I went to a Christmas karaoke party last week. Our neighbors have one every year, and every year I manage to get out of singing. Usually I am nursing some sort of gnarly viral infection so I have a good excuse, but this time my wife was not letting me off the hook: She insisted that I rock the mic.
Now, I enjoy karaoke enough, but there is a very limited pool of songs that I will actually get up and perform. This is mostly the result of one disastrous turn of ”Paradise City” that resulted in stunned silence from fellow patrons. (Seriously, not even a courtesy clap. Do you know how sad it is when you can’t even get a courtesy clap?) Actually, come to think of it, a guy in Vegas also once threatened to blow my head off with a shotgun after my version of ”Baby Got Back” devolved into me yelling ”Check me out! I’m dope!” over and over for no particular reason. But that happened in Vegas so it stays in Vegas, and I’m not sure it counts.
Anyway, I started flipping through my mental catalog of Christmas faves trying to figure out which one I would dare unleash on my unsuspecting suburban neighbors. ”The First Noel”? Not a chance — too many high notes. ”Silent Night”? Nope, I don’t think I could make it through the line ”Holy infant, so tender and mild” with a straight face. ”The Twelve Days of Christmas”? Impossible to perform without running out of breath and sounding like you’re hyperventilating. And then it hit me — Band Aid’s ”Do They Know It’s Christmas?”! Not only was the song not extremely vocally challenging, but I always had a soft spot for the thing. Maybe it’s because — as a celebrity charity single — it was so vastly superior to ”We Are the World.” Look, I’m not trying to dis and dismiss the good ol’ Stars and Stripes, but let’s examine all the ways in which the U.K.’s ”Do They Know It’s Christmas?” beats USA’s ”We Are the World.”
* First off, it was the original. ”We Are the World” was a copycat, as American performers tried to jump on the charity bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong — as far as bandwagons go, raising money for starving children is a pretty good one. But still, Michael Jackson and Co. were lacking a bit in the originality department.
* ”Do They Know It’s Christmas?” featured musicians who were actually somewhat current. When the Band Aid single came out, at the end of 1984, it featured young artists at the top of their game: Duran Duran, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, and U2 (although I’m still not sure why Paul Young gets to sing half the song by himself). ”We Are the World” certainly boasted big names (Michael Jackson obviously being the biggest), but it also featured many past-their-prime players: Dionne Warwick? Al Jarreau? Diana Ross? Bob Dylan? Ray Charles? Smokey Robinson? Bette Midler?!?!?!??! All huge figures in music, to be sure, but ones whose biggest impact had been in decades prior.
* Bono’s line ”Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” You know you love it. Is there any line in ”We Are the World” that carries even half the emotion of it? Honestly, I can’t even understand what the hell Bob Dylan is saying.
* Dan Aykroyd sings on ”We Are the World.”
* What it really boils down to in the end, however, is that ”Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is just a much better song. The harmony is catchy and it hits only about a 6 on the sap-o-meter, while ”We Are the World’ goes all the way to 10.
Oh, by the way, in case you’re wondering, I kinda flubbed the karaoke performance. I got lost at one point, and then when I realized the rest of the song basically consisted of repeating the phrase ”feed the world” over and over, I just gave up, put the microphone down, and walked away. I considered it an act of mercy — to both myself and those who had to endure it.
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