Duranalysis: Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

On November 25, 1984, Bob Geldof, frontman of the Boomtown Rats, and Midge Ure, lead singer of Ultravox, assembled over thirty of Britain’s leading rock and pop music talents, including Sting, George Michael, and members of Duran Duran, Culture Club, and U2, at Sarn Studios in London to form a supergroup known as Band Aid and record a Christmas-themed single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the proceeds of which would be used to help relieve the crippling famine in Ethiopia.

Yep, you’re right: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is a terrible song (for what it’s worth,Geldof calls it one of the “worst songs in history”). The criticisms levied against it—that the lyrics are clunky, that the expressed sentiments are smug and condescending—are valid. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I love it to bits. Those involved with the project participated out of a genuine passion for it, and while the end result might be dreadful, it sure is sincere.

For the purposes of this holiday-themed Duranalysis, I’m going to examine the half-hour made-for-VHS documentary that was released simultaneously with the single, which follows Geldof, Ure, and the various artists throughout a long, frenetic day of recording. Here we go:
Amidst a sea of reporters and onlookers, the musicians begin to arrive at the recording studio. The beautiful boys of Duran Duran and their frenemies in Spandau Ballet arrive simultaneously after a long evening of mutual partying in Germany. Here’s Spandau’s Tony Hadley describing the situation in an excellent 2004 documentary, Band Aid: The Song That Rocked the World: “We were in Germany the night before with the Durannies, and I remember we’d had a right night out. We looked terrible! … You’ve never seen ten perfect pop stars rushing for the toilet as quick as the Durannies and the Spandaus. And it was like, hairspray out, you know, Nick Rhodes getting the makeup on.”

Nick preens for the cameras while looking gorgeous and immaculate. Job well done, Nick.

Bob Geldof, flanked by a silent Midge Ure, talks about how it’s a “complete obscenity” that the US and Europe don’t immediately release their stores of surplus food to Africa. Whatever your views on Geldof (the ever-tactful Morrissey, for example, once labeled him a “nauseating character”and described Band Aid as “diabolical”), it’s tough to mock his passion and gumption. As this documentary makes clear, he worked with a near-maniacal intensity to write and organize and record this single in time to get it into stores before Christmas.

(On a shallow note: While I recognize on an intellectual level that Bob Geldof circa 1984 is unequivocally hot—great eyes, great hair, lanky body, superb Irish accent—I first watched Pink Floyd—The Wall at far too young and tender of an age, and after watching him shave off his eyebrows and indulge in sundry other disturbing behavior onscreen, I am fundamentally unable to find him attractive. Pretty sure I’m not the only person with this problem.)

In the recording studio, the musicians all gather together on risers to sing the chorus. As one of the track’s featured soloists, Simon gets to stand in front right next to Geldof. Two years later, Simon would serve as the best man at Geldof’s wedding to Paula Yates.

Meanwhile, Nick, Roger, Andy, and John are clumped together in the back. The official video for the song consists of footage taken while the track was being recorded, and for years, I assumed Roger hadn’t participated in this part, because I could never spot him in the group. But no, he’s there. Look at the video closely: He’s wedged between Andy and Nick, partially hidden by Jody Watley’s glorious mane of hair, looking haunted and miserable. (Quote from Roger on singing the chorus: “I was just miming it, I think.”)

Like Roger, the lovely ladies of Bananarama seem totally over it.

The soloists record their bits in the studio. Midge Ure, who seems very sweet and charming, presides over these sessions, providing gentle and supportive feedback in the world’s most lilting and delightful Scottish accent. Paul Young sings the opening lines: “It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid…” Young was well known in both the UK and the US at the time for hits like “Oh Girl” and “Every Time You Go Away”, but he’s not quite in the same rarified league of fame as the cluster of soloists who immediately follow him on the track: Simon, Boy George, George Michael, Bono, Sting. There’s a reason for this: Geldof and Ure originally planned for the opening to be sung by David Bowie, who ultimately couldn’t make it to the studio that day, and of the available singers, only Young had a low enough range to manage the part. Young: “As I was the only other person in the room who could sing down there, I think that’s why I got the part.”

Simon records his solo piece. He behaves a teensy bit like a prima donna throughout. It’s not bad, and it’s not unprecedented. The man’s a star. On occasion, he acts like one.

Sting diplomatically comments upon having so many big names and big egos assembled in one room: “Very interesting kind of chemistry going on.”

Here’s Simon, as quoted in Lori Majewski’s stellar Band Aid retrospective in Rolling Stone: “That was the first time I met Sting. He was very friendly, apart from when I said, ‘God, it's really hot and sweaty in here,’ and he told me not to do so many drugs.”

