Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" was the right song at the right time.
I was a newly-minted teenager when Bob Geldof and Ultravox's Midge Ure rounded up Paul Young, Phil Collins, Sting, Bono et all to record the first-and-definitive benefit single on behalf of African famine relief.
MTV was a nascent entity then too. It amplified and super-saturated my already Rolling Stone-distorted perception of rocknroll. Here was an awkward and flawed (they all did, after all, spend sufficient time on the couch -- allbeit at The Ritz in Ibiza -- smoking cigarettes and discussing their childhoods) group of singers being celebrated for the flaws and their singing! I had flaws. And I sang!
Moreover, my worldview was changing. At thirteen, I was allowed to take the bus to King of Prussia Mall or the train to Ardmore Square.
It was at a record store there that -- lulled into blissful consumer submission by the all-star music video played on near-repeat -- that I joyfully laid down my allowance for the vinyl 45.
As a song, Ure's four minute Anglo-centric plea for empathy is an odd one. There is no refrain, per say, just a galloping synth beat adorned with tubular bells building towards a rousing, repetative finish.
Didn't matter to me; I held constant vigile for the video, scampering into our mustard-colored TV room as soon as I heard those clanging bells.
Fast forward: December 23, 2006. I'm in my home studio brainstorming my annual online holiday single. 'Hmm,' I thought, '"Do They Know It's Christmas" made for a genius encore at The Nadas' Silent Night benefit concert in last year. Maybe I should call all of my New York City friends to record a version of our own.'
My watch read 11:23 pm. Christmas was mere hours away. Much as Casey, Chris or Jeff have my back,' I thought, 'There's no way I'll get 'em out on Christmas Eve.'
And so it is that I rallied some fifteen or so local singer/songwriters/musicians to record our version this weekend. The "Family Records Holiday" aggregates the idea behind "A Very Special Christmas" and "Do They Know It's Christmas." Fifteen local singer/songwriter/bands have contributed one holiday track each, and plus our version of the Band Aid single. A music video will do online pre-press for a December release and performance. The entire thing will benefit 826NYC, a youth literacy program.
Chris Abad, Casey Shea, Tony Maceli, Ryan Vaughn and I met up at Travis Harrison's Serious Business Studios in the heart of SoHo (Spring & Lafayette) as a hard rain began to fall Saturday morning. A few hours and many cups of coffee later, we had our basic track (drums, bass, acoustic guitar and scratch vocals). Langhorn Stoneburner Shea and Hot Rocks hostess Jenny Piston showed up with DV cams to begin shooting the music video. Casey -- due to depart for London with the rest of Sundown, laid down his vocal. "It's Christmas time," he sang perfectly in one take, "There's no need to be afraid."
And we were off.
Attorney's guitarist John Wlaysewski showed up with his bandmate William Ryan George and nailed a nuanced-but-powerful guitar part. The Wakey! Wakey! frontman Mike Grubbs showed up and -- between bites of veggie burger and fries -- nailed the now-famous, completely memorable hook. Less than six hours in, the basic recording was done. We left the studio two hours ahead of schedule as disk fell on Manhattan.
I spent the bulk of Sunday morning watching the video over and over on You Tube trying to assign the right parts to the right people (knowing already that a) Casey had already played the part of Paul Young, and I was laying claim to Bono's big line). Travis, Chris, and I re-assembled at noon. The chorus, as it were, began to trickle in one by one: Wynn Walent, Tarrah Reynolds, Kailen Garrity, Seth Kallen, Jeff Jacobson, Misty Boyce, William Ryan George and John Wlaysewski (The Attorneys), George & Jess Jezel (El Jezel), Wes Verhoeven (Undisputed Heavyweights), plus Mike and Gene Adam (Wakey! Wakey!). We rehearsed along with the track a half-dozen times, then began knocking out individual parts.
Later that afternoon, as we stood crowded around a single, omni-directional Neumann microphone drinking 20 ounce Budweisers, I laughed at Chris and Jenny (who have been staunch supporters from the start). "We did it!" I mouthed silently between "Feed the world!" and "Let them know it's Christmas time!!!"
We did it.
And it sounds totally freakin' bad ass.
Wait 'til you hear it.
Just like a thirteen-year-old in a dusty record store, you'll believe in blind optimism all over again.