Revisiting Band Aid’s Cringe-Inducing 1984 Single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

We all know, don’t we, that the 1984 charity hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” qualifies as possibly the worst Christmas song ever recorded? Does that go too far? The song’s writer, Bob Geldof, went even further, once saying, “I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and the other one is ‘We Are the World.’”

There’s no objective measure for such a thing, but I’m not inclined to disagree, with due respect for the millions Geldof, co-organizer and co-producer Midge Ure, and British celebrity supergroup Band Aid raised to feed victims of famine in Ethiopia in the mid-80s. Revisiting the lyrics now, I’m shocked to find they’re even more ridiculous and cringe-inducing than I remembered.

We can quickly dispense with the absurdity of the title. As an exasperated Spotify employee helpfully pointed out recently in a series of annotations, “the people of Ethiopia probably did know it was Christmas—it’s one of the oldest Christian nations in the world” with a majority Christian population.

The song’s aid recipients are referred to as “the other ones” who live in “a world of dread and fear.” Listeners are enjoined to “thank God it’s them instead of you.” And two years after Toto’s “Africa,” Band Aid manages to deliver the clumsiest, most ill-informed stanza perhaps ever written about the continent:

And there won’t be snow in Africa
This Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Troublingly, the song “peddles myths about the cause of the famine,” writes Greg Evans at The Independent, “suggesting it was down to a drought, rather than the corrupt government misusing international aid.”

But it’s Christmas, as you probably know, so let’s not be too hard on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The artists who participated, including George Michael, Bono, Boy George, Sting, and many others had a significant impact on the entertainment industry’s role in international aid, for good and ill. The song was re-recorded three times, in 1989, 2004, and 2014, and it has become, believe it or not, “the second bestselling single in Britain’s history,” Laura June points out at The Outline.

Evans notes that “a reported £200m was raised via sales of the single which went towards the relief fund and it later went on to inspire the iconic Live Aid concert in July 1985, which raised a further £150m.” (Some of that money, it was later discovered, inadvertently made it into the hands of Ethiopia’s corrupt government.) Other benefit events, like Farm Aid in the U.S., would follow Geldof and Urge’s lead, and the model proved to be an enduring way for artists to support causes they cared about.

See the unbearably earnest original video at the top of the post and, just above, a thirty-minute making of film with a who’s who of mid-1980s British pop royalty learning to sing “let them know it’s Christmas time again” together.

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Hear Paul McCartney’s Experimental Christmas Mixtape: A Rare & Forgotten Recording from 1965

Relive 16 Hours of Historic Live Aid Performances with These Big YouTube Playlists: Queen, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young & Much More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (28)
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  • Brent says:

    But that’s what you needed to sell to raise charity back then. Nobody was into wokeness to get out their credit cards then.

    Historical revisionism…

  • Scott says:

    You cringe that the writer didn’t know as much as you do 35 years after the song was produced? How smug we are churning our our criticisms.

    Since our knowledge is so superior, perhaps you should know the cause of the famine in Ethiopia wasn’t just corruption, as you suggest. There was, in fact, a drought in that year, particularly through Gojjam, Tigray, Wollongong and Hararghe. Other factors were conflict and civil war, the persecution of non-Amharic population, the agricultural system and policies, and even locusts and disease. Might be hard to fit all that into a pop song though.

    Further, Ethiopia is Christian but the lyrics are written to those in the wealthier countries, admonishing them for the slow response. “Do they know it’s Christmas” doesn’t mean THEY don’t know it’s christmas. It’s written as a criticism of the lack of Christian response and “thank god it’s them instead of you” attitude in the west.

    The fact is, the famine killed somewhere between 400,000 to 1.2 million, displaced 2.5 million, and left 200,000 orphans. Sorry the song that raised a couple hundred million dollars for those people had lyrics you dont approve of.

  • Scott says:

    Personally, being of a certain age, I love seeing how young and beautiful everyone looks in that video.

  • Indigo says:

    Way off mark article.
    Try the same on We Are The World.
    Makes you want to puke in your soup, for performers and song.

    Brent got it “Historical revisionism…”.

  • rob preuss says:

    “unbearably earnest”?

    for such an interesting
    website, every once
    in awhile you reveal
    your strangely cynical
    generational dysfunction!

    merry christmas!

  • Ralph says:

    Not even close. Worst Christmas song: The Fairytale of New York. I don’t care what you believe, the word “faggot” disqualifies it!

  • Tom says:

    Oh please.
    “Dominic The Donkey” is the worst Christmas song ever recorded.

  • David says:

    I find most critics of this song have never donated to charity, or done anything to benefit anyone other than themselves. This song raised hundreds of millions of dollars to provide aid. What have the critics done to help end world hunger?

  • Joe says:

    The music was secondary to Geldof’s actual accomplishment with Live Aid. In spite of the feel-good back patting the official story told, the reality was horrifically, unimaginably, the exact opposite. The Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu, until then deadlocked in the war, was using the money the west gave him to buy sophisticated weapons from the Russians, and was now able to efficiently and viciously crush the opposition. Ethiopia, then the third poorest country in the world, suddenly had the largest, best equipped army on the African continent.
    Live Aid allowed Mengistu to slaughter 10’s of thousands of Eritrean women and children.
    Geldof and the rest of the stupidly complicit ‘stars’ bankrolled mass killings. He was warned warned repeatedly but was too busy basking in the glow.

  • Bill Peschel says:

    Spin Magazine found a) Ethiopia has drought every year, some years worse than others, and b) a lot of the money raised through Live Aid went to the dictator who used it to buy weapons.

    Feel good now, David?

