The creation of The Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof and Ultravox’s Midge Ure, “Band Aid” was formed in 1984 as a way to raise money for relief efforts towards the Ethiopian famine.
The supergroup consisted of some of the biggest names in British music at the time such as Culture Club, George Michael, Paul Young, The Police, Paul Weller, Duran Duran and U2 as well as guest appearances on the spoken B-side by Paul McCartney and David Bowie – it stands today as the 2nd best-selling in UK history (behind Elton John’s Candle In The Wind) and would spawn other huge money-making relief efforts such as the USA’s We Are The World and 1985’s Live Aid concerts.
However, behind the scenes of this charity single, we find many interesting nuggets of information not widely known. Here, we will paint the backstage scenes behind the most successful charity single in the history of the United Kingdom.
Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes In Lineup
The opening line of Band Aid for the historic single was performed by Paul Young although this was not the original plan.
This was written for David Bowie however he could not attend. He would perform the lyric at the Wembley segment of 1985’s Live Aid and make an appearance on the record’s B-side however. In his place, Young – best known for his number 1 hit single cover of ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’.
Although never penned in for the track, a significant absence from the track was Queen. They were effectively blackballed from the single for breaking a boycott against performances in South Africa; at the time, the nation was heavily torn by apartheid. However, the Freddie Mercury-fronted band would be forgiven by Live Aid and would be one of the most memorable acts of the concert relief effort.
The majority of the performers for Band Aid on the single, were members of bands. A noticeably out-of-place musician is Marilyn, who had a hit in 1983 with ‘Calling Your Name’ – a UK top 5 single.
The androgenous singer was not invited to the studio but nonetheless rocked up to the venue and got a role on the track, albeit not a leading part. A good friend of Boy George of Culture Club, Marilyn is now a largely forgotten musician of the era but always has his place on this record to put on his résumé.
On Board A Concorde
All the recordings of the vocals took place over a short 24-hour period, with one arriving much later than others.
When first phoned by Bob Geldof, Boy George was in New York as a part of his present United States tour. Geldof told George to fly back immediately. George got out of his bed and quickly boarded a Concorde and arrived at 6pm.
With coarse vocals from the tour, he would consume a bottle of brandy. He would take the most attempts of anyone to get his vocals performed satisfactorily.
Bitter Sting Of Tears
One of the more ironic lines of the song is sung by The Police’s Sting.
Geldof recalled that: “Sting was moaning, “Do I have to sing that?” I said, “Yes, because it’s just a coincidence that the word sting is in it.” If you listen to the song, there’s a deep bitterness in Sting’s voice.” Sting would himself say “There’s a touch of irony there. When we had to dole out the lines to everyone else, it wasn’t an accident” – it generally seems he was not happy at these lyrics written for him.
Similarly, Bono was originally against the “well, tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you” line”. Bono delayed proceedings by asking for a change of lyrics but Geldof was insistent it stuck. Its controversy has led to them being altered over time.
Setting The Status Quo
One of the most memorable band contributions behind the recording came from Status Quo.
As well as allegedly turning up high, Status Quo had their biggest contribution of the song removed when deemed not fitting. This was replaced by the same part sung by Sting, Paul Weller and Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17.
Elsewhere, the band mischievously followed the members of Spandau Ballet (who themselves had turned up reportedly hungover alongside Duran Duran) to the toilet. They then locked the group in the stall, with the Ballet boys then having to knock down the door in order to escape.
Despite some of the incidents mentioned like the profanity-ladened phone call from Geldof to Boy George and the Status Quo boys locking in Ballet, it was mostly peaceful.
Yet there was some tension as egos clashed as apparently both Boy George and Paul Weller were present to mock George Michael. In the book “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story Of The Music Video Revolution“, George writes: “The musicians in England had been slagging each off all year, and everyone kind of forgot about it for the day.”
He adds “The only person who didn’t succumb to the charitable nature of the day was Paul Weller, who decided to have a go at me in front of everybody, to which the Wham! member replied “Don’t be a w****** all your life. Have a day off.’”
Initially, after release, Geldof seemingly defended the single that had been his focus for months beforehand. This included even taking on Thatcher’s Conservative government over VAT for sales of the single.
An early vocal detractor of the single was Morrissey who called the project “diabolical” as well as Geldof as a “nauseating character” but such is always-controversial Smiths lead singer.
Nowadays, even The Boomtown Rats singer himself despises his own work, crediting himself for 2 of the worst song ever in both Band Aid and the USA For Africa’s singles. Bob recalled “I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. [One is] ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ The other one is ‘We Are The World.’ Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter, and it will be playing. Every f***ing Christmas.”. He would also similarly state, “Every time I arrive to buy the fucking turkey, I hear [hums the song’s intro]. The butcher looks at me with a little smile and I go, ‘Yeah, yeah. Give me the fucking turkey, dude.’”.
No hard feelings though, aye Bob?