"Do They Know It's Christmas?" is a song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 to raise money for relief of the 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia. The original version was produced by Midge Ure and released by Band Aid on 28 November 1984.
In October 1984, a BBC television report by Michael Buerk was aired in the UK, which highlighted the famine that had hit the people of Ethiopia. Irish singer Bob Geldof saw the report and was inspired to raise money to relieve those affected by the famine. He called Midge Ure from Ultravox and together they quickly co-wrote the song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?".
Geldof kept a November appointment with BBC Radio 1 DJ Richard Skinner to appear on his show, but instead of discussing his new album (the original reason for his booking), he used his airtime to publicise the idea for the charity single, so by the time the musicians were recruited there was intense media interest in the subject. Geldof put together a group called Band Aid, consisting of leading British and Irish musicians who were among the most popular of the era. On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released four days later.
The original version became the biggest selling single in UK Singles Chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone, and passing three million sales on the last day of 1984. It stayed at Number 1 for five weeks, becoming Christmas number one, and has sold 3.7 million copies. It remained the highest selling single in UK chart history until 1997, when Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" was released in tribute to Princess Diana, which sold almost 5 million copies in Britain. Worldwide, the single had sold 11.8 million copies by 1989.
Following the release of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in December 1984 and record sales in aid of famine relief, Geldof then set his sights on staging a huge concert, 1985's Live Aid, to raise further funds.
Geldof approached Trevor Horn to produce the song, but he was unavailable. Instead, Horn offered the use of his studio in London, Sarm West Studios, free of charge to the project for 24 hours. Geldof accepted and assigned Ure as producer instead. On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded and mixed.
Geldof and Ure arrived first at dawn so that Ure could put the recorded backing tracks (created at his home studio), into the system at Sarm. Ure also had vocals for the song recorded by Sting and Simon Le Bon which he had acquired from the artists in advance in order to provide a guide for the other vocalists.
The world's media were in attendance as artists began arriving, starting at 9 am. Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Paul Young, Culture Club (without Boy George, initially), George Michael of Wham!, Kool and the Gang, Sting, Bono and Adam Clayton of U2, Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17 (whom Ure personally requested) and his bandmate Martyn Ware, Phil Collins of Genesis, Paul Weller of the Style Council, Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo, Jody Watley of Shalamar, Bananarama, Marilyn (who was not invited but arrived anyway) and some of Geldof's bandmates from the Boomtown Rats all arrived. Only one of Ure's Ultravox colleagues, Chris Cross, attended. Geldof, noticing Boy George's absence (despite phoning him in New York the day before, demanding he sing on the record), called the Culture Club frontman again to get him out of bed and onto a Concorde transatlantic flight.
Ure played the backing track and guide vocals to the artists together then decided, as a way of getting all involved straightaway, to record the climax first, which also allowed the 'team shot' of the day to be photographed. The artists were put in a huge group and sang the 'Feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time' refrain over and over again until it was completed.
Then Ure sought a volunteer to be first into the studio to sing the main body of the song. Eventually Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet did so, with plenty of rival artists watching him, and sang the song straight through. The other assigned singers then did likewise, with Ure taping their efforts and then making notes on which segments would be cut into the final recording. Le Bon, despite having already recorded his part at Ure's house, re-recorded it so he could be part of the moment. Sting also recorded his words again, this time to provide harmony.
Phil Collins arrived with his entire drum kit and waited until Ure was ready to record him over an electronic drum track that had already been put in place. The song ended up as a mixture of Collins' drums and an African rhythm that opens the song, taken from a sample of The Hurting by Tears for Fears.
Ure stated in his autobiography that he was constantly battling with Geldof, the song's lyricist but not renowned for his melody skills, and telling him to leave when he would come into the production booth and wrongly tell the artist behind the microphone what to sing. Ure also had to shelve an attempt by the two members of Status Quo to record the "here's to you" harmonies because Parfitt could not hit the note. This section was eventually taken on by Weller, Sting and Gregory.
Boy George arrived at 6:00 PM and went immediately into the recording booth to deliver his lines.
Despite being singers themselves, neither Geldof nor Ure had a solo line on the song, though both took part in the 'feed the world' finale.
Ure worked on the mix through the night and finally completed the task at 8:00 AM on Monday morning.
The song was quickly dispatched to the pressing plants who had promised to have the single pressed and ready by Tuesday. A spell of publicity and final legal details followed, then it hit the shops on Thursday 29 November in a sleeve designed by Peter Blake. It went straight to No. 1.
The original Band Aid ensemble consisted of :
Paul Young, Boy George, George Michael, Simon Le Bon, Sting, Tony Hadley, Bono, Paul Weller, Glenn Gregory, Marilyn - lead vocals, chorus line vocals
Adam Clayton, Boomtown Rats, Martin Kemp, Steve Norman, John Keeble, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor, Chris Cross, Holly Johnson, Martyn Ware, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Bananarama, Jody Watley, Kool & the Gang - chorus line vocals
Phil Collins - drums, chorus line vocals
Gary Kemp - guitar, chorus line vocals
John Taylor - bass, chorus line vocals
Midge Ure - keyboards, chorus line vocals
Jon Moss - percussion, bells, chorus line vocals
The following morning Geldof appeared on Mike Read's BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show to promote the record and promised that every penny would go to the cause. This led to a stand-off with the British Government which refused to waive the VAT on the sales of the single. Geldof made the headlines by publicly standing up to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and, sensing the strength of public feeling, the government backed down and donated the tax back to the charity.
Radio 1 began to play the song every hour - normally an A-list single got seven or eight plays per day - as the public mood was gripped. The DJs began to take apart the song in order to identify each vocalist, and BBC Television was persuaded by Geldof (who rang BBC1 controller Michael Grade personally) that Top of the Pops, the flagship chart show, should break with tradition and feature a song which had yet to be released. Grade watched the video and immediately ordered that every preceding programme should start five minutes early in order to accommodate it on Top of the Pops. David Bowie flew into England to record an introduction for the video.
The single was released on 3 December 1984, and went straight to Number 1 in the UK pop charts, outselling all the other records in the chart put together. It became the fastest selling single of all time in the UK, selling a million copies in the first week alone. It stayed at Number 1 for five weeks and ultimately sold more than three million copies.
In the United States, the video was played on MTV frequently throughout the Christmas season. It sold 1.9 million copies in its first eleven days on release but did not reach Number 1 there, due to the more complex nature of the chart system, which counted airplay as well as sales. Despite outselling the official number 1 by four to one, it did not make the top ten due to a lack of airplay, ultimately peaking at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.