I saw Sir Bob Geldof on the news this morning. For the thirtieth anniversary of the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed the World),” an all-star group of musicians has re-recorded and updated the song. For those who missed 1984, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure were big rock stars who gathered artists from the biggest acts in England and Ireland to sing a song and sell the recordings to fight famine in Ethiopia. They called this super-group Band Aid. They sold over a million copies in the first week and watched the song become the #1 UK Single of all time (until 1997). Millions of dollars were raised and by 1985 they had organized Live Aid, an internationally-broadcast dual-venue concert (London and Philadelphia) that earned over $280 million. The finale at Wembley was the Band Aid song and at JFK in Philly it was “We Are the World” by the USA for Africa all-star chorus. These songs and organizations are still raising money to fight poverty and famine. Proceeds from sales of the 2014 song are slated to fight the causes and spread of Ebola. I’ll buy that!
I love when musicians use their talents and influence to effect positive changes in the world like fighting famine and disease. Sure, there are plenty of critics who say Band Aid, Live Aid, Farm Aid and other events like them are scams at worst and big skimmers at best. I just like it. Music is the international language and I feel it’s a useful, logical forum to bring people out of misery. Wikipedia lists 79 events under “benefit concerts” so I guess I’m not the only one.
I was only eight years old when George Harrison and Ravi Shankar staged the Concert for Bangladesh on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. It certainly was the first event of its kind where rock stars united for an international cause. I had no idea where Bangladesh was but I sure as hell knew who the Beatles were and I was thrilled that one of them was back in action. I thought, “If George says it’s a good cause, it must be so.” Of course I didn’t go to the show and it wasn’t on TV. There was no such thing as the internet and only NASA had computers. But even then I understood disasters both natural and man-made. I knew that cyclones and war were bad for kids. Four years later I bought the concert album and by 1978 the concert film was in heavy rotation at the midnight movies downtown.
That summer of 1971 I also learned the song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. I had heard it on the radio a few times before but it was at Vacation Bible School that I really learned it. A couple of the “teen counselors” who helped with arts and crafts also played guitars and taught us some cool folksy gospel songs. On the last day of VBS, we sang some songs with them for the gathered parents. Then they did a few songs on their own. When they played “Get Together” to wrap up the afternoon, suddenly all us kids started singing along. The parents thought it was adorable and these guys were obviously moved but they were also quick to say that they hadn’t taught us the song or made us sing it. That puzzled me for a few years; why apologize for such a beautiful accident? At eight, I didn’t know that people protesting the war in Vietnam had adopted it as an anthem or that some parents might not approve.
And I didn’t know until today that the song had been used in TV and radio ads in 1970 by a group called The National Council of Christians and Jews. Or that just after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Clear Channel Communications put “Get Together” on a list of songs it called “lyrically questionable” and suggested to their 1,200 radio stations that they “…might not want to play…” them. I may never understand that.