December 22, 2010

Clanging Chimes of Doom

I have Do They Know It's Christmas? stuck in my head, and you're welcome. (You should watch it if only to admire Hottt 1984 Era Sting, who is looking pretty cute in that video especially compared to the boys who were under the influence not only of Earnest Face but also of certain unfortunate hair trends.)



I remember hearing this song in...let's see, how old was I? It came out when I was in middle school, but I don't remember hearing it until high school: I went to a religious middle school where even Christian rock was frowned upon, and when I say "frowned upon" I mean "actively campaigned against by the teachers, with guest lectures about how we could tell the devil was directly involved by listening to the particular type of beat." (I listed to my Michael W. Smith album anyway, which, now that I've thought of this, finally gives me a good answer to the question about why I ended up Leaving the Flock. "It was the beat, the beat, the crazy devil-worshiping BEAT of 'Old Enough to Know'!!)

So anyway, I heard "Do They Know It's Christmas?" when I was at the public high school, probably while walking to school listening to my WALKMAN, which played CASSETTES I made by recording songs off the radio. And I remember hearing "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime..." and thinking, "Yeah, but....I mean, snow isn't really the issue, is it? There are areas of the United States that don't get snow at Christmastime either. And actually, for people who don't even have enough clothes and food, that's probably GOOD to not have snow and cold and ice." I also remember trying to understand why the singers seemed to want to know the answer to the question of the title. Do they..."know" it's Christmas? Why? Would that make a difference? Should we...tell them? Like, just in case? (None of this stopped me from listening to it 40 billion times.)

As an adult I get what they were trying to do (i.e., "Get in on the '80s Group Empathy Rock trend"), but "the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom" seems comically over-the-top (why would impoverished people spend money on clanging chimes of doom?), and I'm not sure the songwriter's suggestion to the listener (i.e., thanking God it's them instead of you) will solve the problem as it's been presented. The second solution, "Feed the world," is somewhat better, but lacks instructions for practical application: okay, I have some food, I'm standing in the world....now what?

Such a perplexing song. To hear it you'd think the main issues in Africa (which, incidentally, is kind of a big place, and my geography knowledge has always been a little shaky but I'll bet it isn't COMPLETELY without rain or rivers ANYWHERE) were (1) They don't get snow at Christmastime, (2) They don't know it's Christmas, and (3) Bells of doom keep clanging.

34 comments:

Amanda said...

*snort* My husband HATES when I do this to songs. :D

Lisa said...

I LOVED this song in middle school. Now I listen to it and think its the most patronizing piece of Judeo-christian westernized crap. No--they don't know its Christmas--and they don't CARE--largely because the majority of them are NOT CHRISTIAN and thus Christmas is not a part of their belief system, RIGHT?? Do the Muslims feel sorry for me because I don't know its Ramadan??

It doesn't snow in Africa. Because its the effing DESERT. (I cannot listen to this song without thinking of that Sam Kinnison routine.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKNoJ2BzSRU (the best bit is mostly at the end).

Catchy tune, though. :-)

Caitlin said...

HAHAHHAaaaa Oh man. When you stop and think about it, so many Christmas songs are creepy/weird/make no sense.

This weekend We Wish You a Merry Christmas was playing and my husband says "This song is so DEMANDING! I mean, listen to them! Bring us a figgy pudding! BRING IT TO US! Now! We won't go until we get some! We won't go! Bring it over to us right HERE. NOW!" So rude!

thellfamily said...

He, he, you totally cracked me up on this. I loved this song in high school. But yes, now that you analyze it, it's not their holiday, and we're not trying to convert them ("let them know it's Christmas time"), just help them. Well, some people I'm sure ARE trying to convert them, but not likely to be people like Sting.

More important question, though -- did you tape your songs off the radio like I did, by listening to the top 40 and anticipating the next song, and literally holding the tape recorder up to the radio and then pressing record at the exact right moment? Those were the days =)

Swistle said...

thellfamily- Oh, no, I had a BOOM BOX that would let me put a tape IN it. It was very mod.

