John Taylor

MIXTAPE: GENDER BENDERS 0

The expression ‘gender bender’ was practically invented in the 1980s due to a plethora of pansexual pop idols featured in this mixtape. Like its musical predecessors glam rock and disco, new wave music – most notably the Bowie-influenced New Romantics – took all the outrageous elements of fashion, unusual stage names, ambiguous sexual identities, make-up on both genders and over-the-top hairstyles. The early 1980s also gave the rise to music videos and MTV which were the perfect visual outlets for music artists to reach an audience 24 hours a day instead of the often brief appearance on the occasional weekly pop music program. This ability to break away from sanitized on-air TV appearances allowed many performers to further accentuate their gender bending persona.  Chris Rooney picks his favorite boys who look like girls and girls who look like boys.

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David Bowie, “John, I’m Only Dancing” (1972)
T.Rex’s groovy flower child Marc Bolan was the first out of the gate with a fully-developed glam rock image, but it was David Bowie’s androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust that one-upped Bolan when he declared in a Melody Maker interview that he was bisexual. His highly suggestive “John, I’m Only Dancing” further enhanced his gender-bending mystique as the song has long been interpreted as a gay relationship. After dancing with a girl, the narrator reassures his male partner that he’s “only dancing” with her and is not romantically involved. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Bowie wrote the song in response to a derogatory comment made by John Lennon about Bowie’s cross-dressing. Bowie’s flamboyant Ziggy Stardust along with Roxy Music’s panache would be the blueprint for the New Romantic subculture in London that would emerge at the turn of the next decade at Covent Garden’s Blitz club nights.

The New York Dolls, “Jet Boy” (1973)
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, The New York Dolls made their way into the world kicking and screaming in platform heels while sporting ratty long hair, gaudy makeup, leather and tight pants. This ungodly birth gave rise to the 1970s British punk aesthetic adopted by The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux and The Damned and later the heavy metal glam image that would resurface in the 1980s with American bands like Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Poison and Cinderella.

David Sylvian of Japan, “Life In Tokyo” (1979) / Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, “Planet Earth” (1981)
What came first: the chicken or the egg? In this case, it was probably a fuzzy, well-coiffed blonde chick. In 1982 one-time glam band, Japan called it a day and New Romantic newbies, Duran Duran became certified superstars. But between the two bands, they shared something in common: Japan frontman David Sylvian’s and Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes’ “gay but straight” looks were almost inseparable. In their late teens, Sylvian and his brother Steve stole some eyeliner from Bowie’s dressing room, some new last names from the New York Dolls, and sounds from both to create Japan. Sylvian dialed back the outrageous, imposing “alien from Mars” image that Bowie created (while keeping the gorgeous visage) and repackaged it in a more suave, sophisticated suit and masculine vocals reminiscent of Roxy Music’s troubadour, Bryan Ferry. When the 1980s rolled around, Japan were often associated with the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement, though they denied any such connection. After Japan’s breakup, Sylvian went solo in a minimalist direction. Meanwhile, Nick Rhodes’ keyboard work emulated Japan’s 16th note sequencers that electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder introduced in “Life In Tokyo” and today Rhodes remains the world’s longest running David Sylvian tribute act, years after Sylvian himself put away the make-up and hair dye.

Klaus Nomi, “Nomi Song” (1981)
German-born Klaus Sperber discovered his love for opera and pop music in his youth. After struggling in Europe to define himself as an opera singer with his stellar countertenor (a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a female contralto or mezzo-soprano), he moved to New York City in the early 1970s to be a part of the art scene based in the East Village. Using the pseudonym Klaus Nomi, an allusion to the American sci-fi magazine Omni, his performances blended his opera background with pop music in elaborate stage shows reminiscent of visions of early science fiction: Kabuki-style white face painting, black lips, extravagant clothes and hairstyles inspired by early 20th century avant-garde. David Bowie discovered Nomi in 1978 and helped him with a record contract along with inviting him to sing backing vocals on Bowie’s 1979 musical appearance on Saturday Night Live. Nomi was so impressed with the plastic bowtie-shaped tuxedo suit that Bowie wore during “The Man Who Sold the World” that he commissioned one to be made for himself. It completed the otherworldly manifestation that Nomi is best remembered by now. Nomi’s musical career was cut short when he died at the age of 39 in 1983 from complications due to AIDS. In more recent years, Morrissey has championed Nomi by often using one of his songs as an introduction prior to taking the stage at his concerts.

Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, “Who’s That Girl?” (1983)
After Lennox and Dave Stewart left their previous band, The Tourists, she reinvented herself in their breakthrough video, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” with a fiery red buzz cut hairstyle and an authoritative tailored suit like she was a modern-day Marlene Dietrich. (Sorry Madonna, Annie beat you to it.) Lennox played up the image even further in their video for “Who’s That Girl?” with dual roles as a 60s-era blonde nightclub singer performing the song and a Elvis Presley-like male member of the audience with his eye on her. At the end of the video, the female Lennox locks lips with the male Lennox. Blink and you might miss appearances in the video by all four members of Bananarama, Kate Garner of Haysi Fantayzee and fellow gender bender, Marilyn.

Philip Oakey of Human League, “Sound Of The Crowd” (1981)
With his lipstick, eyeliner and asymmetric hair hanging long and down one side of his face, Oakey’s androgynous appearance and chilly baritone helped to define the look and sound of British new wave in the early ‘80s. Lyrics like “The shades from a pencil peer / Pass around / A fold in an eyelid brushed with fear / The lines on a compact guide / Pass around / A hat with alignment worn inside” was the same musical inspiration that a desperate Oakey probably used to get ready before heading to the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in his hometown of Sheffield a year earlier. There, to his amazing luck, he plucked Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall out of obscurity to be his tour dancers and backing vocalists when he set out to create a more pop-driven Human League.

Boy George of Culture Club, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” (1982)
America fell hook, line and sinker for the former Blitz Kid because of his witty personality and infectious retro soul pop sound so much so that Culture Club racked up five Top Five hits in the US within two years. His multicultural-printed baggy tops, ribbon-filled braided hair and accentuated facial features spawned such merchandise as a Barbie-sized doll by the American toymaker LJN that proclaimed on the box, “Boy George: The Original Outrageous Boy of Rock!” and the publication Boy George Fashion and Make-Up Book that featured instructions on how to create your own flamboyant hats and hairstyles and expert tips on make-up.

Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive “Brand New Lover” (1986)
If Boy George was the cute and cuddly androgynous performer that America could embrace, Pete Burns was Boy’s evil twin who brought a fiery sexuality to his songs and look. Burns has never shied away from flaunting his individual style and since his initial halcyon days with Dead Or Alive, he has gone through numerous cosmetic surgery operations to transform his face. While others of this era have moved on from their androgynous 80s style, Burns has constantly pushed his gender bending look even further.

Grace Jones “Slave To The Rhythm” (1985)
Long before Lady Gaga broke out of the gender box and Caribbean pop divas Rihanna and Nicki Minaj were even born, Jamaica-born Grace Jones was glamorizing a fiercely androgynous look with masculine, angular fashions and an imposing flattop haircut that could stop you dead in your tracks. Her commanding, yet exotic-sounding vocal delivery didn’t hurt either. Jones later appeared as the sexy assassin in the James Bond film, A View To A Kill for which Duran Duran provided the theme song.

Marilyn, “Calling Your Name” (1983)
Liberating the name that schoolyard bullies once taunted him with, Peter Robinson rechristened himself ‘Marilyn’ while wearing vintage dresses and bleach blonde hair when he became a regular at The Blitz along with his frenemy Boy George. After a small appearance in Eurythmics’ music video, “Who’s That Girl?” and Boy George’s success with Culture Club, Marilyn launched a singing career with limited success. Marilyn’s 15 minutes of fame stretched a little further when he took part in the Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” along with various other pop stars of the era. His notoriety soon waned after cutting his long blonde mane and ditching the makeup. At one time he was an item with the future Mr. Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale before Rossdale’s days as the frontman of the band Bush.

Divine, “You Think You’re A Man” (1984)
Cult film director and close friend John Waters first bestowed the stage name “Divine” upon the drag persona of Glenn Milstead and introduced the actor and performer as “The most beautiful woman in the world, almost”. After several movies under Waters’ direction, Divine branched out as a singer by cutting several Hi-NRG disco singles in the 80s that were club hits in several countries. Just as mainstream recognition was around the corner, Divine died in 1988.

Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat, “Why” (1984)
With a skyscraping falsetto that could make Barry Gibbs sound like Barry White, Jimmy Somerville fronted the openly gay synthpop group that explored overtly political commentary on gay-related issues coupled with a hard-edged dance-pop sound. Thirty years ago, it was almost unheard of to be an out-of-the-closet pop singer, yet with his autobiographical ‘Smalltown Boy’ and this song, he and his bandmates gained mainstream acceptance. Somerville left Bronski Beat after one album and had continued success in the 1980s with his similar-sounding synthpop duo, The Communards and as a solo artist.

Laurie Anderson, “Language Is A Virus” (1986)
Experimental performance artist, composer and musician, Anderson never quite fit the definition of “new wave” but embraced its sound in many of her compositions and its ambiguous style with her spiky hair and skinny tie masculine suits. A recurring motif in Anderson’s work has been the use of a voice filter which deepens her voice into a masculine register, a technique which Anderson has referred to as “audio drag”. For much of Anderson’s career, her masculine character was nameless or called the Voice of Authority, although more recently, he was dubbed Fenway Bergamot at her late husband Lou Reed’s suggestion.

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Band Aid Insider: The Artists Remember “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” 2

When Jonathan and I were making the list of songs to include in Mad World: The Book, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” wasn’t on it. After all, it was a novelty hit (albeit a huge one). But as we progressed with our interviews, we realized how important Band Aid was to new wave. For one, it was a song that brought so many of the pivotal artists in our book together. But it also signaled the end of the era: After Band Aid in 1984, the new wave party quickly came to an end. It only seemed fitting that we include “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” as the final chapter.

Then, this past summer, after about book came out, I began working on a piece about Band Aid pegged to its 30th anniversary. Though many of the artists were eager to reminisce about “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and proud of all of the good that it’s done, I initially had trouble getting Bob Geldof to talk. Apparently he had had a moratorium on the subject for years. After months of chasing him down through various managers, publicists, and friends, an interview was finally scheduled for late September…although on the morning of our chat, his rep emailed to say he still didn’t want to talk about Band Aid. That afternoon he relented, but when I finally got him on the phone, he let loose a barrage of expletives before allowing himself to recall a few of his favorite memories.

But, as Geldof told me, he never got into music to change the world. Nor did any of the other artists in Band Aid. That’s exactly what happened, though. And whatever one thinks of Geldof and his prickly nature, or the song’s controversial lyrics, or Band Aid II or III or IV, it cannot be disputed that the record altered the course of the 80s musical landscape and, more importantly, it saved lives. When I was in Los Angeles recently, my Uber driver told me that he was a victim of the Ethiopian famine who owes his life to the song.

Below is an “extended mix” of the Band Aid story that was published by Rolling Stone. Happy holidays, and have a peaceful and prosperous new year! —Lori Majewski

 

By Lori Majewski

Weeks before Thanksgiving, those commercial-free holiday-music marathons are already inescapable. Listen long enough and, along with repeat playings of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and the bludgeoning of countless classics by Mannheim Steamroller, you’ll eventually be treated to that darkest of year-end chestnuts: Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

“The lyrics are bleak, but essentially so, and a welcome change from the bromides of mistletoe and the saccharine Christmas fare that is usually served up,” says Sting, recalling the charity single he recorded 30 years ago on November 25th as a member of the mostly-British supergroup.

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Nearly 40 artists — many of the biggest acts of the early eighties: Duran Duran, Culture Club, Wham!, even a then-bubbling-under U2 — converged that day at London’s Sarm Studios in response to a harrowing BBC report on the starving victims of the Ethiopian famine. And every year since, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” reminds us, as we gobble down our holiday dinners, that “there’s a world outside your window/it’s a world of dread and fear,” and, in its bluntest moment: “Tonight thank god it’s them instead of you.”

“It was a song written for a specific purpose: to touch people’s heartstrings and to loosen the purse strings,” says ex-Ultravox singer Midge Ure, the song’s producer and co-writer, along with Band Aid organizer Bob Geldof, frontman for the Boomtown Rats. “[The lyrics] had to be brutal. We were looking at television pictures of children spending five minutes trying to stand up.”

Their initial goal was for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to claim the coveted Christmas number-one spot in the UK and raise about 100,000 British Pounds (approximately $160,000), Ure says — enough to fund a few shipments of food to Ethiopia and hopefully urge world leaders to take action. But the record became bigger than anyone could’ve imagined: According to recent figures from the Band Aid Charitable Trust, it’s made more than $190 million to date.

