If you’re lucky, there’s something special about the song that was number one when you were born. Maybe it symbolises something about your life, or your interests, or the person that you ended up growing up to be. Maybe it’s just a really awesome song.
If you’re unlucky, you end up like Geth and get Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) (UK number one from 25th May 1980 to 14th June 1980, fact fans!) as your birthday number one. It’s not bad as TV theme tunes go, but it’s not special to Geth – he didn’t grow up to be a soldier, or an expert on the Korean War, or even much of a M*A*S*H fan, really.
I was lucky, and my birthday number one is special to me. I love it as a Christmas baby, as an ’80s throwback, as a chart geek, and as a lover of music in general. It’s an extremely well-known Christmas song – one of those tracks you hear constantly from the middle of November until early January. It held the record for the best-selling single in UK chart history for more than twelve years, only ever being overtaken by Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in September 1997.
My birthday number one is Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, one of the most famous recordings in music history.
I was born on 3rd January 1985, the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-five day period (9th December 1984 to 12th January 1985) that Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? spent at number one in the UK. From the 1984-1985 UK birthrates available online, I estimate that I share my birthday number one with approximately 71,000 other Band Aid babies, including Georgia Moffett, Lewis Hamilton, and Newton Faulkner. (I would love to be able to work out the exact number, but the internet is not forthcoming at the moment!)
Due to the ubiquity of the song, I grew up with it, and it became my favourite Christmas song long before I realised that it was my birthday number one. I pored over the upside-down answers to Smash Hits quizzes that challenged readers to name all the artists involved in the song, and memorised names that were unfamiliar to me in the context of the early ’90s pop music landscape. I dutifully learnt to sing the song with my primary school class in preparation for our Christmas performance at the local old folks’ community centre. I waited excitedly for it to come on as soon as my brother and I were allowed to play the family’s Christmas compilation CD (That’s Christmas) on the 1st of December every year. It’s one of those songs that you hear hundreds of times every year, and so it never really goes out of your mind. That’s not something you can say about Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless).
The finer points of Bob Geldof’s project to put together a charity supergroup and the song’s recording on 25th November 1984 are well known, detailed in a hundred different BBC4 documentaries and summarised fairly well on Wikipedia (though I highly recommend the Smash Hits coverage of the recording day included in the collection book The Best Of Smash Hits: The ’80s for a bit of period flavour – it has a great group photo of all the artists involved except for Boy George, who infamously didn’t show up till six o’clock in the evening due to oversleeping in New York and having to get on a Concorde back to London).
I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, including a lot of concerts by artists who were big in the ’80s due to it being my favourite music era and favourite era in general. But the other day, it occurred to me that I had never gone to see a single one of the thirty-seven artists who performed on my birthday number one. I had never even seen any of the additional seven artists who couldn’t make it to the recording and so sent recorded Christmas messages to be used on the B-side of the single.
This is the part of the post where I get to the point.
I will never get to see every single one of the artists involved in my birthday number one. Sadly, two of the musicians who contributed to the song (George Michael and Rick Parfitt) and two who recorded B-side messages (Stuart Adamson and David Bowie) have since passed away. But I have decided that I will make a concerted effort to see as many of the rest of them as possible. After all, I have more opportunity than some. My brother’s birthday number one is Ben E King’s Stand By Me (a re-entry at UK number one between 15th February 1987 and 7th March 1987), which means that since King’s death in 2015 he has no longer had the possibility of seeing his birthday number one artist. People who were born between 14th December 1980 and 20th December 1980, when (Just Like) Starting Over was number one following John Lennon’s assassination, have never had the chance to see their birthday number one artist.
Enter the Band Aid bucket list!
For most of my bucket lists, I reckon that if I’m lucky enough, I’ve got another fifty or sixty years left to get them completed. Time is not so much on my side for this particular list, given that all the artists on it are now in their fifties and sixties and won’t be performing or alive forever. As such, rather similarly to the huge hoard of ’80s vintage clothing I’m collecting while it’s still cheap and plentiful, I aim to get the bulk of this project achieved while I’m still in my thirties, and so I’m targeting >50% list completion by my fortieth birthday on 3rd January 2025. That gives me six years, one month and fourteen days as of this post to see as many of the following artists as possible. I’d better get a wiggle on.
