I’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?