Hotch Potchery said...

On Msn a few weeks ago, the writer of that song apologized for writing the worst Christmas song of all time. I'm still in bed using my phone or I would find the link.


I don't think kids today realize the effort and significance of making a mix tape when you have to do the Top 40 recoding method!!!

Snoopyfan said...

Is it wrong that I still feel like a giddy 14 year old when I see John Taylor playing the bass? Yummy.

Also, I want to tell Sting to wash his hair! He did look awesomely hot though.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

So much to love about this video! It's the first time I've ever seen/heard it and wow - THE HAIR. I mean, I used a lot of hairspray in the 80s but... wow.

Also, I quite love that the first group thanked at the end of the video - for providing the tools they needed to complete the video - is Tattooist International. Very cool.

Suzannah said...

That song is ridiculous and even offensive on so many levels, but I still don't hate it nearly as much as that awful "Christmas Shoes" song. HATE.

Nik-Nak said...

Songs that make you go, "Hmmmmmmm". Gotta love it!!

jaime said...

I was just thinking about this song yesterday! First thing that popped into my head was "I'm pretty sure most Africans don't celebrate Christmas anyway."

missris said...

Ahahaha so true! Also, isn't a sizeable chunk of Africa in the southern hemisphere, and therefore experiencing summer during the latter months of the year, when Christmas occurs? It would be verrrry strange for an equatorial portion of Africa to experience snow at Christmas time, is all I'm sayin'

Nicole said...

Hee! No snow in Africa!

Maggie said...

Oh man, you have covered many of my thoughts whenever I get earwormed by this stupid stupid song I wish I'd never heard. Why would most people in Africa give a crap that it's Christmas, they are likely not Christian. Also no snow in Africa for Christmas - what the heck does that have to do with anything?? Sometimes the burden of growing up in the 80s is heavy ;-)

I totally used to listen to the Top 40 so I could tape songs off the radio. Many a "good" song was ruined by the DJ talking over the end or beginning of it and yet, I still listened to the mixed tapes . . . on my walkman.

Lasha said...

So. True. And yet, as soon as I saw the first few words it was in my head. Now I'm also desperate to remember the Canadian song that was the equivalent to this one and "We Are the World."

Misty said...

HA! This exact same thing happened to me the other day. I completely agree with Lisa's assertion of "Judeo-christian westernized crap."

What the hell? Can we be anymore ethnocentric? I just finally quit fuming about the stupid song, so don't want to list the many many reasons it is disgusting.

Superjules said...

OMG I always liked this catchy song but I never picked up on those LYRICS. I just didn't realize that no snow in Africa was supposed to be a BAD thing or that they say nothing ever grows. And that we're supposed to thank God it's THEM AND NOT US? WTF?

Many of those hairstyles and outfits are just magnificent, though. Wowza.

cakeburnette said...

Enjoyed this post thoroughly!

cakeburnette said...

Read through the other comments and felt I should explain...I have always thought these lyrics were just VAPID. Even during the 80s. So I enjoyed that others found it as offensive and ridiculous as I always have, PLUS the trip down memory lane with the recording-of-music-by-holding-the-tape-recorder-up-to-the-radio was a bonus smile! And yes, it was hugely irritating when the DJ would talk over the beginning/end of a "good" song!

Kristin H said...

This made me laugh and laugh. I didn't even know "bells of doom" was part of the lyrics. I'm not very observant.

Swistle said...

Kristin H.- Until this morning when I was writing the post and checked the lyrics, I thought it was "banish shame." It's actually "banish SHADE," which is weird since later they talk about the poor Africans trapped under the burning sun.

Also, did you notice they show Sting when they talk about the "sting of tears"? Ha ha! I think Sting looks a little reluctant to be involved in this.

Hannah said...

