First Hit #1: April 13, 1985
The UK invented the charity supergroup with Band Aid. The idea was simple, get all the famous people you can find them, bring them together in a recording studio, and record an uplifting song about helping people. Mind you, Band Aid’s song is terrible. Do they Know It’s Christmas? is incredibly patronizing and oddly ignorant of the culture of the people they’re helping – they neither know nor care that it’s Christmas, it’s not a cultural touchstone in Africa to the same level as it is in Europe and North America. It also had Bono shouting “Thank god it’s them instead of you,” which is not classy.
USA for Africa instead had Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson get together for their big charity moment. Richie and Jackson, as it turns out, are quite good at making a vague uplifting song. While the earlier song tried to guilt one into donating to the cause, here’s a song that takes a much more optimistic tone. It encourages charity donation just because we can and if we do it we’re great. It’s relentlessly positive, which is a good tactic when you do this kind of thing. It does derive a lot of its power from having a big choir with every famous person in America singing on it, but it serves its purpose well, and it did give a bit of a theme song to a charity movement of the time. It’s not timeless, but it’s not supposed to be, it’s very much of the moment, and I can’t be too mean to it just because it was for a good cause, it brought a whole pile of recognizable faces into one room and unlike Do they Know It’s Christmas, it’s not actively stupid.