I saw Rock of Ages a few weeks ago with Ashley and Vanessa, both of whom are a few years younger than me. Enough younger than me that I felt that the show offered more in the way of their coming of age music than mine. Not that the show wasn’t good. But its music all surfaced for me at the end of high school and into college. And when I think of ‘coming of age’ … at least musically … I think of the stuff that brought me from grade school into high school. I was there on August 1, 1981 ‘wanting my MTV’ when the station was first launched with the airing of The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. Truth be told, I still have that song and even another by The Buggles on my iPod. (I’d be surprised if anyone reading could even name another song by that band.)
So, a few years later, when all of those early 80s (British) bands came together in the interest of aiding world hunger to produce a single called Do They Know it’s Christmas?, I was all in. I remember excitedly talking about it right after it was released with a bunch of kids in my Biology class. I bought the album that week. And thanks to the fact that it remained at my parents’ house, I still own it (as it wasn’t among the many casualties of my home lost to Katrina).
I found it the other day and snapped a few pictures.
The front cover art was interesting enough but the back cover design was what really caught my attention … because it featured a picture of all the performers who sang on the album. And there was even a crude key for determining who was who in the picture. I stared at that album so much I could have named every face on the blank outline drawing without missing even one. Yet, I probably hadn’t read a page of whatever I was supposed to be reading in my English class at the time.
Yeah, that’s right. How many of you knew that Kool & the Gang sang on the album? Don’t worry. I’d actually forgotten, too.
There were three songs on the album:
- the version we all hear played every holiday season
- the spoken parts of the flip side (#3) that aren’t included in the main song (#1). I can only assume this cut was included as filler.
- a combination of #1 and #2 – making it an extended version of the main song featuring an elongated spoken segment set to the song’s familiar drumbeat where each of the participants (plus a few extra big names who didn’t appear on the album) offers their holiday messages. That’s the version that I played incessantly in my room. I loved listening to the foreign accents and all the repeated ‘Happy Christmas’es. At some point, I really need to get my hands on one of those transfer-your-records-to-CD contraptions so I can hear it again. Hell, maybe I’ll even post it here.
As weird as it sounds … and I know that it will … I listened to that extended version so many times that I still have most of the spoken parts committed to memory. I still remember David Bowie’s closing speech. ‘It’s Christmas 1984. And there are more starving folk on our planet than ever before. Please give a thought for them this season and do whatever you can, however small, to help them live. Have a peaceful New Year.” Actually, Bowie went second to last among the spoken well-wishers. Bob Geldof, front man for The Boomtown Rats and more importantly the force behind the BAND-AID project, did the honors.
And, whether they like it or not, my kids know the song very well. My daughter even does the harmony. But they had not seen the video until I played it for them on YouTube this year. My son was mostly concerned about determining the genders of many of the singers. (In his defense, he was grappling with Boy George, George Michael and so many other long-haired, made-up dudes). My daughter took one look at all the ratted hair and tattered clothing and asked if the singers themselves were the ‘poor people’ for whom the song was written. And I just couldn’t get over how much Bob Geldof looked like Jerry Seinfeld.
So anyway, take a look if you’re interested. It’s been 27 years since this song was released and, for me, it will always remind me of my early sometimes awkward, sometimes exciting teen years and all the wild and wonderful, gender-bending music we listened to back then.
For more information about the album’s production, click here. There’s all kinds of interesting details there, like how Boy George had to be dragged out of bed to participate and, once there, wanted nothing more than to bitch slap George Michael.