“Band Aid helped to keep, I would say, millions of people alive — certainly hundreds of thousands,” Geldof says. “It was deeply satisfying, because we [saw] an immediate benefit to a number of people.”

In stores just three days after it was recorded, the song became the fastest-selling single in Britain. A world-wide number one, it spent five consecutive weeks atop the UK singles charts (it got as high as number 13 in the U.S.) and was the country’s biggest-selling record until Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute version of “Candle in the Wind” in 1997.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” also opened the floodgates for myriad rocker-led charitable efforts — most notably USA for Africa’s “We are the World” and the bi-continental mega-concert Live Aid (also a Geldof and Ure production), along with Farm Aid and Hands Across America — consequently turning the Me Decade into the We Decade.

“Band Aid and Live Aid were a great contradiction to what people thought, another side of the decade,” says Boy George. “The eighties were about greed and excess — we were called Thatcher’s Children.”

“We got lumped in with Thatcherism because people thought we were living the high life,” says Simon Le Bon. (Though Duran Duran were the yacht-lounging, supermodel-squiring embodiment of eighties extravagance, he insists they weren’t Tories: “We absolutely hated Thatcher and her policies.”) One reason Le Bon and his contemporaries found Band Aid so attractive, he says, was because it “was this opportunity to do something that wasn’t about ‘me.’ It made you feel you could do something useful. We made young people believe they had some kind of power and were able to do something that did have an effect. Bono and Bob[’s philanthropy and activism], the Red foundation, the whole Drop the Debt campaign — it all started with Band Aid.”

Three decades on, the work of the Band Aid Charitable Trust — still led by Ure and chairman Geldof — is far from over. Thanks to the more than $480,000 in annual licensing fees and royalties from “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the trust is able to provide consistent support to aid agencies on the ground in Ethiopia, Niger, and Chad.

“While it was modestly and ironically called a ‘band aid’ designed to react to an emergency, many of its projects were designed to be sustainable, and continue to this day to be useful,” says Sting.

In recent years, the trust has helped to fund “orphanages, medicines, blankets, fields of stuff,” according to Geldof, as well as larger projects, such as a gravity pipeline built by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to supply fresh water to Somali refugees in eastern Ethiopia. Meanwhile, $300,000 gained from the 2011 cast singalong on Fox’s Glee will likely go toward the building of a new school in the country.

Though at least one member of Band Aid is calling for a 2014 update (“Tell Bob we need to do it again,” says JT Taylor, whose Kool and the Gang was the sole American group on the record. “The world is a mess, man”), Ure says he and Geldof are thinking about moving on. “In the not too distant future, we’re going to have to hand this over to someone else,” says the Scot, who was made an officer of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth in 2005. (Geldof, an Irishman, was granted an honorary knighthood in 1986.) “We’re getting older. We have to think: How do we ensure that it carries on [and that the money is allocated] safely, securely, and with the same kind of passion about it that we have?”

For now, Geldof wouldn’t mind going a holiday season — or 20 — without having to hear the song that made it all possible.

“I associate it with the meat counter at my local supermarket,” he says. “Every time I arrive to buy the fucking turkey, I hear [hums the song’s intro]. The butcher looks at me with a little smile and I go, ‘Yeah, yeah. Give me the fucking turkey, dude’.”

Read on, as Band Aid alumni share stories about “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, what it was like that day in the studio — and why Bono had a problem with the song’s most dramatic, climactic line.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” began life as a rejected Boomtown Rats tune. 

Midge Ure: Bob turned up at my place with a guitar that looked as though he’d found it in a dump. It had hardly any strings on it. He started singing me this thing — it was obvious he was making it up as he went along. He sounded like a demented Bob Dylan. There was no melody, no structure, and every time he sang it, it sounded different. He presented me the idea for the lyrics, the “It’s Christmastime, there’s no need to be afraid.” My main contribution was changing “And there won’t be snow in Ethiopia this Christmas,” which doesn’t scan in anybody’s book. We changed that to “Africa,” and we wrote the middle section together: “Here’s to you, raise a glass for everyone,” which is the nod to the irony of [it being a] Christmas record.

 

Simon Le Bon thought “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was going to be a duet between him and Sting. 

