Do They Know It's Christmas?

Missing image
Cover art for the original "Do They Know It's Christmas?" release – artist Peter Blake

This article is about the song. For more details on different recordings see Band Aid.

Do They Know It's Christmas? is a song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 specifically to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief. The original version was produced by Midge Ure and Trevor Horn, and recorded by Band Aid in 1984.

In late 1984, a BBC report by Michael Buerk was aired highlighting the famine that had hit the people of Ethiopia. Irish singer, Bob Geldof had seen the report and was moved so much that he decided that a pop record should be used to further increase awareness of the famine and to raise money. Aware that he could do little on his own, he called Midge Ure from Ultravox and together they quickly co-wrote the song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?".

Geldof kept a November appointment with BBC Radio 1 DJ Richard Skinner to appear on his show, but instead of discussing his new album (the original reason for his booking), he used his airtime to publicise the idea for the charity single, so by the time the musicians were recruited there was intense media interest in the subject.

Using powers of persuasion which have since become a major part of the Geldof legend, he put together a group (Band Aid), consisting of leading British rock and pop musicians, all of whom were at the very top of the industry.


The recording session

The recording studio gave Band Aid 24 hours free to record and mix the record on November 25, 1984. The recording took place between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM, and was filmed to release as the song's music video. The first track to be put down was drums by Phil Collins including the memorable opening 'African Drum' beat. Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet was the first to record his vocal while a section sung by Status Quo was deemed unusable and replaced with the Paul Weller/Sting/Glen Gregory section. Paul Young has admitted since in a documentary that he knew his opening lines were written for David Bowie, who was not able to make the recording but made a contribution to the B-side. Boy George arrived last at 6pm after Geldof woke him up by phone to have him flown over from New York on Concorde to record his solo part.


The original Band Aid ensemble consisted of (in sleeve order):

Style and content

According to its co-authors, the lyrics were largely written by Bob Geldof while Midge Ure is responsible for the melody and vocal arrangement. The song comprises two parts: a verse and bridge which allow individual singers to perform different lines; and a chorus in the form of two repeated phrases by ensemble. The chorus was added by Midge Ure shortly before the recording session and is similar in style to many of his Ultravox songs e.g. 'Hymn'. It is also the most effective hook in the song.


The first line of the recording is sung by Paul Young on the 1984 version, Kylie Minogue on the 1989 version, and Chris Martin on the 2004 version. The line was originally written for David Bowie who finally sang it at the Live Aid concert. See the Band Aid article for the full list of contributors.

Another lyric which appears to have been tailored to the singers performing in 1984 is The bitter sting of tears performed by Sting.

The most controversial and, many would say, powerful, line in the song is: Tonight thank God it's them instead of you. Bono was unhappy with this line and tried to change it at first, due to the possible interpretation that the singer is thanking God for inflicting misery on other people rather than on them. Later, he admitted that it is a painful truth that, while we can feel sympathy and guilt about the plight of others, we're still not prepared to take their place.

The lyrics are unashamedly biased towards a western audience and present at best a simplified and stereotypical description of the situation in Africa. Lines such as Where nothing ever grows are particularly naive given that the area in Ethiopia where the famine took place is normally fertile and not a desert at all. The sole purpose of the song was, as Geldof admits, to use the power of celebrity to raise as much money as possible as quickly as possible. It had to be sufficiently well written to avoid putting off the pop stars from taking part.

Public release

The following morning Geldof appeared on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show to promote the record and promised that every penny would go to the cause. This led to a stand-off with the British Government which refused to waive the VAT (tax) on the sales of the single. Geldof made the headlines by publicly standing up to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and, sensing the strength of public feeling, the government backed down and donated the tax back to the charity.

The single was released on December 15, 1984, and went straight to number 1 in the UK pop charts outselling all the other records in the chart put together. It became the fastest selling single of all time in the UK, selling a million in the first week alone. It stayed at Number 1 for 5 weeks selling over 3 million copies.

The single was released just before Christmas with the aim of raising money for the relief of the famine. Geldof's somewhat cautious hope was for 70,000 pounds. Ultimately, however, the song raised many millions of pounds and became the biggest-selling single in UK chart history. (It has since been passed by Elton John's tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, but it is likely to keep selling in different versions for many years to come.)

Band Aid 20 recorded a new version of the song in November 2004 for the twentieth anniversary of the original recording.

Charity records immediately inspired

The Band Aid project inspired other charity records around the world including We are the World by USA for Africa in the USA, Nackt im Wind by Band für Afrika in Germany, Tears Are Not Enough by Northern Lights in Canada and many others.

The idea of an all-star celebrity fundraising song for charity was copied in the United States a few months later, with the song We Are The World by USA for Africa, co-written by Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Geldof's first point of contact Lionel Richie. It topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Geldof attended the recording, which took place immediately after the 1985 Grammy awards, and sang on the chorus at the end.

Tears Are Not Enough was a 1985 charity single recorded by a supergroup of Canadian artists, under the name Northern Lights, to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia.


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