Released today in 1984: Do They Know It’s Christmas?


Phonogram FEED1

“The Band Aid single: we were there!” ran a screamer along the bottom of the front page of Smash Hits (6 – 19 December 1984). Despite this scoop, the main image on that cover was of polka-dotted bubblegum post-punks Strawberry Switchblade, who at that time were still yet to reach the Top 40 with their one significant hit Since Yesterday. That single had been released on 19 October 1984; a couple of days later, Bob Geldof and his partner Paula Yates were watching a BBC news report from Michael Buerk about the famine in Ethiopia. A week or so after that, Paula was chatting to Midge Ure, whose band Ultravox were guests on her show ‘The Tube’, when Geldof rang her. Learning whom she was with, Geldof asked to speak Ure and told him his idea for a charity record to raise money to help the Ethiopians. Band Aid came together over the next three weeks. “I was outraged after seeing the first shots from Ethiopia,” Geldof explained, “but rather than just put my hand in my pocket I thought there must be something more I can do. So I just phoned up everyone I knew, starting with friends like Midge Ure, Sting, Gary Kemp and Simon Le Bon, and they all agreed to help.”

Peter Martin was the Smash Hits reporter who witnessed the recording being made. At 9.15am on Sunday 25 November 1984 he and a few other journalists, photographers and television crews were at Sarm West Studios in time to see the arrival of “a lanky, unshaven, bleary-eyed bloke… It’s Bob Geldof, showing signs of strain from ten days of organizing today’s events.” Martin documented the next few arrivals: “Next through the door is Midge Ure, who’ll be producing Do They Know It’s Christmas? (which he wrote, along with Bob)…behind him is Jon Moss, assuring all and sundry that Boy George will be arriving later… now it appears the foodgates are open. For the next two hours a constant stream of the world’s most famous pop stars stream into the building, ready to be filmed, photographed and recorded. Sting’s just arrived in his jet-black Range Rover… Paul Weller’s turned up on foot and spends most of his time in the corner, minding his own business…next in are Spandau Ballet…next are Duran Duran, who, like Spandau, have just got off the 6.30am plane from Dortmund, Germany. Nick Rhodes is fully made up and sporting ski goggles while John Taylor, quite frankly, looks a bit of a wreck: ‘Actually, I’m on another planet.’ Suddenly the place is chock-a-block. You can’t even go to the toilet without bumping into someone like Simon Le Bon… by noon, all but Boy George have arrived and been ushered upstairs for a grand photo session.”

Where was Boy George? In America, as Culture Club were touring. Well, Moss had made it to the UK… Geldof woke George by phone and insisted he fly back by Concorde to record his vocal, which he did. He finally arrived in the evening, after some footage had been filmed that could be used for a video: “Then who should walk in but Boy George?,” wrote Martin. “Strangely for him, he looks quite fazed and waves his arms in the air shrieking ‘My god, it’s so trippy seeing all these faces in one tiny room!’ He sits on the arm of the couch next to Jon Moss, who’s chatting to Simon Le Bon. On his left are Trudie [Styler, Sting’s partner and future wife] (plus baby), who’s talking to Paula Yates (plus baby Fifi Trixibelle) and Bono, who’s talking to Sting. George just sits there in mild disbelief. Being there all day, it seems quite natural the way everyone has got together, ‘working for the cause’. But to someone who’s just come in from the cold the scene must appear rather odd. I mean, Simon Le Bon sharing experiences about life on the road with Bono? Paul Weller getting on famously with Marilyn? Dogs [belonging to Sting] and babies in a studio? Surely some mistake?”

There was no mistake, of course. Once Boy George’s vocals are finished, there was time for Phil Collins to record some live drums to add to the programmed version that had already been record, and then the record would be “mixed tonight, mastered tomorrow (when it will receive its first radio play from a tape), pressed in the factory on Wednesday and will be in the shops on Saturday, on its way to raising the hoped-for £1.5 million for the Ethiopian Famine Trust. And, owing to Geldof’s persistence, the record company Phonogram and main stores like WH Smith and John Menzies have agreed to forgo profits.” In addition, the studio time at Sarm West had been donated by owner Trevor Horn, the performers were doing so without charge, sleeve designer Peter Blake worked for nothing, and PolyGram (Phonogram’s distributor) agreed to absorb the costs of getting the record into the shops. Press ads appeared in the music magazines without fee, and even some usually immovable organizations bent the rules: Michael Grade at BBC1 refused to allow the video to be shown on ‘Top Of The Pops’ before the record was in the charts, but he did agree to delay the start of the programme so that the video could be shown at the time the show would normally start to go out, and the government gave the VAT on sales back to the charity.

7” singles typically cost £1.35 at the end of 1984, and Geldof estimated that around a £1 from each sale should reach the appeal. The release date set for the single was 7th December 1984, launched at an event at Royal Albert Hall that evening. However, as Geldof had wanted the single in the shops at the end of the same week it was recorded, Phonogram agreed to have copies ready for the shops from Monday the 3rd to cover the advance orders that had been received, fulfilling the rest of the dealer orders by the official release date by involving all five of their European pressing plants. It sold nearly a quarter of million copies within two days, on its way to being the best-selling single of the decade.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 3
The FUN BOY THREE The More I See (The Less I Believe) (Chrysalis CHS2664)
BAND AID Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Phonogram FEED1)
WHAM! Last Christmas/Everything She Wants (Remix) (Epic GA4949)


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