Sting, Simon, and Bono record their parts together. Sting and Simon look like a pair of golden-haired Vikings; wedged between them, Bono looks small and painfully young and innocuous.

 And then Bono opens his mouth and rips out his wrenching, blistering rendition of that infamous/iconic line—“Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you”—and it’s amazing.

Here’s Bono in the 2004 documentary, discussing how Geldof initially approached him to participate in the project: “I thought he was ringing up to say, you know, ‘I like your album’. No, he told me the album was shite, but despite that, would I like to be a part of his song?”

Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of the rock band Status Quo record their bit while goofing around and mocking Midge’s name and making unfortunate “homo” jokes (there are some parts of 1984 I do not miss) and singing wildly off key. Over in the control room, Midge looks tremendously patient and long-suffering. Status Quo’s vocal contribution did not make the final mix of the song (Parfitt: “There’s that lovely moment when somebody else says to me, ‘Rick, it’s probably best if somebody else sings your bit’”).

Nigel Planer shows up, uninvited, in character as Neil from The Young Ones. He gets far too much screen time in this documentary.

Bono waxes philosophic about how best to use his growing money and fame to help the world: “I’m learning more and more that the best way I can contribute as a person is to do what I do best and make music, sing music.” It’s a little insufferable—“My gift is my song!”—but hell, he’s young here, and he’s sincere and well-intentioned, and in the intervening years since Band Aid, he really has leveraged his celebrity to do a great deal of humanitarian work. He’s been a force of good in the world; he’s allowed to be a little insufferable.

John Taylor and Spandau Ballet’s impish Gary Kemp goof around together, giggling madly and showering extravagant praise on Geldof. John seems a little blurry (in 1984, John was always slightly blurry), but he looks gorgeous, and his spirits are high. Most importantly, he’s wearing a fabulous red-and-black sweater with “DURAN DURAN” knitted across the front. I covet that sweater like I’ve coveted few pieces of clothing in my life. Any old slob can own a Duran Duran t-shirt; only John Taylor owns Duran Duran knitwear.

It’s very late in a very long day, and Boy George finally swans into the recording studio, ready at last to record his part. He’d overslept after a performance in New York, then caught the last Concorde flight of the day to London (Bob Geldof: “Fuck me! He wandered in at six in the evening!”). Culture Club drummer Jon Moss, Boy George’s then-lover, asks, “Which way does Boy George go?” The double meaning is firmly intended.

Has anyone made a sordid, sensationalistic, awesome made-for-TV movie about Boy George and Jon Moss? If not, someone needs to get on that pronto, because those two were wildKey quote from Moss about his relationship with Boy George: “He tried to kill me with a plant pot, seriously, from two stories up, by dropping it on my head. I tried to smoke him out and set fire to him one evening, but it wasn’t very good.”

Upon spotting Simon, Boy George summons him over (“Oi! Simon!”), then throws an arm around his shoulders and leads him up the stairs to the recording booth. Flashbulbs pop, fans cheer, reporters shout questions. Boy George: “We’d been, like, sworn enemies for many years, but we ended up putting our arms around each other and posing for the press.”

So Boy George gets to the sound booth and, while swilling from a bottle of brandy, absolutely nails his part. (Per Telegraph journalist Robin Eggar: “There was no catering, and a local shop did a roaring trade in day-old sandwiches. Boy George had to buy his own brandy.”)

A reporter asks Boy George if there’s any reason “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” should hit number one. Boy George: “Well, it just means it’ll stop all these really trashy bands from getting to number one.” Boy George is a walking force of chaos. At one point, he casually refers to a then-closeted George Michael as “camp” (“I was always trying to out George,” he later explained).

Geldof talks about getting all these hugely famous and glamorous stars assembled in one place: “And then when they all got together, it just looked like a bunch of yobbos in any old pub in the world.” He’s not wrong.

Immediately following the recording session, Midge Ure stayed up all night mixing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in order to get it pressed the next morning. It entered the UK pop charts at number one on December 3rd—eight days after the recording session—and eventually sold over eleven million copies worldwide, raising a reported fourteen million dollars for famine relief and jump-starting an enduring trend of celebrity activism. As Geldof describes it, Band Aid was “…an extraordinary operation that came together just because people wanted to do something.” Not a bad result for a day’s work.

