588. ‘Let It Be’, by Ferry Aid

Uh-oh, charity single ahoy…!

Let It Be, by Ferry Aid

3 weeks, from 29th March – 19th April 1987

OK. That intro might have been slightly tasteless, especially given the disaster that prompted this latest charity chart-topper. On 6th March 1987, a passenger ferry left Zeebrugge in Belgium bound for Dover. The bow door, the one that lets cars drive on, was left open as the ship set off, and it capsized almost immediately. One hundred and ninety three people lost their lives.

Undoubtedly tragic. But the nautical analogy holds up, I think. You’re floating along through the mid-to-late eighties, when along comes a hulking iceberg of a record. Charity songs, with their casts of thousands, their cramming of different styles and voices into one, their overlong runtimes, really do knock the charts off course. And when the record in question is a cover of ‘Let It Be’, one of the world’s best-loved songs, by the world’s best-loved band, you can’t help but wince, no matter how worthy the cause.

But we must listen, and ponder. The best part of an charity ensemble singalong is seeing how many people you can identify. It kicks off with the song’s writer, Paul McCartney, doing his best chirpy Uncle Macca impersonation. Then there’s the still heroin-husky Boy George, carrying the first verse. There’s Andy Bell from Erasure. There’s someone who looks like Marti Pellow (it’s not…) There’s Mel & Kim, again! They (sort of) join the exclusive club of acts who have replaced themselves at #1. There’s Kim Wilde and Nik Kershaw. There’s Kate Bush, who purrs her way through a couple of lines, sounding like she’s been spliced on from a completely different recording. There’s Edwin Starr, of ‘War!’ fame.

There are two guitar solos, from Gary Moore, and Mark Knopfler. Moore’s in particular is pretty blistering, marking this out from the usual charity single fare. There are two guys – one with a bottle of beer, the other smoking a fag – who aren’t quite giving the occasion the respect it deserves. Turns out they’re one half of Curiosity Killed the Cat. This is the second best aspect of a charity single: flash in the pan acts immortalised by being in the right place at the right time. (Also present here is Taffy – no, me neither – who qualified for a line or two thanks to her recent #6 hit ‘I Love My Radio’.)

By the end it’s descended into a pub-singalong, as all charity singles must. I refer to Wikipedia, because it looks like there are at least five-hundred people in the throng, to find it’s actually a ‘Who’s Who’ of previous chart-topping acts: Bucks Fizz, Suzi Quatro, Alvin Stardust, Bonnie Tyler, Doctor and the Medics, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The New Seekers. Alongside The Drifters… the actual Drifters??… Gloria Hunniford, and Anne Diamond. Of course. They all look far happier than they should, given that it was the deaths of almost two hundred people that brought them all together.

I haven’t commented much on the music, because what’s the point? Charity singles aren’t bought to be listened to. Before you press play, imagine what a cover version of ‘Let It Be’, recorded for charity, in the late-eighties, would sound like. I’ll bet you come pretty close. (Oh and don’t forget to throw in a completely incongruous, but brilliant, guitar solo.) It is what it is. We listen once, and we move on.

10 thoughts on “588. ‘Let It Be’, by Ferry Aid

  1. You said it – I knew exactly what my comment was going to be when I saw all those shining happy faces in the photo! Unbelievable. I’ll leave it there before I go off on one! 😀

  2. Just what I want to hear! An eighties treatment to a song that was perfect as it was from a better era…. but I will say the cause was a just one. I do remember when that happened…it was terrible. I like why they did it but I just don’t like the result.

  3. I think the saving grace of this one was the guitar soloing from Messrs Knopfler and Moore. Apart from that…ironic that this bettered the chart peak of the original. Still, it was at the time (I think) the holder of the record for least weeks (7) on the UK chart for a No. 1.

    • Ah, interesting. Nowadays your average charity single is lucky to get three weeks on the charts! The second part of Moore’s solo is blistering – they clearly wanted something to attract the rock crowd. That’s both the problem with charity ensemble singles – they’re a mess – and what makes them vaguely interesting…

  4. At least it gave Paul McCartney the number one the Beatles should have had. And the answer to the pop quiz question who has topped the uk chart solo, as a duo, a trio, a quartet, a quintet, a sextet and 2 charity ensembles. Thats if my maths is correct and there were 3 christians in the band at that time….

    • Hmm, let’s see… Solo – OK. Duo – with Stevie Wonder. Trio – Wings. Quartet – Beatles. Quintet – Beatles with Billy Preston. As for the sextet, it does look like there were three Christians, but the record also credits Stock Aitken and Waterman… Does that make it a nonet?? (I had to look that word up…) And what’s the other charity ensemble? Was he in The Crowd?

  5. Pingback: 597. ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, by Rick Astley | The UK Number Ones Blog

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