the initial “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” came out, USA for Africa followed the UK’s example and recorded “We Are The World”. It may be cheesy, but it is a perfect cheese. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, it is doubtless the superior song. You can tell it was authored by singers, because it gives the vocalists enough substance to work with and allows each of the many guests to truly shine and deliver ultimately legendary performances.

But back to Band Aid. These are the four versions you can choose from (although the 1989 version flopped and is, to my knowledge, no longer available):
BandAid (1984); BandAid II (1989); BandAid 20 (2004); BandAid 30 (2014)


To help you choose your favourite, here are my personal awards in six categories:

* Best vocal performance:
Chris Rea in Band Aid II: With his voice, which sounds like the vocal personification of a hot toddy in front of a log fire, he really doesn’t have to make any sort of effort to sound fabulous.

* Most OTT vocal performance:
Without doubt, this one goes to Sinéad O’Connor in the 2014 version. Maybe she's having some kind of seizure brought on by her extreme embarrassment at having to sing these lyrics. On the up side, she is practically unintelligible, preventing us from having to actually understand the lyrics at this point.

* Singer who looks most pissed off about being there:
Although with his do-gooder image today he would never admit it, the 33-year-old Sting of 1984 looks like he couldn’t care less. He’s probably just mortified to be singing those lyrics (he even has to sing the line with the word “sting” in it. Ouch).
Second place in this category goes to Angélique Kidjo, “Africa’s premier diva”, in this year’s version. Boy, would I love to see a thought bubble over her head. It would probably be filled with words this sweet lady would never actually utter. Apparently, she wanted to change the lyrics and did in fact sing various versions, none of which made it past Sir Bob’s censorship.

* Most boring vocal performance:
1984: Paul Weller. Sorry, dude, but even if you’re hating every second, you have to at least pretend to be making an effort.
1989: Big Fun. Who’s that, you’ll most likely be asking. Well, this trio was one of the less successful acts from the Stock Aitken Waterman flock. They got half a line to sing – “… we can spread a smile of joy”. It’s depressing to think that what we hear in the final version must have been their best take …
2004: Sugababes. My oh my. Do these three girls really not have a shred of personality? Yawn.
2014: One Direction. Yikes. Maybe they went straight from a party to the studio. These boys sure seem to be half asleep when they’re singing the critical first line.

* Best production:
For me the most cohesive version in terms of production has to be the Stock Aitken Waterman version of 1989 – yup, the one that flopped. Unfortunately, it has an awkwardly inappropriate party vibe going on. Besides, SAW’s star wasn’t waning at this point, it was crashing.

* Least embarrassing lyrics:
Dear me, where to begin. For me, the most mortifying line in the song is “The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life”. (This year the line was replaced by “A song of hope where there’s no hope tonight” – not much of an improvement to be honest.)
As for the least embarrassing, maybe “At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade”. As clichéd as it may be, it’s possibly the only line that isn’t either somehow objectionable, nonsensical or simply clumsily crafted.
The line that understandably caused the most uproar through the years, “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”, was changed in the current version. I’m thinking Bono finally got his way. Apparently, he already objected to it 30 years ago.

And that wraps up my personal Band Aid Awards. Maybe now you’re so curious, you’ll get straight on iTunes and buy all the versions! (Except 2004 – I wouldn’t want you to have to hear that perplexing “we-need-to-attract-hip-young-buyers” rap section).

You can read the German version of this blog post at www.zartbitter.co.at







Copyright © 2014 Elisabeth Kaplan