The story behind … “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

There is usually quite an interesting story behind hit songs like Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

This particular story starts in early October 1984 in England, where Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats fame, was watching television, and saw a BBC news report about the horrible famine in Ethiopia. This disaster had resulted from a very severe drought, and as Geldof watched, he felt compelled to do something. But the question was what could he do?

He then contacted his good friend, Midge Ure, lead singer of Ultravox, and after tossing around several ideas, they then decided their best option was to collaborate on a benefit single to be released during the rapidly approaching holiday season. Ure stated, “We knew if we made it a Christmas song, we would pull at the purse strings as well as the heartstrings”.  Since time was of the essence, the two quickly co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, a song designed to make the listener think of those who were living in poverty, and unable to afford Christmas celebrations.

Geldof then set about drafting many British high-profile musicians and singers, whose visibility in the music industry would spark interest resulting in huge sales. Top British acts like George Michael, Sting, Phil Collins, U2, Duran Duran, Culture Club and Bananarama were among those who agreed to participate. Kool And the Gang was the only American act to perform.

Utilizing his other top contacts in the music industry, a studio was quickly procured, and time donated for the recording performance.  When their initial choice for producer fell through, Ure himself stepped up, and produced the event on November 24, 1984. Allowances were made for the acts who wanted to participate, but were currently out on tour, (such as Boy George) to record their parts separately, and their track rushed into the studio recording. The single was recorded basically in that one-day session, and rapidly released on November 29, 1984. In order to ensure its success, Geldof went on several BBC radio shows prior to release, to promote their endeavor. Other artists who did not perform, also stepped up to ask the public to purchase the single.

The resulting single was a smashing success, topping the charts at the coveted #1 position on December 15, and remaining at #1 for five weeks. In fact, the record became the fastest selling single in UK chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone and passing the 3 million mark on the last day of 1984. 

The song was also a major success around the world, reaching number one in thirteen other countries outside the UK. In the US, the single fell short of the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 due to a lack of airplay, but it had sold an estimated 2.5 million copies in the US by January 1985.

The following holiday season, the hit was re-released in the UK, again reaching the top 5, and has been re-released on several Christmas compilations since. The success of this song was also what inspired the hit, “We Are the World,” in 1985.

Geldof and Ure, initially wanted to raise £100,000, but instead have raised millions for the cause, and continue to raise money with it today. As Ure notes with pride, “’Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ will be making money for charity long after Bob and I have gone.”

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].