I took a West African history class in college, and my professor played us a few "save Africa" songs, including this one. Her comments on the subject kind of boiled down to looking at us with eyes that said: "Srlsly?" Ok, they were more along the lines of "racist!" Then she told us if we wanted copies of the songs to mock or use for instructive purposes she strongly encouraged us to illegally download them so as not to contribute money to foolish causes. Watching my middle aged professor take us through the steps of illegal downloads was pretty awesome.

Christina said...

This song has been SO overplayed on my Christmas radio station this year. Seriously, it's rivaling Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You," so you know it's bad. After hearing it for the 2043rd time this year I started to pick it apart like you did. It makes a lot less sense.

Jen said...

I have never heard that song before in my life. How is that not possible? I watched the video though and I cannot stop laughing at Bono's VERY SERIOUS face. And Sting looks like he would rather be anywhere else than in that studio. But seriously, what a horribly offensive song. How was it ever considered NOT offensive?

Kelsey said...

Ah - I think their hearts were in the right place? I am not sure I ever gave this song very much thought...

Part of the reason I own tons of Christmas music is that I love it but I hate listening to the same songs a zillion times in December which is what happens if I listen to the radio.

Jenni said...

"Clanging chimes of doom." Good pull!

I was always particularly baffled by the line (sung by Bono, I believe) "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you." I mean really? I should thank God that some people are starving because those people are not me? Seems a little asshole-ish to me. "Thank God I'm not starving like you jerks." Who thanks God for that?

Jenni said...

P.S. HOLY MULLETS, BATMAN! Just imagine the amount of hairspray to get all that hair teased up. God I just want to go in there with a pair of scissors.

CAQuincy said...

Even as a teenager, I always assumed the "Thank God it's them instead of you" was just the songwriter's sarcastic little GUILT TRIP rip to we whiteys who were NOT sending oodles and oodles of money to cram our Western Holier-Than-Thou creepy religion on the darkys. As in, here we were sitting all snug in our warm houses with our beautiful snow outside not giving a crap about those poor African folks, "Well, at least WE are not starving."

Oh, this song is so wrong and preachy on so many levels.

That said, I only ever watched the video to catch the hotness of Sting and Bono. yowza!

And now I'm all nostalgic for my boombox and DJ-talkin' mixed tapes....

Stimey said...

Damn you, Swistle. Now it's stuck in MY head.

One of Us said...

I heard this on the radio the other day and had the same reaction - loved it when I was in high school (although not as much as the Wham Christmas song) but man it is just sort of offensive for all the reasons listed above. And I still have a few of my "radio mix" tapes, but nothing to listen to them on:)

Sarah said...

This post was so hilarious. I had never even heard the song when it came out, just on the radio the last few years, sung by every recording artist EVER, including Carly Simon. Every time I heard it I was like, "...Whaa?" I mean, I get the SPIRIT of "feed the world/let them know it's Christmas time." Spread the loving spirit, or whatevs. But this song is so over the top cheesy/preachy/GLARINGLY OBVIOUS with the "it sucks to be poor, unAmerican, or nonChristian" message, you have to wonder how people get through it without cracking up.
Also, I think you should do a whole installment series wherein you pick apart song lyrics. Seriously.

CARRIE said...

How many times did I listen to this song??? I had poor taste then, evidenced by the fact that I loved this song in large part because Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran was in the video. The one who wore more makeup than Tammy Sue Baker. Why not John Taylor? Why not Bono? Good grief.

Your comment about taping music (which I did as well), got me thinking about watching MTV back when they used to play....music videos!!! At the top of the hour they'd show the videos coming up....sometime within the next 22 hours....and I would stay up for hours and hours and hours just to watch "The Reflex."

Sharri said...

I totally agree! I remember thinking the same things - "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime"???? Is there EVER? Is the fact there is no snow in Africa something we should DO something about? So patronizing too - as if everyone in the world needs to know it's Christmas - even if they don't celebrate it.

Renee said...

It's days later and I'm a lurker you don't know but just had to chime in with this -I, too, know all the words to 'Old Enough to Know' and treasure them depth in my heart :)