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Sarah said…
I love this song - despite the clunky and smug lyrics - and it's just not Christmas season until I hear it. (Although only the original version will do.) I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing holiday!
Morgan Richter said…
I well up in tears every time I hear this dumb song, so I feel you, Sarah. Holiday was wonderful -- best wishes to you, too!
Anonymous said…
I'm sad people describe this song as garbage. I really like it, mainly because Band Aid started it all. The others joined in just to look good to the public IMHO. The British artists gladly spent their days without any compensation and no matter what happened the night before. And Bob Geldof even stood up to the government when they wanted to tax the proceeds. (Geldof was adamant about getting every cent to Ethiopia.)

About the Durans (since this is a Duranalysis), Nick and John look very good. I love how John seem to enjoy himself in that little number with the bass. I did spot Roger: once by Bananaramas, another time in the back with his Duran band mates. He looked to be a bit ill, like he's fighting a cold or something. I noticed Andy threw out the f word. It was in the scene in which John pulled his (Andy's) hat down and Andy responded by playfully whacking John on the head.

Anonymous said…
so does this radio silence mean that this is it? there will be no final new year’s duranalysis, vegas-flavored, canada-flavored, or otherwise? do you really want to hurt me? do you really want to make me cry

i always listen for the singers i like in this one, but i wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye for all these whatever-aids, so i can’t really cite an emotional attachment. (my darkest secret, revealed at last.) so the really on-the-nose stuff does make me roll my eyes a little. i do hear it a lot more than whatever michael jackson’s equivalent was… see, i can’t even remember what that one’s called. so it has staying power! also, andy is really silly in the video, and i like silly andy. so in the end, it winds up squarely okay for me.

man, maybe you should start a culture club analysis (clubalysis? culturalysis? it doesn’t make a good portmanteau, though…). 80s culture club sounds like an amazing subject.
Morgan Richter said…
Lisa -- Yeah, Roger looks pretty unhappy, at least whenever he's visible. I think he was pretty much over Duran Duran by this stage. This was November 1984, and by July 1985, he'd quit the band.

Anonymous -- Sorry for the radio silence! Yeah, I reached the final week of the year and had absolutely no energy or time to post anything at all, Duran-related or otherwise. I'll be taking a bit of a Duranalysis break this month, though I have something very cool in the works, as soon as all the pieces come together, and I'll be analyzing John's terrible movie as soon as I can find a full copy of it.

Boy George is walking chaos, and bless him for it.
Anonymous said…
i understand about the lack of energy and time. it seems like once one becomes an adult, the week between christmas and new year's just turns into chaos. i didn't reply until january 3 myself. XD

...is the cool thing glitter princes? it's been so long since you last talked about it. how's it going? (or is that the subject of thursday or friday?) anyway, i don't think i've ever seen a full copy of vegas, just the clips on youtube! i salute your dedication to the cause.
Mintycake said…
OMG John's terrible movie. YES.
Morgan Richter said…
Anon -- Oh, lord, yeah, Glitter Princes. I haven't done much work on it in a while; I was doing some panels, but nothing I loved. And then a whole bunch of things interfered, and then the holidays were upon me... I'll pick it back up soon. No, the cool thing is something else that should be coming through in the next few days; I'm not trying to be cryptic, but in case it falls through, I don't want to over-hype it.

Mintycake -- John's terrible movie has absolute highest priority right now! I really want to see it, though I will probably be cringing the entire way through.

More Duranalysis soon, I promise.
Anonymous said…
i'm... torn. part of why i asked is because i have a stylish squadron duranger of my own that's finally (finally!) exited the layout phase and entered draft. (i have another project that i don't want attached to a webcomic where duran duran accidentally become super sentai, hence anonymity.) half of my brain is going "NOOOOO! WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE MANGA RIVALS!" and the other half is going “well, it’s probably good for both of us that our durans-in-anime-plots comics won’t be coming out around the same time, even if i do think they sound very different apart from that."

but the other part of why i asked is because glitter princes sounds cool, too. so i also wanted to say that you shouldn’t feel discouraged if it’s taking longer than you expected. the most inspiring thing i’ve read lately was someone who works on steven universe saying that it takes up to nine months to make one twelve-minute episode. and this is a team of people who went to art school and have worked on other animated series previously! so if people like that need a lot of time, then i shouldn’t feel bad that it’s taking a while for me, when i am one person who went to regular school and had two years where i didn’t do a lot of drawing. and neither should you! :)

now i’m even more curious as to what the cool thing is! the fact that it has the potential to fall through suggests something far larger in scale than a simple article. i will remain at a mild level of hype.
Morgan Richter said…
Anonymous, that's awesome. Do you have a link to your work? The universe is big enough to accommodate multiple Duran-themed webcomics (and the idea of the Durans becoming super sentai tickles me to no end).

