Battle of the Band Aids.

With the 1984 version, there’s a sense that everyone involved – Geldof and Ure included – is more or less openly aware that, as a song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” ain’t all that. Knocked up in a day; a means to an end; so let’s not pretend we’re working on some sort of future classic here. You can hear it in the vocal delivery, and see it in the performance, both of which retain a faintly desultory, singing-it-off-the-school-hymn-sheet quality.

Whereas with the 2004 version there’s a certain reverence at work; a feeling amongst the participants that they are honoured to lend their interpretations to such a hallowed item in the pop canon. This time round, the lyric is treated not as greetings-card doggerel, but as something approaching a sacred text.

One point to 1984 for honesty (even if it’s cynical).
One point to 2004 for sincerity (even if it’s naive).

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As a piece of music, Nigel Godrich’s 2004 production is more considered, layered, fleshed out, fully worked. Compare and contrast with the thin, synthetic rush-job of Trevor Horn’s original; in particular that lumpen, monotonous synth-disco/Hi-NRG-lite chuggity-chug bassline that runs all the way through, bashing out the block chords, sounding for all the world like a preset which came with the machine.

One point to 2004 for production values.

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On the other hand: the 1984 drumming is just great, driving the song along at a thumping old pace. But then, if I may be so bold as to point it out, Phil Collins was always capable of being a bloody good drummer when he wanted to be.

(This may not be generally admitted in polite society, but IT’S TRUE.)

One point to 1984 for The Collins Thump.

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1984 stays much on the same level all the way through. 2004’s episodic nature holds your interest throughout, in the fine old Bohemian Rhapsody tradition.

One point to 2004 for skilful deployment of the episodic tradition.

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1984 kicks more or less straight in with Paul Young. No fuss, please; I just happened to draw the first straw. I’ll do my bit, then move swiftly along. Whereas the solemnly strummed opening moments of 2004 are essentially one long build-up to The Entrance Of The Saintly Chris Martin (For It Is He) – who, being far too important to grace us mere mortals with His physical presence, phones in His part down the holy ISDN hot-line from Hollywood. (Chris Martin breathing the same air as Rachel Stevens and The Sugababes? Unthinkable!)

On the video it’s even worse, as Saint Chris (peace be upon him) fixes us with His angelic, oh-so-meaningful blue eyes, looking for all the world like the head chorister who always bags the unaccompanied solo on the first verse of Once In Royal David’s City.

By the time that Chris Martin’s piece is over, we’re already 30 seconds into the song. Get off the stage already!

One point to 1984 for unassuming democracy, and for not being burdened with the sheer weight of The Blessed Chris.

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And it wasn’t just Chris Martin; all of the first three 2004 performers of 2004 phoned their parts in. At least everybody involved in 1984 actually made it to the studio in person. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this does make a material difference to the way we perceive the output. 1984 felt organic and live. 2004 feels stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster.

One point to 1984 for Keeping It Real.

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“And in our world of plenty…” Boy George’s time at the top of the tree may have been drawing to an end (sandwiched in between the embarrassing disaster of The War Song and the total flop of The Medal Song, mere days before everyone unwrapped their copies of Waking Up With The House On Fire and realised what a big fat dud it was), but here, for what was to be the last time, he delivers the assured performance of a huge global star.

Compare and contrast with the godawful Dido, diffidently swallowing her words before she has even finished singing them properly. No-one’s forcing you to do this, love! If you didn’t want to, you should have said so!

In the George/Dido play-off, 1984 grabs the point.

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Oh, just look at that sulky old misfit Paul Weller, trying his best to distance himself from his surroundings even as he performs. No such tainted-by-association qualms for Thom Yorke, merrily mucking in and mugging to camera as he tinkles the ivories.

(Note: in 2004, Paul Weller is knocking out easy-listening cover versions for the Radio 2 crowd. You are free to ponder this irony at your leisure.)

One point to 2004, for dropping the attitude and getting properly stuck in.

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Oh look, that’s really clever! They’ve got Sting to sing “bitter STING of tears”!

One point to 2004, for its lack of buttock-clenchingly inappropriate Sting-related word-play.

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Bono in 1984: an insufferably earnest, self-important, grandstanding, big-flag-waving bellow.(Ooh, and he’s a Christian too! Isn’t it clever how they’ve given the best lines to the best people!)

Bono in 2004: imbues That Line with an unexpected power, pathos and dignity.

One point to 2004, as an older and wiser Bono swings Band Aid 20 into the lead.

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A minority view this might be, but dammit, I like Dizzee Rascal’s rap. I like its spikiness, its awkwardness, the way it suspends and disrupts the flow, stopping you short, forcing you to tune in. Anyway, he’s “grime”, and therefore unimpeachable. So there.

One more to 2004, for Contemporary Urban Relevance. Oh yes.

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Then, there’s that sombre pause – that wee lacuna, as some would have it – whose poignant eloquence stems from what it implies, rather than states. (Which, in a song as baldly literal as this one, comes as a welcome raising of the artistic tone.) As such, it’s the fulcrum of the whole record. You know, as Darkness yields to Light, and all that.

Another to 2004. They didn’t have fulcrums twenty years ago.

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And, lo! Hark! Whose cherubic tones are these? Why, it’s rosy-cheeked Tiny Tom Chaplin out of Keane, all wrapped up snugly in his little winter muffler! Gawd bless us one and all!

The 2004 points are falling like snowflakes.

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As the cameras pan round the room in readiness for the big choral coda, let’s examine the state of our stars. 1984’s lot look like they’ve just crawled out of bed, presumably roused from their slumbers by a hectoring Geldof on the other end of the line. Bad hair days all round: just look at the state of Sting! And Boy George! If Rossi and Parfitt from Status Quo hadn’t been public-spiritedly doling out the charlie in the bogs, Lord knows how they would all have managed.

In stark contrast, the class of 2004 have all been styled to buggery. Minders, PR’s, caterers – the whole circus is in town. Not very rock and roll, is it?

A much-needed point to 84, for daring to be dog-rough.

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“Feed the world…” Come on, 84: look lively! Put a bit of oomph into it! And stop staring at your hymn sheets; you should know the words off by heart by now. Weller, I’m talking to YOU. Chins up, Bananarama! And Marilyn, do stop pouting like that.

“Let them know it’s Christmas time…” Good, 2004: that’s much better. Because you actually sound like you mean it. A spirited performance all round. Give yourselves a round of… oh, you already have.

A point to 04 for sheer enthusiasm and energy – and WITHOUT the aid of Certain Substances which I could mention. So far as we know. (No, honestly. Take a good look around. Cleaner than the average Olympic squad, this lot.)

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However, we are obliged to deduct a point from 04 for the frightful ad-libbed “soulful” caterwauling of young Miss Joss Stone towards the end. Because nobody likes a show-off. And another point deducted for all that unseemly self-congratulatory clapping and whooping. Hooray for us! We fed the world!

Final score:

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Time to face facts, then. Once you get over the shock of the new, and the absurdly misplaced cries of “sacrilege” (I mean, COME ON! Get a GRIP!), Band Aid 20 clearly emerges as the better record.

Oh yes it does.

No, I think you’ll find it does, actually.

Trackbacks:
Gordon McLean: Originality
Prolific: Don’t they know they are the world’s worst single ever?
A Blog’s Life: Band Aid 20

See also:
Popjustice: Monday Singles Sweep · Shirley you can’t be serious · Chav Aid
World Of Chig: Band Aid 20 facts
World Development Movement: Alternative Band Aid lyrics. (via)

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