The artists who sang on the track:
- Robert ‘Kool’ Bell (Kool & The Gang) – still performing with Kool & The Gang
- Bono (U2) – still performing with U2
- Pete Briquette (The Boomtown Rats) – still performing with the Boomtown Rats
- Adam Clayton (U2) – still performing with U2
- Phil Collins (Genesis and solo artist) – still performing as a solo artist – also played drums on the track
- Chris Cross (Ultravox) – still performing with Ultravox
- Simon Crowe (The Boomtown Rats) – still performing with the Boomtown Rats
- Sara Dallin (Bananarama) – still performing with Bananarama
- Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama) – update 27th November 2019: SEEN with Shakespear’s Sister 10th November 2019!
- Johnnie Fingers (The Boomtown Rats) – no longer performing, now works as music producer – may not manage this one
- Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats) – still performing with the Boomtown Rats – also co-wrote the song
- Boy George (Culture Club) – update 19th November 2018: SEEN with Culture Club 17th November 2018!
- Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17) – update 4th December 2018: SEEN with Heaven 17 2nd December 2018!
- Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) – no longer performing with Spandau Ballet but still performing as a solo artist
- John Keeble (Spandau Ballet) – still performing with Spandau Ballet
- Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet) – still performing with Spandau Ballet
- Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) – update 28th May 2019: SEEN doing a DJ set 26th May 2019!
- Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran) – update 11th October 2023: SEEN with Duran Duran 14th September 2021!
- Marilyn – still performing as a solo artist
- George Michael (Wham!) – sadly passed away on 25th December 2016 🙁
- Jon Moss (Culture Club) – not performing with Culture Club on 2018 UK tour (which I was really annoyed about when I saw them on 17th November 2018!) – may have to track down separately
- Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet) – still performing with Spandau Ballet
- Rick Parfitt (Status Quo) – sadly passed away on 24th December 2016, just a few hours before George Michael 🙁
- Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran) – update 11th October 2023: SEEN with Duran Duran 14th September 2021!
- Francis Rossi (Status Quo) – still performing with Status Quo
- Sting (The Police) – still performing as a solo artist
- Andy Taylor (Duran Duran) – update 27th January 2021: SEEN solo 27th November 2019! – also played guitar on the track
- James ‘JT’ Taylor (Kool & The Gang) – still performing with Kool & The Gang
- John Taylor (Duran Duran) – update 11th October 2023: SEEN with Duran Duran 14th September 2021! – also played bass on the track
- Roger Taylor (Duran Duran) – update 11th October 2023: SEEN with Duran Duran 14th September 2021!
- Dennis Thomas (Kool & The Gang) – still performing with Kool & The Gang, and the only person on this list who doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, strangely!
- Midge Ure (Ultravox) – update 28th November 2018: SEEN with Electronica 27th November 2018! – also co-wrote the song, played keyboards on the track and did the mixing
- Martyn Ware (Heaven 17) – update 4th December 2018: SEEN with Heaven 17 2nd December 2018!
- Jody Watley – still performing as a solo artist
- Paul Weller (The Style Council) – still performing as a solo artist
- Keren Woodward (Bananarama) – still performing with Bananarama
- Paul Young – still performing as a solo artist
The extra artists who recorded messages for the B-side:
- Stuart Adamson (Big Country) – sadly passed away on 16th December 2001 🙁
- Mark Brzezicki (Big Country) – update 4th December 2018: SEEN with Big Country 2nd December 2018!
- Tony Butler (Big Country) – no longer performing with Big Country – will have to track down separately
- Bruce Watson (Big Country) – update 4th December 2018: SEEN with Big Country 2nd December 2018!
- David Bowie – sadly passed away on 10th January 2016 🙁
- Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood) – still performing as a solo artist
- Paul McCartney – still performing as a solo artist
Current progress: song artists 11/37 (29.7%); message artists 2/7 (28.6%); total artists 13/44 (29.5%).
I have arranged to find out about future performances by all of these artists using the extremely lazy 21st century method of following them all on Twitter!
I’ll keep updating this post as I see more artists. I’m looking forward to this project!