The song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is a pop-rock single, recorded by the charity group “Band Aid” in 1984. The song was created and released with the aim to raise money for people in Ethiopia, who suffered from the 1983-1985 famine. For better understanding of the message of this single, we should analyze the genre of the song (pop-rock charity record), its performers (Band Aid), social background (famine in Ethiopia) and lyrics as well.
- I. The History of the Genre
As to the genre of the single “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, it may be defined as a pop rock song, as it possesses many specific features of pop rock. Besides, the majority in “Band Aid” worked exactly in this genre (for example, Adam Clayton and Bono from “U2”, Paul McCartney from “The Beatles” and others).
Pop rock songs usually have light lyrics and are written in a catchy pop style. Usually, they are guitar-based. Nowadays, it is really difficult to give a proper definition to the notion of “pop rock”, as this term is applied to the mellow and slow rock and to the pop music as well. This genre has been developing since the 1970s. Among the most prominent representatives of pop rock are such musicians and singers as Elton John, Billy Joel, Bee Gees, Three Dog Night, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins, Ace of Base, Maroon 5, Avril Lavigne and many others.
Being a good example of pop rock, the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is considered to be a charity single.
Charity single is a song, released for some charitable causes. As a rule, its lyrics appeal to listeners in order for them to understand the problem of those, who need money and support, who are poorer and unhappier than they are. Some musicologists distinguish charity records as a separate genre because such songs are very popular all over the world and seem to be separated form all the popular music. The first charity single was created by George Harrison in 1971. Ex-Beatle was also the first to give a charity concert in New-York. In 1979 ABBA and the Bee Gees released their songs, all the royalties from which went to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).
And finally, in November 1984 Band Aid recorded a song, which led to the revolution of the charity single, and thanks to this type of music became very popular in the 1980s.
- II. History of the Artist
As it was mentioned, “The Band Aid” was a charity band, featuring many famous singers of Great Britain and Ireland. The idea of its creation belonged to the Sir Bob Geodolf, an Irish singer, songwriter and political activist. He was the leading singer in The Boomtown Rats and took part in the punk rock movement. He wrote several hits for his band and was the co-writer for the charity song “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, he decided to create after watching the BBC program, dedicated to the Ethiopian famine.
Bob Geodolf convinced the popular British musicians to take part in his project and to make a contribution to the recording of the charity single. In 1984 this song became extremely popular and was considered to be the main anti-poverty anthem. Let us go deeply into the process of creation the super group and enumerate its main participants.
Thus, when Geodolf watched the program about Ethiopia and its children, who were suffering from famine, he decided to do his best and to try to raise money. He used all his contacts in music and invited the most popular artist of those days. Geodolf created the lyrics to the song and asked Midge Ure, a Scottish singer and songwriter, to help him with the melody and backing track. All the invited singers, among which was Paul Young, Boy George, Simon Le Bon, Sting, Bono and many others, agreed to work for free and record the single for starving African children’s sake.
It is interesting, that Geodolf asked for help only the most famous singers, as he wanted sales to be as maximized as possible. He announced the plan for his project on BBC Radio. The record was made at the recording studio in Notting Hill and was filmed to be released as a pop video (it is available on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to652Gy9blI).
After the recording, Geodolf claimed, that every penny would be sent to UNICEF. The record was officially released on November 29, 1984 and became the top single in the UK music charts. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” became the fastest-selling song in the UK music history. Some time later the song was re-recorded by Band Aid II (1989) and by Band Aid 20 (2004). It goes without saying that such popularity was caused because of existing social background.
- III. Social Context
The song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was written within a precise social context, namely for raising money for starving children of Ethiopia.
The famine in Ethiopia affected the citizens of the country greatly. It was the worst famine in the history of this African nation and led to more than 400 thousand deaths. This frightful tragedy took place within the political context of insurgency and civil war. Some historians claim that the main cause of the great famine was the drought, but in fact this draft occurred some time later and a lot of famines, including that of 1983-1985, were created by counter-insurgency government policies and social transformation of non-insurgent areas of Ethiopia.
Bob Geodolf was one of those people, who managed to see in the BBC program about the famine not just the story about starving nation, but the story of every particular life. He understood that he, a citizen of the prosperous and powerful nation, together with his compatriots had an opportunity to help those who really needed help and food.
At first sight, the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” may seem to be about Christmas Day, but when listening to it we understand that its creators wanted to say more and wanted wealthy and healthy people to hear the main message of it. The makers of the single reminded that problems existed and they could try to solve them by helping other nations to survive.
The song was criticized by people, who thought that the song was created in order to draw attention from the real political context. Some of them called “Band Aid” diabolical and considered song to be tuneless. The single was also criticized by many Africans who found the song insulting. In 2011 a band from Cape Town even released the Christmas song with the title “Yes we do”.
VI. Song Analysis
Personally I think that the single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is very meaningful. The main message of the lyrics is to underline, that Ethiopia and other African countries are less fortunate than the United Kingdom or another developed country in the world. At those days African people had little food and water, they could not afford themselves to buy a Christmas gift to the members of their families and they have no time for entertainment, as their main task is to stay alive. Let us have a look at the lyrics of the song:
Do They Know It’s Christmas?
It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time
But say a prayer - pray for the other ones
At Christmas time,
It’s hard, but when you’re having fun…
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thanks God it’s them instead of you
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain no rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?
Here’s to you; Raise your glass for everyone
Here’s to them; Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?
Feed the world; Let them know it’s Christmas time and…
(Repeat several times and fade)
As we can see, there is an obvious contrast in the lyrics. In the first stanza we see that Christmas is a wonderful time, while in the second one completely opposite picture is described. This contrast shows the listeners the difference between the wealthy and poor nations and makes them feel guilty in the situation. The author of the lyrics makes us think: why some people would not know Christmas while the others enjoy it? He shows that life may be not as bright as it is and one should be happy that he has just a slice of bread and a roof over his/her head.
Speaking about the rhyming scheme, it should be mentioned, that this single flows right due to good rhyme and melody. Usually songs do not have much rhyme, but sound good precisely because of the proper rhythm. The lyrics are full of metaphors helping us to understand the main message of the song. For example, the words “And the Christmas bells that ring; There are the clanging of doom” sum up the main idea of the song. These words make us compare two countries: wealthy and poor one. Christmas bells symbolize hope and joy in prosperous countries while in other places like Ethiopia they mean different thing or mean nothing at all.
The author uses clear and simple diction in order for everyone to understand the main message without any problems. By the way, simple diction is a characteristic of all charity songs. The main aim, which was to make people do something after listening to this song, was achieved with the simple language, flowing rhythm, catchy melody, appealing lyrics and clear message which all worked together perfectly.
The charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is meaningful and expressive. It was recorded in 1984 by the group “Band Aid” with the aim of helping starving children of Ethiopia. Its creators managed to raise a decent sum of money and, what is more important, to reach the hearts of concerned people. As this song was performed by many great singers of the previous century, it became a good example of pop rock genre and occupied the top positions in many national and world charts.