Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Charity projects in pop can be said to have begun with George Harrison's well-intentioned effort for Bangladesh '71, a legendary concert and three-LP set, but the money got lost in a welter of conflicting claims from record companies, song publishers etc. Amnesty International albums were more successful on a smaller scale, for the world-wide non-profit organization that 'works impartially for the release of prisoners of conscience: men and women, detained anywhere for their beliefs, colour, ethnic origin, sex, religion or language'. Amnesty won a Nobel Peace Prize '77, that year released the first Amnesty benefit album, Frolics At The Mermaid, with comic contributions from John Cleese, Peter Cook, Peter Ustinov; musical from Pete Atkin, Julie Covington. The Secret Policeman's Ball '79 included solo tracks by Pete Townshend, John Williams, Neil Innes, Tom Robinson; The Secret Policeman's Other Ball '82 drew other stars out of their usual orbits: Sting performed solo versions of 'Roxanne', 'Message In A Bottle'; Bob Geldof sang 'I Don't Like Mondays' to solo piano; Phil Collins soloed on 'In The Air Tonight' and 'Roof Is Leaking'; Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton appeared for the first time together, playing 'Farther On Up The Road' and 'Crossroads'. Amnesty adopted Bob Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released' as their anthem; Dire Straits donated their South African royalties; Simple Minds gave proceeds from 'Ghostdancing'; Conspiracy Of Hope '86 included tracks by Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Elton John.

Meanwhile the modern pop charity era began with Band Aid, undertaken by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) after he saw a BBC documentary on the Ethiopian famine '84, joined by Midge Ure (Ultravox): in November they wrote and recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', produced by Ure; the biggest ever UK single, world- wide sales over seven million, with Sting, Paul Weller, George Michael, Boy George, Phil Collins, Paul Young, members of U2, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Status Quo, and spoken messages on the B-side from David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Having learned the lessons of Harrison's project, Band Aid saw Geldof talking record companies, printers, distributors and the press into working for nothing, profits from related projects (T-shirts, video, etc) went to the famine victims. (Only the UK government of the day refused to waive its sales tax.) Geldof visited Ethiopia '85, then arranged a simultaneous concert linking Wembley Stadium London and Philadelphia by video and Concorde airliner: 16 hours of Live Aid was televised 13 July '85 to most countries, even featured a Soviet group; the money raised by all this said to be £60 million mid-'87. Geldof was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a British MP, seconded by the Irish Prime Minister. Meanwhile 'American Band Aid' (USA for Africa) made 'We Are The World' released April '85, written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson; stars taking part including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Cyndi Lauper, Harry Belafonte and Ray Charles, held together by Quincy Jones. An album of that name included unreleased tracks by Springsteen, Pointer Sisters, Linda Ronstadt and Prince.

Other projects included Welsh and Canadian Band Aid singles; 2-Tone 'starvation' single with members of UB40, the Specials, the Pioneers; BRAFA (British Reggae Artists Appeal), included Matumbi, Misty in Roots, Aswad. Dylan made remarks during Live Aid broadcast about the plight of American farmers losing homesteads under Reaganomics; Nelson talked to Illinois Governor J. Thompson about it and Farm Aid hoped to make $40m, a twelve-hour country music festival broadcast from U. of Illinois by cable company Nashville Network mid-'85, with Dylan, Neil Young, Ry Cooder, many country stars. Also in '85, Emmylou Harris hosted Nashville songwriters event Bread'n'Jam 1, with Gail Davies and many others, on behalf of USA for Africa and Second Harvest Food Bank. Geldof had sparked off social concern missing from the music scene for many years: he asked Eurocrats in Brussels in October '85 why they maintain a grain mountain courtesy of EC taxpayers while Africans starve; answer came there none. He helped with Sports Aid '86, received an honorary knighthood: honorary because he is Irish, not British, but (unusually) bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II instead of UK Foreign Secretary partly because Geldof had severely criticized Sir Geoffrey Howe's speech at the UN. Sir Bob's autobiography Is That It? was a bestseller in the UK '86. He went back to his pop career, refusing to try to cash in on charity fame.

There were signs of charity weariness in the 1990s, despite many worthy projects; a Roger Waters brainstorm in the ruins of the Berlin Wall for an international disaster fund barely broke even, while Lenny Kravitz masterminded an all-star 'Give Peace A Chance', released on the day the Gulf War broke out. 'Love Can Build A Bridge' '94 for Rwandan children reached only no. 57 in the UK chart, but more Rwandan relief projects were planned, including a London concert organized by Gil Scott-Heron. Sweet Relief '93 was a benefit for MS victim Victoria Williams with an all-star cast performing 14 of her songs; it raised more money than she needed for her medical costs and a fund was set up for musicians who come unstuck in the USA's chaotic health care system; Sweet Relief II -- The Gravity Of The Situation '96 featured the songs of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt (b 12 November 1964, Jacksonville FL; d 25 December 2009, Athens GA), who was confined to a wheelchair.