Do They Know It’s Christmas? Don’t They Know It’s The 4th Version Already?? The Missed Opportunity Of Band Aid 30

Band Aid 30 recording Do They Know It’s Christmas.

I think it’s great – indeed vital – that good folks like Bob Geldof are galvanizing some of the biggest names in music to raise funds in the fight against Ebola. It just bums me out that given it’s 20 years since a new Christmas song got substantial radio play beyond its year of release that Band Aid 30’s Do They Know It’s Christmas is such a wasted opportunity. Don’t they know it’s the fourth version already?

I wrote a couple of years back how not since Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas (1994) has a new Christmas song actually taken hold. There have been plenty of major artist Christmas albums and songs since, including some substantial sellers from the likes of Josh Groban and Michael Buble. Other artists like Hall & Oates and Colbie Caillat have also released surprisingly rewarding seasonal offerings.

But as far as widespread radio play beyond the Christmas of issue, Mariah’s perky ditty was the last new song to embed itself in popular culture. Add to that the little mentioned point that this isn’t the first all-star Band Aid remake – don’t forget, though it’s evidently very easy to because they’ve never been played nor talked about since – the 1989 and 2004 editions.

Why the 20 year drought? I believe it’s a combination of increasingly conservative radio programming and a similar problem that Hollywood is facing: It’s hard to make money with new ideas, hence the proliferation of sequels and superhero films.

There’s one more decisive factor though, that being the nostalgic appeal of so much Christmas music. Somewhere along the line we got lazy and didn’t want to hear last year’s new Christmas songs and only wanted the songs we heard as kids. But once upon time no-one had heard Mistletoe And Wine and that managed to endure post-1988. Once upon time (pre-1970) there was no Happy Christmas War Is Over.  And really once upon a time there was no O Holy Night, though we’re going back a couple of centuries.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. The 2014 Do They Know It’s Christmas, like ’89 and ’04 before it, will get exposure for four weeks this year, will raise a chunk of money for an urgent cause, and will fail to grace an airwave ever again. If that’s all is being aimed for, then fine.

However, do we really have so little faith in the creative abilities of Band Aid 30 singers like Bono, Chris Martin and Ed Sheeran etc? Given Chris Martin is not just the heir apparent to Bono in melody but so too in social conscience, why didn’t the mightily persuasive Geldof get those two to write a new song for the 2014 batch of stars to sing?

Coldplay already have a very good (and of course now forgotten) Christmas hit under their belt with 2010’s Christmas Lights (UK top 20, US top 30) and U2’s maligned 2014 LP Songs Of Innocence (maligned as far as PR goes, considerably better appraised musically) shows there’s still decent creative juice flowing for Ireland’s biggest music export.

More than that, Band Aid 30 could generate royalties for future Elbola flare-ups if the song broke the 20-year drought and got airplay next year and beyond. The Bee Gees timeless Too Much Heaven is a case in point: The 1979 US #1 (one of 16 American chart-toppers the Gibb brothers wrote) has raised well over US $10 million for Unicef over the last 35 years due to the Gibbs donating all future publishing royalties at the time of release.

Instead Band Aid 2014 will serve it’s purpose purely for this Christmas and not beyond. Geldof is a genius, but this is an opportunity missed.

Afterword: Credit where due, the fourth incarnation of this most charitable of songs sounds vaguely commercial in a modern sense as well as being noteworthy for an important lyrical change. The hastily written Bob Geldof / Midge Ure original had Bono infamously grappling with the moral conundrum of his designated line, “tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” Is it right for the fortunate of the human race to be thankful it’s others who are suffering rather than them? Shouldn’t gratitude be irrespective of the pain of others? Or is our appreciation of life dependent on knowing people around us have it worse?

The seeming clunkiness of the original lyric seems worth it when you consider the ethical and even theological debates that can ensue when you decide to analyse the meaning. As for Band Aid 30, Bono now sings the more immediately compassionate and straightforward, “Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you.”

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