"Do They Know It's Christmas?" & Other Bad '80s Philanthropic Songs

The mid-1980s saw the initial boom of celebrity humanitarianism and poor quality songs written for African famine relief. I thought this post was fitting for this time of year, right before Christmas, because one such philanthropic song, 'Do They Know It's Christmas', always receives much airplay in December. This post brings you the good (if there is any), the bad (which there is a lot of), and the ugly (also quite abundant in these videos) of philanthropic humanitarian music videos of the mid-1980s.

Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid

It's that time of year...when holiday stations play the song "Do They Know it's Christmas" nearly once every hour. As I child I had no clue what this song was about. Now I do, and the lyrics are now mildly hilarious to me. In 1985 a whole bunch of UK artists collaborated under the leadership of Bob Geldof, rock-star-turned-humanitarian(?), to participate in a concert called Band Aid which would raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. The song "Do They Know It's Christmas" was a product of this concert. 

Conveniently released near Christmas (as any NGO knows, Christmas campaigns raise more money that non-Christmas campaigns do), the song in collaboration with the overall Band Aid initiative raised £40 million for famine relief in Ethiopia, however, Geldof was later criticized for having a large sum of the money be spent not on food, but for ammunition:

Of the £63million that flowed into the country in 1985, it is claimed just 5 per cent was spent on famine relief, with the rest going on weapons and attempts to overthrow the government. 
…Sir Bob said there was 'no evidence' of this, and urged people to 'keep on giving'. 
The extraordinary claims have been made by former rebels, who told a BBC investigation they posed as merchants in meetings with charity workers to get aid money. Insurgents would dress up and show sacks filled with sand, rather than grain, to ensure they were handed millions of pounds.

We are the World - USA for Africa

Piggybacking on the success of Band Aid, American musicians collaborated under the lead of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to create the song "We are the World". After its release in 1985, it allegedly raised over $63 million for humanitarian relief in seven countries in Africa. Of the 90% of the funds pledged toward African relief, most of it was put towards efforts in birth control and food production - Hmm. In addition, in 1985 a cargo flight dropped a whole bunch of SWEDOW in Ethiopia and Sudan, including 15,000 t-shirts (and some actually useful stuff too like medicines and high-protein biscuits). 

Tears are not Enough - Northern Lights

As the song states: "Let's show them Canada still cares". Never let us forget are northern Canadian brothers who also care for Africa. Although they may have been out-shined by USA for Africa and Band Aid, their attempt at making a philanthropic music video should not be forgotten  I must congratulate Northern Lights on having a much better sense of style and overall less creepy demeanor in their video than both Band Aid and USA for Africa artists. They also must be congratulated because they actually show clips of famine victims in the Horn, which makes it the only video that actually links the famine to the song and the contributing artists. 

A Million Years - YU Rock Mission

Philanthropic music did not end in North America and Western Europe, no! Never forget those caring Yugoslavs who collaborated on the song "Za milion godina" which was released in 1985 during Yugoslavia's own version of Band Aid. In the video above, I can't help but to laugh at the man who introduced the song and YU Rock's activities because he repeatedly makes statements like "We organized a rock concert for the famine-stricken population of Africa" and "We have two ships sailing to Africa" - He may be unaware of this, but Africa is very large. Having two ships headed to Africa is vague. He never mentions Ethiopia or any specific locations of where famine was actually occurring  This makes me wonder, did these artists even realize what they were raising money for besides "Africa"?

We're Stars - Hear n' Aid

Heavy metal artists were feeling a bit left out after their under-representation in both Band Aid and USA for Africa, so they collaborated on the song 'We're Stars' and released it on January 1, 1986. The song raised allegedly $1 million for famine relief. If you listen to this song, you might struggle as I did to locate its relationship with either Africa or aid. 

And now, since Africans had no voice whatsoever in any of the videos above, I bring you their perspective:

Africa for Norway - Radi Aid

"People don't ignore starving people, so why should be ignore cold people? Frostbite kills too". This video has already been circulated almost everywhere, but just in case you haven't seen it, it is brilliant and it gives a far better representation of most of Africa than does the videos and songs above.


  1. Anonymous25.1.15

    thanks this really helps me on my project :) :))

  2. Anonymous17.5.15

    Yes, Yugoslavs were well aware of the fact that they were raising money to help Ethiopia. Remember that Yugoslavia was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and as such had much closer ties with the countries of Africa than any other European country. In addition, Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie were very close political allies, and I guess Selassie's frequent visits to Yugoslavia must have had an influence on Yugoslavs' philanthropy during the great famine.


Hello there! Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment! I moderate and approve all comments just to make sure they aren't spam, because let's face it, we get enough spam in our lives as it is. So as long as you're a human being, you should see your comment up here in a few hours along with a response. Cheers!