I Am Stuck on Band Aid
It’s hard to get on board with contemporary holiday tunes. It’s an effort to learn them. You have no warm associations with them. Also, they’re frequently crap. When word spread in 1984 of the all-star Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” it sounded dynamite on paper – but also like a one-off event. Could it possibly stick? Would we be hearing it again for years to come … or even the following Christmas?
Sure, the lyrics were a bit mawkish, but it got under your skin all the same. And let’s face it, all those MTV cuties in one studio together could have cut “Hail to the Bus Driver” and we teenyboppers would have run out and bought ten copies each. The no-frills video was a voyeuristic thrill, providing a glimpse of the cream of the British pop world in jeans, sweaters and various degrees of bedhead, “look[ing] like a bunch of yobs down the pub on a Sunday lunchtime,” as mastermind Bob Geldof observed in his 1986 autobiography, Is That It?
Band Aid did come back around the following Christmas, and all the ones after that — and 25 years later, it is a part of our holiday associations, and not least, a part of our youth. Whatever happened to all those guys who ruled the world back then?
Has anybody here seen my old friend Paul Young? Among the more grounded stars of the time, and certainly possessing one of the top-tier singing voices, Paul seems to have actually lived the dream without screwing it up, making hits and making money and going on to enjoy a quiet family life. Dabbles now and again with some cohorts as Tex-Mex combo Los Pacaminos, and in 2006 recorded “Rock Swings,” an elusive import of pumped-up pop covers from “Tainted Love” to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” We welcome him back with open arms whenever he’s ready.
Avowed goody two-shoes Boy George fell into a pile of cocaine in 1985 and found he rather liked it. Since then, he’s recorded a handful of albums, built a successful DJing career, written a Tony-nominated musical score and become the go-to celebrity behind such headlines as “Troubled singer arrested again.” George has hit rock bottom so many times he knows just how to bounce. In 2009, he’s gone from slinging hash in prison to recording “White Xmas,” a sweet take on the standard. Has more greatness in him, and probably a few more embarrassing public disgraces; it’s a package deal.
Who could have guessed that the pervert our parents warned us to watch out for in public-park bathrooms would turn out to be George Michael? Famously set his monkey free for one of Beverly Hills’ finest in 1998, at which point his closet doors flew open faster than Hot Lips’ shower curtain in “M*A*S*H.” Ekes out consistently ponderous albums on an glacial timetable. These are always redeemed by one or two genius booty-shakers, but he really ought to stop smoking so much pot.
Duran Duran have aged fairly well for former pinups. Simon Le Bon was always a pudge, so he didn’t have far to fall, and time has given a pleasing fill to the chronically undernourished Nick Rhodes and John Taylor. A band that lived the pop-star life to the fullest back in the day, their north-England work ethic is unshakable; aren’t these guys tired of one another after nearly thirty years on the road? Except for a covers-album misfire (1995’s “Thank You”), their product remains consistent; no surprises, but what they do, they do well. A revolving personnel door (the three Taylors, John, Andy and Roger, all quit at least once, and one-time Missing Person Warren Cuccurullo was unceremoniously pink-slipped) has ushered back in the original lineup, save for Andy, for an upcoming album.
Sting left a promising career with The Police to try his luck solo. Reunited with his old mates in 2007 for the Andy and Stewart Want Italian Villas Too Tour. His new record, “If On A Winter’s Night…”, despite a title that exemplifies just why some people find Sting to be a pretentious jerk (and why it’s not always easy to refute their point), is a nice mood piece for folks who appreciate the season itself but can do without the Christmas hoopla.
Bono, how can we miss you when you won’t go away?
Ah, Bananarama – such a simple gimmick, three girls singing in unison. And it worked, for what seems upon reflection a surprisingly long time. The perky trio made up most of the very small contingent of women to appear on Band Aid. Siobhan “The Smart One” Fahey married and divorced Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics and had success as half of Shakespear’s Sister, while Keren “The Pretty One” Woodward found happiness with Wham! afterthought Andrew Ridgeley. Woodward and Sara “She’s a man, baby!” Dallin continue to record as a duo and are frequent fliers on the ’80s nostalgia tour circuit.
At a time when there was plenty of fluff on the charts, Frankie Goes To Hollywood were musically and visually intense – but Holly Johnson’s charming outtake on Band Aid’s B-side of spoken messages (“I can’t get the laugh right, Bob”) lifted the veil and reminded you that even rock ’n’ roll is just a job some guys do. Frankie burned hot and fast, blowing their load on a formidable double-LP debut, and were gone before we knew what to make of them. Holly announced his HIV-positive status in 1993 and returned to his initial calling as a visual artist; he continues to exhibit paintings and more in the Tate Modern, among other venues. A fine singer, he should also be remembered for another winter classic, Frankie’s majestic ballad “The Power of Love.”
Who can forget David Bowie’s somber, earnest intro to the Band Aid video, in his Frankie-esque “Feed the World” T-shirt? Entered into a few failed experiments in the 1990s (Bowie Bonds, The Linguini Incident) and other more promising ventures (mating with Iman). Got back on his game with his most recent albums, “Heathen” (2002) and “Reality” (2003), but threatened to give us all a very bad day when he suffered a heart attack on tour in 2004. Since then, he has delved into acting roles ranging from Nikola Tesla in “The Prestige” to voice work on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Always and forever an icon of style, he has wisely transitioned in recent days to more age-appropriate haircuts.
Bob Geldof started the whole ball rolling with his simple tune (co-written with Ultravox’s Midge Ure) and unwavering commitment to his quixotic vision. The single, of course, was a massive hit and begat the transatlantic Live Aid concerts in July 1985 – a feat Bob summoned the will to pull off all over again twenty years later with Live 8. He received an honorary knighthood in 1986 and Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 2006 and 2008 for his continued humanitarian work; he also spent years entangled in a public, nasty and ultimately tragic love triangle with late ex-wife Paula Yates and late INXS frontman Michael Hutchence.
In the end, though, we’ll remember Geldof best for the product of his 24 hours in London’s Sarm West Studios on Nov. 25, 1984, which comes back around every year to let us know it’s Christmastime again.
Band photo desecrated by Geoff Carter. If you want to give us a hard time over misidentifying Peter Max and the guy from Status Quo, blame Carter.