U2101 – Do They Know It’s Christmas

Well, it’s that time of year once again. As you read this, Christmas day will be less than a week away, so I thought that I ought to do something to commemorate the occasion. Since I wrote about U2’s pair of Christmas songs a couple of years ago (see here), this year seemed like a good opportunity to discuss one of the other U2-related holiday-themed songs. I chose the charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas”.

The original version of the song was written in the very last weeks of  of 1984 by Bono-friend and fellow Irishman Bob Geldof (of the Boomtown Rats) and English singer Midge Ure (of Ultravox), and was then recorded on November 25th by a whole host of the day’s most popular British and Irish artists, including such luminaries as Boy George (of Culture Club), Simon Le Bon (of Duran Duran), George Michael (of Wham!), and Sting (of The Police) as well as, of course, Bono and Adam Clayton of U2. Although the first line was sung by singer-songwriter Paul Young, the climax of the first verse and, in my opinion, the most powerful (and most memorable) line of the entire sing was delivered by Bono in his typical passionate wail. Bono (and presumable Adam, although he isn’t shown in the video) then joined in with the rest of the ensemble to sing the song’s closing chorus.


“Do They Know It’s Christmas” was a massive hit in the U.K., making a then-record for the biggest selling record of all time. Unfortunately, the song didn’t make quite the same splash in the United States, reaching only number thirteen on the charts, but it did inspire the 1985 charity single “We Are the World”. The success of the song, which raised millions of dollars for hungry people in Africa, led to several further recordings of the song, some of which also featured contributions from Bono. The 2004 version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was recorded for the twentieth anniversary of the original, and featured Bono reprising his famous line in the song from twenty years earlier. The most recent version of the song, from 2014, was again highlighted by a contribution from Bono, who once again sang a line of vocals in a similar spot in the song, although this time around the line consisted of different lyrics.


Many of the same artists got together in July of 1985 at a live concert event that was motivated by the same need to feed starving people in Africa. The event was called Live Aid, and has gone down in history as one of the most watched television broadcasts of all time. Live Aid also became famous in U2 history as the event that really launched the group into stardom for the first time. Bono’s attempt to form a connection with the audience, which culminated in a trip into the crowd itself, would be one of the lasting images of a day that also included a reunion of super-star rock band Led Zeppelin. Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without a live performance of the song that started it all, and much of the original body of singers joined forces once again for a winning rendering of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, with Bono singing the same line that he’s become known for. All in all, it was a great day, and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was where the whole thing began.

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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