  • Marianne says:

    Spot on. I remember at the time I found it cringeworthy for many reasons, some of which are mentioned above. And I wasn’t the only one then. Having good intentions is no excuse for being ill-informed, prejudiced and smug. And, yes, I have donated to many charities throughout my life and volunteered for some.

  • Alan McBride says:

    “Urge’s”? Ffs.

  • DJRMewzique says:

    Cringe-inducing? This is one of the single best Christmas songs of all time. What a pile of bull. There are so many songs I cannot stand to listen to ever Christmas. This song? Play it ten times a day every day in December’s by all means,

  • TheMarque says:

    White People: “If only these interesting native people I like to read about had snow and Christmas Trees like we do! They must terribly regret not having real culture like we do, the poor dears!”

  • H. Dotson says:

    I still love both songs.

  • Linda says:

    Well, they meant well.

  • Kaz says:

    The Bandaid song is my favourite modern Christmas song because it embodies the very essence of what Christmas is truly about although I wish there was an updated version that is inclusive of all who do not know that the kingdom of God is at hand.

  • Karl Reitmann says:

    Wollongong is in Australia not Ethiopia..

  • Ana says:

    Geldof and others were aware of the problems in Africa. When Geldof visited the camps he called the Ethiopian president a murderous c*** to his face and probably owes his life to a sympathetic (or terrified) translator. Those artists chose to save lives even if a percentage was always going to be lost to corrupt governments. The alternative was to do nothing. Bono comments on that whenever asked. He says that you can only do your best, chose carefully the charities you support but don’t just sit on your behind. Sting has also stated that “you can’t save the world, but you’ve got to try.” So, no, not naive, rather stoics.

  • Ana says:

    Band Aid Contemporaries : “If only these ‘awoke’ people could read in between the lines or do a bit of research so they could understand that to this song started as an angry, protest song by Bob Geldof, then Midge Ure added those naive carol-like notes and Sting, Paul Weller and Gary Kemp helped smooth it all out with the melodic phrasing. The result was a Xmas carol that was as close to a kick in the guts of those who did believe that there was such a thing as Xmas – as a magic time enjoyed by all in the world. It did its job wonderfully well and it turned donating or being involved in charity a cool thing to do. Both Bono and Sting have repeatedly affirmed that Band Aid was a turning point in their lives and it taught them “to care”.

  • Kiss Myass says:

    TheMarque:”I am a brainless racist commie fascist and I need to jump of a tall building”.

  • Michelle says:

    I was a young teen when this song was released, I am white, and the title and lyrics made me cringe then. “Do they know it’s Christmas at all?” Good Lord.

    It is no surprise that white supremacy was bubbling out of the tiny island nation formerly known as “Great” Britain, a cesspool of imperialism and belief in racism superiority, but I expect better from us Americans. Some songs need to thrown in the trash. Ethiopia was indeed suffering from political failings and famine at the time, and I applaud the sentiment to help (without making it all about the singers’ popularity). No need to add insult to injury by wondering if one of the first Christian countries in the world, holder of the world’s oldest Bible and possibly also of the Ark of the Covenant, knows Christmas. Again, good Lord! We can do better.

  • Michelle says:

    If the “they” really was meant to us in the western nations, I would be comfortable with the song. Do you have any links to share for that hypothesis? Right from the time I first heard this song back in the 80s, that line made me cringe, thinking it sounded like smug westerners asking if Ethiopians knew it was Christmas. (Fun fact: the date of western Christmas is t the Orthodox Christmas anyway. Lol)

  • Jon Zilkow says:

    This article is pure garbage based on hapless wokeness. The impact this cause had on the world at the time was profound and will never be replicated by wastrels like this journalist and his ilk.

  • Belisario says:

    Well said Jon. Unbelievable the abuse in collective negativity that this wokeness generation is applying at almost everything. Lets see only the bad, not the good. Lets not learn, just cancel/destroy.

    Geldof made the comment of the songs on 2010 because of artistic aspects rather than the content or meaning. As he said once…”it is a damn pop song not a Doctoral thesis”. I will personally hear DTKIC as one of
    my favorite songs forever. May God bless Geldof and all of those who participated in helping the cause back then.

  • Sean says:


    What’s the deal with the way people talk, am I right? How does expression work? What’s poetry? What’s rhetoric?

    “We sure don’t know, around here.”

    The fact that Ethiopia is a Christian nation adds even more gravitas to the title, “Do they know it’s Christmas?”

    It’s almost absurd that someone needs to point this out to you.

    In Canada, a fairly Christian nation, people also often lament that the poverty-stricken don’t get to “know” the joy of Christmas.

    I know, I know… I’m just getting roped into a clickbaity argument with half-wits.

    I mean… why would a non-Christian nation, such as, say, Pakistan, have any reason to know or care that it’s Christmas?

    If Pakistan had been in the grip of a poverty crisis, and the song had been written for Pakistan, would that somehow make MORE sense to you?

    Never mind.

    Something tells me it would.


  • Bubba says:

    I have watched a lot of the videos on YouTube of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” I bought a VHS version when it was first released and one glaring omission from every version online is a clip of Boy George holding up a bottle of alcohol around the line of “here’s to them, raise a glass for everyone” it’s on my VHS version, but nowhere on line have I been able to find it. Around the same time, Paul Young is also on tape with an arm extended and a “thumbs up” with his hand. Funny how I can’t seem to find that version…maybe it’s out there, but I’ve changed my search parameters, added and deleted words to try and find the video I have with no luck. Just sayin’….

  • Bubba says:

    I just found a version (extended) not exactly like the one I have but it does show Boy George taking a drink from a bottle and Paul Young raising a arm with what may be a “thumbs up”, hard to see for sure. But a modified version of what I have is out there. Nuff said.

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