In the mid-1980s, the pop music scene had this idea that recording songs with superstar ensemble bands would change the world. Nobody (especially not Sir Bob Geldof) stopped to consider that maybe it was a little condescending, a little patronizing, and a little bit OH I DUNNO colonialist to want to “fix” all the poor starving dark people. Do they know it’s Christmas? Probably not, dude. And they probably don’t care, either. Ever considered that “they” may not be into the whole Jesus thing?
Right. So these songs have existed for years (although obviously George Harrison got in on that action first with The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.) The most famous ones (of course) were the gazillion-selling hit singles where proceeds went to Ethiopia—“We Are The World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (in 1984 and 1989 respectively). Hell, even the money from George Michael’s “Last Christmas/Everything She Wants” single went to helping the famine in Ethiopia. Not that this was bad. I mean, I’m certainly not gonna attack George because that dude was amazing.
The general feeling of these charity songs ended up being a little “OMGZ we need to helpz the poors who can’t help themselves, c’mon other rich musik frenz! Let us change the world with our synthesizer-ness, big shoulder clothing and rockstar monies!” On the other hand, it catalyzed some pretty HFS songs and mind-blowing music videos. The following works are not all that…good. But they are also not all terrible! Some of them you should love authentically. They are great! Others…well, I love them. But I also recognize that the cheese factor is basically at Wisconsin-level.
Shall we take a look?
When the pop stars got all philanthropist-y, the metalheads just had to get in on the action. Thus we got the complete insanity of Swedish Metal Aid and Hear ‘n Aid. Both bands were (like their new wave/pop siblings) ensemble acts with proceeds headed towards Africa. Unlike Band Aid and USA for Africa, these two acts had hair, voices and attitudes that went sky-high. And spandex. Lots and lots and lots of spandex. Swedish Metal Aid was fronted by Joey Tempest of Europe (yes, “The Final Countdown,” that Europe) and involved members from bands with names like Neon Leon & the Bondage Babies, Heavy Load, Trash, Treat, Orion’s Swords and Glorious Bankrobbers. Hear ‘n Aid was organized by the one and only Ronnie James Dio and he got everybody in there—Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, Queensrÿche, Dokken, Mötley Crüe and even Spinal Tap!
Swedish Metal Aid’s song was called “Give a Helpin’ Hand,” while Hear ‘n Aid released “Stars.” Behold the damage….
But the 1980s was not where charity tunes began. In 1974, there was a horrible cyclone in Australia in the city of Darwin. Joke all you want about the name of the city where it happened but it was really awful and to make things worse? It happened on Christmas! The Kiwi pop duo Bill and Boyd recorded a song called “Santa Never Made it into Darwin” to raise money for Cyclone Tracy relief. I’m a fan of the song. I’ve included that here for your listening pleasure as well.
You may have some familiarity with the charity Comic Relief. It’s a bit of a big deal in the UK, where it’s quite a large event, highly star-studded and…called Red Nose Day. Because everyone, you guessed it, wears red noses. It targets the same charitable areas—worldwide poverty and local hunger organizations. That said, it has produced a few of the absolute best songs for its cause. My personal favorite is, hands’ down, the Cliff Richards/Young Ones collaboration on a song that I love, “Living Doll.” But I will say that I swoonswoonswoon over Bruce Dickinson singing Alice Cooper…
I’m nerdily crazy about one of the last ones I’ve included. Another ensemble band collected in the UK for the BBC Children In Need telethon called The County Line. They cover David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the video is so 80s I could puke Aqua Net. I love it! How can you beat a band that boasts Suzi Quatro and Bronski Beat??? But this one is really special.
Someone from the SCOPE charity asked The Manic Street Preachers to cover “Suicide Is Painless” for obvious reasons. And they did. M*A*S*H or the Manics? I’ll let you choose…
And finally, Pulp parody the star-studded charity single music video with their “Bad Cover Version” promo.