Now, the charity record is a noble beast. A group of musicians coming together to create something that will make someone’s life better somehow. It’s just a pity that so many of them are so dull – contestants from reality TV shows rehashing old classics in a more soulful way. And every so often, there’s a charity single that crosses the border from mediocre to bad…and that’s what we’re looking at here.
The natural home of the novelty single is Britain, where the 1980s and 1990s were peppered with frequent collaborations between bands and comedy acts to produce cover versions that made you want to peel your ears off. If you’re not from Britain, you may never have heard of some of the efforts here…but listen to them at your peril!
10. Band Aid 20 – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
The original Band Aid single in 1984 was the first huge charity single and it was a good one – the most famous names of the day, singing an anthemic tune that really made a difference. But the second version in 1989 was a bland, shiny effort by the Stock, Aitken and Waterman artists and the 2004 version (Band Aid 20) was blander still, featuring singers like “someone who used to be in All Saints” and “someone who used to be in S Club 7”.
The atmosphere surrounding the recording hardly evoked the charitable intentions of the original either, with Bono and Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) squabbling over who got to sing the line “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” If that wasn’t all bad enough, they also got Dizzee Rascal to add a rap over the top. An insult to the name of Band Aid.
9. Pat and Mick – Use It Up and Wear It Out
A typically British affair, this single was fronted by radio “personalities” Pat Sharp and Mick Brown. They covered the disco classic, originally by Odyssey, and Stock, Aitken and Waterman (they turn up a lot, it seems) turned it into a pop-tastic dance tune. The song was fairly awful, but it was the music video that made it truly terrible – mullet-ed Pat and cheesy Mick dancing around with huge grins on their faces, flanked by dancers in typically tasteful 1990-era clothes. (For those not in the know, fashion in 1990 was just like the 80s…but worse) And don’t even get me started on Mick’s suggestive finger-waggling. Still, it raised some money for “Help a London Child”, so it was probably worth it…
8. Shane Richie – I’m Your Man
And there’s more cheesiness next, with TV presenter Shane Richie turning his hand to the world of music, with this 2003 offering. Originally a Wham! hit, it featured Richie posing in George Michael-fashion, slicking down his eyebrow with his finger. It wasn’t funny enough to be a parody or musical enough to be a serious cover version…yet it somehow got to number 2. Maybe because it was raising money for Children in Need, which is a huge charity in the UK. Maybe because Shane Richie has a long-running part in Eastenders, also huge in the UK. But however much money it raised, no-one could pretend that this added anything good to the music world!
7. Patsy Palmer & Sid Owen – Better Believe It
Eight years before Shane Richie released his single, other Eastenders actors were attempting to bother the charts in the name of charity. The actors in question were Patsy Palmer and Sid Owen, who had played on-off lovers Bianca and Ricky. Bianca was chiefly known for her foghorn-like, piercing voice so it was somewhat alarming when that same voice was wrapping itself around a schmaltzy ballad (along with obligatory video of small children looking sad and/or less sad than they used to be before Patsy & Sid’s intervention). Not even the 4 remixes on the single (including the karaoke version, and the intriguing-sounding “Eat Your handbag” mix) could help push sales, and it stalled at number 60 in the charts. It didn’t stop Sid Owen trying again, and he hit number 14 in 2000 with “Good Thing Going”.
6. Northern Lights – Tears Are Not Enough
It’s not just the Brits that produce cheesy charity records. While the mammoth Band-Aid effort was tailing off after its huge sales of Christmas 1984, this Canadian version popped up. Same idea – assemble the big names of the day (by Canadian standards) and use images of the Ethopian famine in the music video. But it’s just a bit rubbish, from the spoken-word intro to the 80s synth drenching everything. Not even the renowned Joni Mitchell could save it, musically speaking. But it did raise $3.2million for famine relief, so it’s hard to be too dismissive of it. Interestingly, many of the names who sang on it were known as actors rather than musicians – Eugene Levy, John Candy and Catherine O’Hara among others. Eugene Leve and Catherine O’Hara would later sing together again in the 2003 film “A Mighty Wind“.