No level of hype necessary on this, I assure you! No, it's just that somebody very cool has very kindly offered to mail me something that would make a perfect Duranalysis topic, which I'm very excited about, but I'm not counting it as a done deal until it's actually in my grubby hands.

To tide you over until the next Duranalysis, here's a message I received from someone who works closely with the band (reading between the lines, I suspect he thinks I've been a little rough on Nick in my Duranalyses. I adore Nick! All gentle mockery on this site is meant with love!): "I'd just like to say, privately, that working with Nick is an absolute joy. He is hilarious to be around and simply does not have a bad bone in his body. wonderful chap and an complete and utter genius." So there you go!
Kate Crisp said…
Oh, I've just been reading these comments and nearly got hiccups at the prospect of you duranalysing Johns bad movie. I can't even remember what it's called, but is was sooooo bad, my mind wouldn't even let me accept the possibility it was a real thing. Eugh! The sleaze! The red smoking jacket! The sheer evil! Oh I can't wait!!! Kate
Morgan Richter said…
I'm really looking forward to digging into John's terrible movie, Kate. By all reports, it's a classic...
Anonymous said…
ssd will eventually be posted here (well, links to downloads and an askbox will be, because throwing 34 pages of comic up on tumblr would be madness), but since college taught me that nobody cares about anything unless it's completely finished and in front of their eyes, i don't have anything up yet and probably won't until... late february to mid-march, at this rate. to see it right now, you'd have to settle for me emailing you a .pdf consisting of an actually finished(!) cover, two half-finished pages, and many more pages of rough sketches, all with dialogue in place. but you'd be able to follow along and that's what counts, at this stage! (and if you couldn't follow along, then that would tell me i need to change the layout around... which would make it more exciting for me than for you, oops.)

oooh, that sounds cool! well, i'll try not to look forward to it until it has arrived.

things like that message just reinforce my crazy theory that nick rhodes is in fact not a person, but a mirage that we all interpret differently. XD while there are a few "no, really, he's the nicest guy!" anecdotes out there that i know of, i also can't help but remember wild boy, where he seems to mostly have bad bones in his body. in the past i've found it difficult to figure out what and where the middle ground is, but the "nice" side seems to get more people to vouch for it all the time... too many more and the question will become "what was andy's problem?"
Anonymous said…
...and that's why i should always try links out even if they seem really simple, because blogger will try to sabotage them. (alternatively, why i shouldn't try to post when i'm tired.) let's try that again.
Morgan Richter said…
Anonymous, your leather-suited Pretty Guardians are pretty much the best thing ever. While I've long mulled over the parallels between the Durans and the Voltron pilots, in retrospect the Sailor Moon aspect seems equally obvious. Can't wait. Would absolutely love to see your .pdfs, should you care to email them (me_richter(at)yahoo(dot)com).

Yeah, I never quite believe that Nick is an actual person. I like your mirage theory quite a bit. As to Andy's portrayal of him in Wild Boy... yeah. Andy is definitely an unreliable narrator, but I highly doubt there's anything he's just dreamed up out of nowhere. Here's my take: I think Andy and Nick, for the most part, got along just fine in the early years. I think they were friends, in fact. I think Andy grew to absolutely despise Nick during the time the band reunited in the early aughts, after having had fifteen years on his own to mull over how he really didn't like Nick much at all, and this has saturated all his memories of the early days. In Wild Boy, he spends far too much time hanging out socially with Nick for them not to be getting along -- for example, he talks about going clubbing with Nick and Julie Anne in Paris circa VTAK (at the height of the friction within the band) and then going back to Nick's suite at the Plaza Athenee. The point of the story is to show that Nick and Julie Anne were having a rocky marriage, but the greater point is: Andy, why the hell were you visiting Nick if you couldn't stand him? Ditto for when Andy and Tracey shared a villa with Nick and Julie Anne in Montserrat. Throughout Sing Blue Silver, we see them hanging out together on easy terms: mock-wrestling backstage, sitting next to each other and chatting on their private plane. It's not the behavior of mortal enemies.

