The Four Famous Songs Made Especially for Famine Relief

Posted in: Musicouching by K Kristie on September 15th, 2010 | 14 Comments

During the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia, the music world lend a helping hand by recording songs to raise funds. Find out what were these chart-topping charity singles.

Do They Know It’s Christmas

Sometime in November 1984, Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof was watching BBC when he saw the report about the famine in Ethiopia. He called Midge Ure, the vocalist of Ultravox and told him about his decision to help by raising funds using music. Two days later, the two friends got together and the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was born.

To record for the charity single, Geldof assembled the most popular Irish and British musicians at that time and called the group Band Aid. The song was released on December 3, 1984 and went straight to Number 1 and sold over one million copies on its first week alone. It stayed at #1 for five weeks including being a Christmas #1. Having sold over 3.5 million copies domestically, “Do They Know Its Christmas?” is the second highest selling single in UK chart history.

We Are The World

When “Do They Know Its Christmas?” became famous, singer, activist Harry Belafonte thought of creating the American version of the benefit single. Together with fundraiser Ken Kragen, they talked to several musicians about their vision and tasked Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to write the song. The project which was called United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa) brought together some of the most famous American musicians at that time.

The seven minute charity single entitled “We Are The World” was recorded on January 28 and released on March 7, 1985 and easily became a worldwide commercial success, topping global music charts. It became the fastest-selling American pop single in history and the first ever single to be certified multi-platinum, receiving a 4x certification by the RIAA. It was also awarded three Grammys, one American Music and one People’s Choice.

The song was heavily promoted using a music video, a home video, a special edition magazine, a simulcast plus books, posters and shirts. The whole thing not only helped in the success of the single which was eventually named The Biggest-selling Single of All Time, it also raised over $63 million for humanitarian aid not only for Africa but also for the US.

Tears Are Not Enough

In response to UK’s “Do They Know Its Christmas?” and USA’s “We Are The World,” Canada organized their own charity project for Ethiopia. They named their supergroup Northern Lights and the song “Tears Are Not Enough” was written by Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance and David Foster. The song was recorded on February 10, 1985 and was released as a single the following month, easily reaching #1 on the Canadian Top 40 chart.


The heavy metal scene was inspired by the success of the three songs mentioned above. Dio band members Jimmy Bain, Vivian Campbell and Ronnie James Dio co-wrote the song “Stars.”  The project, called Hear ‘n Aid was composed of some of the most popular heavy metal bands of the era including Ted Nugent, Yngwie Malmsteen, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Journey and Night Ranger. Some of the most talented guitar gods also added guitar solos. The heavy metal charity single was released January 1, 1986 in both 7” and 12” versions and a compilation album.

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