A good cause but I Haiti the song

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd February 2010.

The recent earthquake disaster in Haiti has prompted the stars of popular music to come together in both the UK and the US to record fundraising singles. Stateside, original USA for Africa producers Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones have teamed up with Haitian born musician Wyclef Jean to record We Are the World 25: For Haiti, whilst Simon Cowell, at the behest of British PM Gordon Brown, spearheaded the UK response, a cover of REM’s Everybody Hurts under the Helping Haiti banner.

A reworking of 1985’s We Are the World, over seventy of America’s most talented performers and Miley Cyrus contributed to Artists for Haiti. Renown vocalists such as Barbra Steisand, Celine Dion and Tony Bennett appear alongside rappers including Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J and Will.i.am. Michael Jackson’s vocals from the original recording also feature. Criticised for its use of Auto-Tune to augment Lil Wayne’s lines, much like the weird pitch change effect in Cher’s hit single Believe, We Are the World 25: For Haiti is a mess. Stylistically, the mix of classic vocal delivery and rapping clashes badly, and Jamie Foxx’s impersonation of Ray Charles to sing the late soul legend’s lines from the original is in dubious taste.

Helping Haiti consists of over twenty talented stars and Miley Cyrus (again). Mainly UK based singers with a sprinkling of international artists such as Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Bublé, this supergroup is much more pop based than its US cousin, featuring members of Take That and Westlife alongside Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Mika and Susan Boyle. A traditional take on the original, Everybody Hurts is a more successful recording as it relies on the strength of the songwriting of REM’s 1993 hit. REM also graciously waived all royalties for this single. Let’s just now hope that no-one finds any flute riffs from “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree” in it.

The ultimate novelty song, the charity single became popular following the release of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas in 1984. Organised by the Boomtown Rat’s Bob Geldof and featuring an amazing array of stars such as Bono, Phil Collins, George Michael, Sting and Boy George, Do They Know It’s Christmas sold 3.5 million copies in the UK alone and was the highest selling UK single ever until Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997, also a charity single. Band Aid II and Band Aid 20 followed in 1989 and 2004 respectively, with new versions of the same song.

Other notable, and less serious, charity singles include Living Doll by Cliff Richard and the Young Ones, That’s What Friends Are For by Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John, and Absolutely Fabulous by the Pet Shop Boys, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.

From a music buyer’s perspective, the problem with charity records is that they have little longevity. They are so entrenched in a particular time, place or issue that they are unlikely to be on anyone’s turntable, CD player or iPod beyond their initial release. On a positive note, they are a great snapshot of who was popular at that particular time. For every Bono on 1984’s Do They Know It’s Christmas, there is a Marilyn (a long forgotten one hit wonder Boy George clone).

Both of the singles benefitting Haiti are performing well on the charts, although it is yet to be seen if they match the sales of their 80’s predecessors. I’ve purchased and downloaded both to contribute to the cause, but have little interest in listening to either more than once.

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Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 06:29  Leave a Comment  
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