As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I was exposed to many charity supergroups and the songs they produced. Yes, such classics as “We are the World,” “That’s What Friends are For,” and “Do They Know its Christmas” are all part of my childhood – not to mention a few Christian charity supergroups. But Christian or “Secular,” charity soupergroup songs were cheesy, at times unlistenable, but still fond memories. And they laid the groundwork for modern charity supergroups. Two in particular have caught my attention, but for different reasons. In 2005, The North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative (NAHPI) recorded “Do They Know its Halloween?” A few months ago the song “Beds are Burning” was re-recorded by a group of international celebrities put together by the organization Tck tck tck. Like I said, the two songs have caught my attention for two different reasons: While NAHPIs song was probably my favorite charity supergroup song of all time, Tck tck tck’s attempt was an exercise in charity supergroup failure.
NAHPI did almost everything right. They never took themselves too seriously, knowing that previous charity supergroups have been parodied beyond measure. In fact, “Do They Know its Halloween” is a direct parody of “Do They know its Christmas.” While the song’s proceeds go to benefit UNICEF, the song “stems from a frustration with other benefit songs’ misguided, somewhat patronizing attitude, and Western-centric worldview.” For their celebrity roster, they kept it pretty low key – mostly indie rockers. The most notable people involved in the song are Beck, Feist, Win and Régine (The Arcade Fire), David Cross, and Elvira (it is a Halloween song after all). The song itself was extremely humorous, and the video even more so. Ghosts with zipper mouths, David Cross yelling about cute Kitten calendars, and even a giant pumpkin moving down the streets, eager to destroy anyone fool enough not to take cover. Do They Know its Halloween is indeed a great song. In fact, its become a cherished tradition of mine to listen to this song over and over on Halloween.
While the NAHPI song was creative, intelligence, and humorous, the Tck tck tck song was – well, not. I found this “gem” on Itunes for free a while back. As I said, I grew up in the 1980’s, so I was very excited to see a cover of the classic Midnight Oil song. Having said this, I must wonder WHAT THE HECK WERE THEY THINKING!?!?!?!?! Yes, Climate change is a pressing issue, and while I will not debate the arguments for or against climate change, but I will say I wish I could undownload this song! And its not just because its a bad song, its because downloading this song off Itunes and other services is an automatic signature to a petition that will be presented at the conference demanding “climate justice now.” This was not stated anywhere when I hit “download.” In a sense, they tricked me into signing their petition. Like I said, I am not going to debate for or against climate change, but I am against anyone who is so desperate for names on thier petition that they are not up front what you are “signing.” It makes me question the organization as a whole, and I have to wonder what they’re trying to sneak into their initiatives.
But I digress. Even if they were honest about why they want people to download their song, one has to wonder still, what the heck were they thinking? Firstly, they were too lazy to write a new song. This is a group of so called artists from around the world, and all they can do is remake a 20 year old song? Can they not use all their alleged musical talent to write a new song? The only good excuse I can think of for using an old song is that its “recycling.” But even if they used Beds are Burning to present an “eco-friendly” model, they could have at LEAST been creative with the lyrics they changed. Instead, you get a song that’s preachy, stuffy, and bland. As far as the “artists,” there’s a few A listers: Fergie (who has the talent and brains of a peanut), and Lily Allen(yawn). They use several international artists (probably the only thing that makes sense about this song, considering its a worldwide conference), a bunch of has beens (Scorpions, Duran Duran, and Midnight Oil), and several top 40 soon to be has been pre-teen rock bands. There’s also an intro statement by Kofi Annan and an ending statement by Desmond Tutu. All in all, Beds are Burning is about the most boring charity supergroup song since Dionne Warwick and friends did “That’s what Friends are For.”
Charity supergroups are often times composed of hypocrites. After Band-Aid, most of the artists walked away and did nothing else (one notable exception is Bono, who stayed in Africa for two weeks afterwards). Most of the celebrities involved in Beds are Burning probably really support the initiatives put out by Tck tck tck, but are they willing to do their part? I would love to see a list of their carbon footprints. Both Fergie and Lily Allen tour on a regular basis. Are their tour buses and jets fueled by bio-diesel? Or do they put out a smog cloud the size of LA every time they tour? Its easy to get in front of a mic and say they support something, but one cannot expect others to change if one does not first change themselves. Perhaps that’s another factor that made NAHPI such a great charity supergroup. They saw something that bugged them, ie the fact that most charity supergroups were patronizing and Western-centric, and they used their creative talents to do something about it! The money they raised for UNICEF was just the icing on the cake.