Simon Le Bon:  I was the first one Bob called. He called out of the blue and said, “Simon, did you see the [BBC report on the Ethiopian famine] last night? We’ve got to do something.” I didn’t see the program. He told me what it was about, and he said, “I have an idea. We should make a charity record. What do you think?” I said, “Yes, mate. Absolutely.” But it wasn’t sold to me as, “This is going to be a whole pile of musical legends”; it was, “You and Sting do it.” I thought I was going to get  half the song. I was a bit pissed off, because when I walked into [Sarm Studios] they’re already recording somebody else singing one of my lines! That took a while to sort of get my head around.

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Sting didn’t want to sing the lyric, “the bitter sting of tears.” 

Bob Geldof: Sting was moaning: “Do I have to sing that?” I said, “Yes, because it’s just a coincidence that the word sting is in it.” If you listen to the song, there’s a deep bitterness in Sting’s voice.

Sting: There’s a touch of irony there. When we had to dole out the lines to everyone else, it wasn’t an accident. I was still the King of Pain after all.

 

Bono didn’t want to sing his line — “Tonight thank god it’s them instead of you” — either.

Ure: Bono had a problem with it. He said, “Why would you say that?” That can be perceived as a brutal, unfeeling line.

Geldof:  He said, “Are you really sure that’s what you want to say?” And I said, “I’m really sure.” I went through it with him rather like a director goes through a line that the actor may not be happy with.

JT Taylor (Kool and the Gang): I hated that line. All these years, I thought I was the only only person who felt that. For me, it was the worst line in the whole song.

Ure:  But we’re not saying rather them than us; we’re saying how lucky we are that we don’t have to deal with that kind of extreme poverty. [After] Bob explained, Bono got it, and turned it into this magical moment on the record.

Geldof:  He just has a profound rage. If you listen to the way the emotion of the song scales up, that’s the big powerful explosion.That became a phenomenon, which none of us expected.

Ure:  I think he probably scared himself when he did it. He jumped way up an octave, and it was just astonishing — the sound that this little guy could radiate! It was like standing next to an opera singer. He did it twice but I think we kept the first [take].

 

Band Aid taught Bono that rock ’n’ roll can change the world.

Ure: The Band Aid process changed a lot of people; it changed him quite considerably. I saw a U2 concert three, four years ago, and they stopped the concert in the middle and said, “In the audience tonight…” And the spotlight came on me. Bono said, “Him and Bob taught me how to care.”

Geldof:  I pulled him into Band Aid. [U2] were young turks on the make; they hadn’t really crested yet. But I thought, He’s got such a voice… And then, Live Aid — they thought they blew it. It actually pushed them over the top. A few years later, he wanted to get involved in a related subject [i.e., the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty and disease in Africa; Bono is a co-founder, Geldof an advisor]. We argue all the time; it’s kind of a good cop/bad cop [friendship]. He wants to give the world a big hug; I want to punch its lights out.

 

Boy George almost missed the recording session entirely.

Boy George: Culture Club had just done a show at Madison Square Garden, and I was in bed at the Plaza hotel. I got a call at 3 o’clock in the morning from Bob Geldof, whom I’d never met.

Ure:  We had to have him. So Bob woke him up in New York. George said, “Who’s there?” Bob said, “Every fucker but you. Get your ass on Concorde.” And he did — at his own expense, I might add.

Boy George:  When I arrived, around 8 o’clock in the evening, there was no time to practice or maybe have a go at the song to make sure you’re in the right key. It was literally: “You’re on!” I was thinking, “Oh my God, what’s going to come out of my mouth?”

Ure:  He turned up, and he said, “Can someone get me a brandy?” I had to press the intercom button and say, “No! We don’t have anyone here to go running about for you.” We didn’t have mountains of food, we didn’t have champagne, there was no sponsorship going on. It was incredibly basic.

Boy George:  I did pretty well, though. I remember Bob saying, “Oh George, you sound like a black lady — like a black mama!” I was like, “That’s what I’m aiming for, so thank you!”

 

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Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet arrived together, and a little worse for wear.

Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet): The night before we were in Germany on the piss with Duran, having a real good drink. By the morning, we were all pretty rough. We didn’t look great. I remember arriving back at Heathrow and someone said, “There’s all the press, there’s cameras out there, there’s about 400 screaming fans.” All of a sudden we’re all in the bathroom trying to make ourselves look presentable — you know, Nick Rhodes putting stacks of makeup on. I think we all put a bit of makeup on that day, actually.