Someone close to the band -- one of the Barrows, I think -- once said something along the lines about how it can be maddening arguing with Nick, because he'll never, ever raise his voice or be confrontational with anyone, but on the other hand, he'll simply go ahead and do whatever it is he wants to do. (You see this in Sing Blue Silver, where he's very politely explaining to the lighting guys that his lighting on stage is entirely wrong. You can see they're frustrated with him, but they also can't argue with him, because he's being very nice, and he's also got more power than they do). So you'll always, always end up losing arguments with him, because you're doomed from the start. For someone like Andy, who seems to really, really enjoy arguing, this sort of behavior probably drove him insane.
Anonymous said…
it's surprisingly easy to figure out which duran is which sailor guardian! the only ones i can't decide on are whether simon is moon and nick is venus or the other way around. nick would probably be more of a guardian of love and beauty than love and justice... but nick is also the strongest duranger, like moon, though simon isn't far behind him.

before i send off the .pdf and other various things that will help you figure out what this thing should look like (thank you so much!) i actually might change a couple things around, based on this conversation. nothing major (fortunately nick-the-character was always kind at heart), just some small dialogue bits. (and now andy and nick get to say "this could be entertaining" to each other, instead of following simon and john out separately and me not knowing what to do with nick's expression!)

i did notice they seemed friendly in sing blue silver, which is part of why andy's book is so confusing (the other part is how he jumps back and forth in time); it doesn't always add up with what the interviews and sing blue silver say, even if those are by their nature the durans on best behavior. the tone's all wrong. and you're right; other than andy conspiring to sabotage nick on stage (with the intention to embarrass him, not in a way nick would find funny as well... which is an important distinction to me), the major incidents that stuck out ("fuck you, you revlon-wearing tosser", andy screams at nick for the high crime of making idle conversation in the car) really are during the reunion.

in fact, the reason i set this in '82 and not '83 as i originally intended (and which you can still see in the suit designs, the basic shape of three of the jackets is lifted from simon's "reflex" jacket... which you probably would've noticed on your own, i bet! XD) was pretty much that in '82 andy actually feels mostly positive, and john doesn't seem to be flying off the rails to the degree he was later. (plus, no julie anne to also write, and probably not as much insanity surrounding the tour and making the reader's head tilt sideways as they try to imagine the durans going anywhere that isn't a hotel, stadium, or afterparty.) but by '83-'84 andy gives the impression of being pissed off at everyone (except roger. from an objective standpoint, roger may be the Best Duran); his drinking buddy john seems to be getting on his nerves and even simon's stupid positivity!!! is aggravating. though as you've pointed out, some of that is probably andy's hindsight.

as a fellow aquarius, i sometimes see how easily andy's emotions get out of hand in myself (when he's up, in sing blue silver and the early stages of his time with duran in his book, he's funny and creative and fun to be around! when he's down, stay back, do not provoke him!). to me, he's constantly arguing because he feels that Something is Not Right and he can't stand by and let it be wrong, but he doesn't seem to have the self-control to take a step back and calm down before speaking up. and nick is very good at remaining calm, as you noted, which would only wind an angry andy up further because he's getting no reaction and he's certainly not getting what he wants. anywho, time to go fix that draft up!
Morgan Richter said…
Anonymous, I got the .pdfs safely, and they're awesome--will send you a lengthy reply as soon as I get the time.

Duranger! I'm going to go with Simon=Moon and Nick=Venus, mostly because a) Simon is the leader, and b) he's spazzy and emotional, like Usagi. But I can see how it could be reversed.

Andy, Andy, Andy... I love Andy, but I don't necessarily trust Andy. Yeah, he definitely seemed lighter-hearted in the early years of the band. I think the great crush of fame and the expectations they all felt they had to live up to post-Rio were tough for them to deal with, and Andy just started to get angry all the time. I credit Andy for being unafraid of making himself seem unsympathetic in Wild Boy (such as, as you point out, the part where he screams at Nick in the car for making idle conversation. Or their whole Revlon-wearing-tosser fight, in which they both seem equally ridiculous), but the problem is, it never seems like Nick's doing enough to provoke this venomous reaction. In Andy's account, Nick seems like an annoying but high-powered coworker who drives you up the wall with his behavior (arriving late to everything, expecting you to rearrange your schedule around his, being a super-perfectionist, getting his own way all the time), but who is more or less liked and/or tolerated by the rest of the office, so you end up seeming petty if you spend too much time complaining about him.
Anonymous said…
RE: Andy

In his autobiography, he admitted to being diagnosed with clinical depression because of his father's passing. I think his depression might have been a lot sooner than that. I once read an article on Psychology Today about how men and women's depression differ. While many women's depression plays out in feeling sad, blue, empty, numb, and tired; men's depression plays out in anger.

Morgan Richter said…
Lisa, you could very well be right about Andy's depression. I think he's clearly someone who's had a lot of emotional instability in his life, and the constant pressure of being in Duran Duran couldn't have helped that.

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