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45 at 33: Band Aid II’s godawful Do They Know It’s Christmas?

45 at 33: Band Aid II’s godawful Do They Know It’s Christmas?

AKA The forgotten Band Aid, the Band Aid that no sticking plaster could save, and so on and so forth. Because in December 1989, the scourge of the British music industry, producers Stock Aitken and Waterman, masterminded a re-recording of the classic festive ensemble-thon, Do They Know It’s Christmas? This is the whole nauseating story

Here’s where I lay my hat on the table: I actually like the original Band Aid tune.

I freely admit I didn’t buy it at the time, though — charidee or no charidee — mainly because it wasn’t cool enough for my crimped-haired tastes. No Cure?  No Bunnymen? No Dead Or Alive? No chance, Mr Geldof!

One scan of the original throng who flocked to SARM West on that crisp November Sunday in 1984 and I know that my record collection included one single by Midge Ure’s Ultravox, two singles by Heaven 17, and (cough), three singles and an album by U2. 

That was it. So me being me, I encouraged my younger sister to buy the Band Aid 12”, mainly so I could hear David Bowie’s spoken message on the B-side, hastily taped — as was Paul McCartney’s — to effectively apologise for choosing to stay away from W11 when the world and their wife were watching.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? isn’t going to win any awards for songwriting but it was a brilliant moment in pop music, and even after all these years, there’s something a bit spine-tingling about how Geldof and Ure pulled off almost the impossible. 

However, five years later, you realised how studded with bravura vocal performances the original was when compared with SAW’s insipid remake.

They treated the song itself, of course, as sacrosanct – but Do They Know It’s Christmas? gained some of its power and all of its excuses by being a rushed, passionate response to a terrible situation. 

Oh, but hey, Waterman wheeled all the major talents of the day, right? 

Vylie! Jason! Bros! Sonia! Er, Big Fun. 

The usual caveats apply: the record did some good, it’s churlish to assume anything less than noble intentions on the part of the participants (even those with rapidly receding careers) – oh, and it’s better than Jive Bunny, but what isn’t? 

The finale is a masterpiece of over-singing, but I can’t be too harsh because it raised a lot of money for charity. Oh, sod it, yes I bloody can.

Band Aid II can’t escape comparison with the original on a number of levels – performances, participants, production, impact – and it fails on every single one. 

Actually, no, the singing isn’t bad – it’s absolutely hideous.

Tasked to open the proceedings, Kylie has the range of a constipated budgerigar, and she kinda looks a bit like one too. But then the Neighbours telly fave was always on a hiding to nothing, when the original song is so famous that as soon as you hear “It’s Christmas time and there’s no need to be afraid” you can’t help but have Paul Young’s soulful tones waft through your head. Whatever you think of his réchauffé ready output, that man could sing. Whereas Kylie sounds more Vylie than ever. I mean, even my cat can sing better than that, even when she‘s bunged up.

It’s as dire as Chris is Rea. Think about it.

One of the unquestionable stand-out performances on the first version, Boy George’s lines have been shared (pun intended) amongst Jimmy Somerville (fine), Big Fun (slime) and a ridiculously over-singing Matt Goss, with the result being that this sequence is even gayer than original. But, oh, what fun they had.

While we’re on the subject, George Michael’s “But say a prayer…” has been remoulded, painfully, by Cliff Richard. But whereas Yog’s delivery was angelic and heartfelt, Sir Clifford sounds like your granddad who’s just necked a dozen Sanatogens and snatched the mic from you at karaoke.

The mirror sequencing is certainly curious though. Of course, in 1984 the closeted George Michael had just unveiled one of the most-played Christmas tunes of all time: Wham’s Last Christmas, which directly competed with Band Aid.

Five years on, and the closeted Cliff had just unveiled yet another of his festive follies: in 1989, it was a duet with ole grumpy drawers Van Morrison on Whenever God Shines His Light—which directly competed with Band Aid II.

Did I say closeted? Oops, perhaps I should retract that. I wouldn’t want to upset Cliff’s wife or anything. 

Anyway, if there are awards for sheer cuntdom in pop music, it has to go to Pete Waterman for letting the most credible vocalist on the whole sorry affair embarrass herself with the most very horrible moment of the entire record, and jeez, there was plenty of competition: Yes, that’s Lisa Stansfield shuddering her way through “no ra-i-i-i-n or r-i-i-i-ver flow”. 

You could make a case that the 1984 version overdid the jauntiness once Phil Collins’ drums kicked in, but it’s got nothing on the Hit Factory’s one-size-fits-all Soul II Soul-lite rhythm track bopping its way through this travesty. 

Technotronic? This beat is fucking chronic.

But it gets even worse. Seriously.

Bono’s famous if lyrically suspect line “And tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” is split between the other Neighbours ninny Jason Donovan and gormless Goss, who has returned to battle Lisa Stansfield in the “How many notes can we split a sentence into” stakes.

Altogether now “Now now, yea-eh-ah!”

Goss is comfortably in line for the Prize Pillock of The Song award, and despite a late charge by the grinning smack-head Marti Pellow, the Bros buffoon clinches it by dancing — dancing — through the rest of the video, as Bananarama — the only act to appear on both Band Aids — look on with a look that says “Either slip this fool the largest glass of hemlock you’ve ever seen or we’re out of here. There’s three bags of chips and a couple of Vimtos with our names on them.”

Ultimately, presenting the song as an inviolable classic highlights its perceived weaknesses. Because no matter the quality of the record, it’s hard to compare the line-ups and not feel a sense of tragic decline.

From the biggest-selling single of all time (until Elton John’s 1997 redo of Candle In The Wind, at least), to the ninth-biggest seller of 1989: charity hit glut illustrated in a single stat. 

But what of those that said “We’ll call you back” then strangely disappeared on holiday?

George Michael declined to reprise, Terence Trent D’arby’s ego couldn’t be accommodated (doubtless the doors of PWL Studios weren’t wide enough for his head to get through) and Pet Shop Boys were always going to be far too tasteful to appear on such low-grade shenanigans. As it was, the seminal synth-poppers were already occupying the Top 20 with two collaborations — one with Electronic, the other with Dusty Springfield. 

Sometimes three really is a crowd.

Steve Pafford

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