And so we reach the end of the 1980s. And, in some ways, the decade’s final number one single is quite perfect.
Do They Know It’s Christmas?, by Band Aid II
3 weeks, from 17th December 1989 – 7th January 1990
It’s a charity single, for a start, a ‘genre’ that has dominated the charts since the middle of the eighties. It’s a cover, of course, of the charity single, the one that kicked the whole trend off. Plus, it was produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, giving the trio their seventh #1 of the year. But beyond the good cause, and the production team, the tag ‘perfect’ quickly wears thin.
There’s a reason why none of the three subsequent Band Aids have ever been much played after their original chart runs; while the first is seen as a classic, a perennial returnee to the charts every Christmas. There’s a novelty factor each time, and the urge for people to be seen to be doing something for charity, that means a new Band Aid single will always chart highly. But beyond that initial burst of enthusiasm, there’s always the slow realisation that the new versions simply aren’t as good.
Here, we swap Bono, Boy George, Sting and Paul Young for a considerably younger crowd. Kylie is on opening line duties, followed by Chris Rea and Jimmy Somerville. We meet Jason Donovan, Sonia, Lisa Stansfield, Bros and Wet Wet Wet again, after their recent chart-topping successes. The only singers to reprise their roles from 1984 are two-thirds of Bananarama (Siobhan Fahey having left the year before). To be honest, I struggled to recognise many voices without watching the video, which isn’t a problem you have with the original. One voice stands out above the rest, though: Sir Cliff, who makes it two Xmas #1s in a row (and who will, without wanting to give too much away, soon be making it three).
The production is muted and respectful by SAW’s usual standards, which was probably to be expected. The video is standard: Michael Buerk reporting from Ethiopia, horrifying images of malnutritional babies spliced with footage of Marti Pellow and Matt Goss goofing about. We’ll leave Band Aid II to play out here, bringing the 1980s to a close, and instead muse on the final year of the decade.
1989 has been, I’m going to stick my neck out here, a game-changing year. It’s set the template for modern pop music, in various ways. Firstly, on a purely technical level, songs have started to enter regularly at #1. They’ll continue to do so throughout the 1990s, speeding up the turnover of chart-toppers. As well as that, we’ve had the first ‘modern’ dance #1 from Black Box, from which almost every subsequent dance smash can be traced. We’ve met the first ‘modern’ boy band too, in New Kids on the Block.
Meanwhile, rock music is no longer the force that it has been since the late ‘50s. Rock groups will still make #1, as U2 and Simple Minds have recently done, but often for one week only, thanks to fanbase support rather than genuine cultural heft. And finally, Madonna has defined the ‘modern’ female pop star, and the pop comeback (and comeback video) as a massive event that every pop star since 1989 has tried to mimic.
Next up, we’ll be embarking on the 1990s – the decade in which I came of age, among Britpop, dance, the Spice Girls and boy-bands. I’m looking forward to reliving it. But, you could argue that the nineties began a year earlier, in the final year of the decade that taste forgot…
7 thoughts on “638. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, by Band Aid II”
I was pretty much lost on who was who…although I know Kylie now since a few weeks ago. Thank goodness the curtain is falling on that damn decade. I would have loved to sentence all of those Casio sounding synths to the ocean…with empty hairspray cans to follow.
While it certainly wasn’t the best song (neither was “We Are the World”), I love the idea of music for a cause. These charity songs can raise good amounts of money, so I’m all for it!
They can… But part of me wishes that these stars would just donate the money out of their many millions and spare us the crappy music : )
Fair point. But at the end of the day, it’s for a good purpose. And perhaps a charity single or album is also a more visible way to bring attention to a cause.
Very true! I’m just being an old cynic! : )
You are so right about the identity of the vocalists. They are all big stars in their own right, but definitely didn’t have the clout of those on the first version of the song …. or maybe that’s just an ‘age’ thing with me?
Personally, I think the novelty of these Band Aid charity singles wore thin very quickly. I mean, anything that raised money for Hillsborough / Zeebrugge etc has to be commended. But to rehash such an iconic song, which though still raising plenty donations, smarted more to me of the artists seeking self publicity as you also allude to.
I think there is always an element of self-publicity to a charity single, and I think more modern ones certainly have more tasteful videos that focus on the issue rather than the stars (the footage of the stars of Band Aid II larking about spliced with footage of starving babies leaves a bad taste in the mouth!) Though like I said in another reply, they could always just have donated their money in private, without the razzamatazz!