A Guilty Song: ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas?, 1984I’ve already mentioned USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” as a song that makes me laugh. Its self-indulgent lyrics, celebrating America’s ability to change the world (“We’re America!”), is a far cry from the song that started it all, the stark, challenging Christmas ballad from Britain’s all-star cast, Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

While the first song is pure artificial sweetener, with no substance or meaning, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have crafted a song that is not only serious, but also challenges listeners.

Let’s look at both songs.  “We are the World” starts with pretty, positive synthesizers. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” starts with a stark, solemn drum beat. Winner: Band Aid.

The lyrics:
We Are the World
There comes a time when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
And it’s time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all

We can’t go on pretending day by day
That someone, somewhere will soon make a change
We all are a part of God’s great big family
And the truth, you know,
Love is all we need

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 the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring
There are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

“We Are the World” says, yes, love is all we need! Heal the world! Make it a better place! (Oops that’s another Michael Jackson song…) Meanwhile, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” sets the scene for the joy and laughter of Christmas then hits us over the head with reality. Clanging chimes of doom. Tears. Dread. Fear. Who makes me feel more guilty about Western lifestyle? Which single did I buy? Band Aid.

For a 16-year-old just discovering the politics of U2, it was a sobering song – and one that musically was 100 times better than the egotistical trollop that was “We Are the World.” And it still stands the test of time; when was the last time you heard “We are the World” on the radio?

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