Every year, when the last of the rain-soaked pumpkin mush has been scraped from the porch and the smell of fireworks bought by underage pyromaniacs still clings to the air, one particular song descends on the British Isles letting everyone know that, yes, Christmas is indeed only seven weeks away. That song, of course, is Band Aid’s 1984 charity single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ – a question to which the only reasonable answer is: “Yes yes, now please shut up”.
Come Christmas, the song is as inescapable as dust; pumped into supermarkets, clothes stores, and petrol stations on an incessant basis, making it responsible for more fits of vomiting than the infamous Nora virus in the winter of 2012 — and it is not just me who has a problem with it. Paul Weller of The Jam recently opened up about shooting the video for the ‘Do They Know Its Christmas?’ back in ’83, describing the whole experience as nothing less than “horrible”.
The idea for ‘Do They Know Its Christmas?’ occurred to Bob Geldof after he saw a report on the Ethiopian famine of 1983-1985. He decided that rather than doing what most people tend to, which is to mutter ‘that’s terrible isn’t it?’ before going to make another cup of milky tea, he was going to use his fame to increase awareness about the famine and to raise money to help those affected. So, in 1983, Geldof invited the likes of Wham, Midge Ure, Boy George, Duran Duran, and Paul Weller to a London studio to record what would turn out to be one of the most successful charity singles and enduring Christmas number ones of all time.
With the session booked for Sunday, November 25th, Geldof and the 40 or so 1980s musical icons he’d accumulated had less than a month to record ‘Do They Know Its Christmas?’. Weller, Midge Ure, and Duran Duran’s bassist, John Taylor, set about crafting the backing track, with Phill Collins adding that signature drum sound later. With that complete, the mammoth task of dividing up and recording each and every artist’s vocal dub followed. It would have been impossible to do them all separately, so Geldof decided to kick off by getting all the singers in one room to sing the chorus in unison. Then, under Midge Ure’s direction, the singers took it in turns to record individual lyrics, with Paul Young bagging the iconic first line: “It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid”.
Told like this, the story of ‘Do They Know Its Christmas’ sounds like a pretty wholesome affair. According to Weller, however, it was anything but. “[The video shoot] was horrible,” be said in a 2021 Q&A. “Everyone was getting off doing blow in the toilets. It probably would have been all right for me in the ’90s but I wasn’t into all that then. I was totally out of my comfort zone”.
With that in mind, the next time you’re wandering around a supermarket looking for cranberry sauce and you hear ‘Do They Know Its Christmas?’ come on the tannoy, I’d like you to imagine the Geldof gang using a £20 note to sniff lines of expensive cocaine in a studio toilet. Now doesn’t that feel like Christmas?