Le Bon: I remember turning up in the car with a hangover. I did everything with a hangover in those days. I don’t think John [Taylor, Duran Duran] had been to sleep at all. But that was John. He just didn’t need much in those days because of chemical sleep.

 

The session was “like a carnival of celebrities,” according to Boy George.

Boy George: You could not move for famous people. I remember being in this room with a lot of people I hadn’t met before — Bono, Phil Collins — just thinking, “Everyone’s being quite well-behaved. People have really parked their egos for the evening.”

Sting:  It was a funny day, like a school reunion for truants. All of us had a lot in common but had rarely been in the same room together. There were no fights as I remember.

Le Bon: That was the first time I met Sting. He was very friendly, apart from when I said, “God, it’s really hot and sweaty in here,” and he told me not to do so many drugs.

Boy George: I had had a feud with Simon Le Bon, a bit of a confrontation in Paris, and we ended up walking into the studio arm in arm for the press.

Nick Rhodes:  We were among the first people to say yes, which I am proud of. Because I think it helped to say “I’ve got Duran Duran on board.” It was such a bizarre mix to have us, Spandau [Ballet] and [seventies British rockers] Status Quo. And you had Paul Weller, who I seem to remember arrived by bus.

Le Bon: My God, he was grumpy! Paul Weller wasn’t very friendly. He was very political…and [Duran Duran] as a band had always stayed clear of politics. But [Band Aid] wasn’t about politics, it was about saving lives. People wanted to have an effect, and that really is the line that joins me to Paul Weller. He wanted to help feed some kid in Africa, same as I did.

 

The “Feed the World” chorus was inspired by Lennon’s “War is Over” refrain.

Ure: There was a moment in the studio when Bob said, “We need something like the John Lennon thing, some anthemic thing we can sing along with.” Between the two of us, we came up with “Feed the world/let them know it’s Christmas time again.”

 

When Boy George first heard George Michael’s vocals, he thought it was Alison Moyet.

Boy George:  I remember hearing the voice after me and saying, “Who’s that? Who’s the girl?” and then being told it was George Michael. I said, “He sounds really camp.” Then I said, “But he is, though, isn’t he?” I was always trying to out George.

 

George Harrison advised on how to prevent Band Aid from turning into another financially questionable Concert for Bangladesh.

Ure:  The Concert [for Bangaldesh]…all of the money didn’t get where it was meant to go. It was spent on overhead and ad men. So [Harrison’s advice to Geldof] was, “Get yourselves good accountants.” We have the same accountants today who [ensure] we don’t spent a penny on anything. We’ve had no office, no secretaries. We begged, borrowed, and stole telephone lines, space, whatever we could. We didn’t spend a penny of Band Aid money on running Band Aid.

 

The record sleeve was designed by the same artist who did Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Ure: It’s a Peter Blake original. Peter Blake is kind of a British Andy Warhol. All those Victorian cut-outs, he pasted the whole thing together. And he did it for free.

 

Compared to USA For Africa’s meticulously-planned “We are the World,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was like Britain itself: cold, dark, and pessimistic.

Sting:  Ours is less slick, less polished and thrown together, with a spontaneous, make-do enthusiasm and passion that translates into heartfelt authenticity.

Rhodes:  The British one was very naive, and then suddenly America stormed in with “We are the World.” The title alone says something to you. It was a big, lush production. In many ways, it does define the differences between American music and British music at the time.

 

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” created the mold — and then broke it.

Boy George: If there was an extreme situation like [the famine in] Africa, I can imagine most of today’s artists being drawn into it. Whether it would have the same impact, I don’t know. It’s such a different time now, because we are bombarded with so much information. You tend to get neutralized by all the different tragedies and situations going on in the world.

Le Bon:  Yes, it could [happen]. Would it be the same? No. I think a lot of people would [think] “Oh, we need to do this because everybody else is doing it.” We’re going through a time where everybody’s scared of sticking their neck out. Not only do they not have politics in their songs, they don’t really have a lot of anything in their songs.

Taylor: When we were coming up, we had Motown, the Beatles and the Stones, Woodstock, Joe Cocker, and Sly Stone. We had Santana saying, “You can be an artist, and you can speak your voice.” Today, they only sign youths, beautiful-looking young girls, handsome young boys, and their world isn’t so much about the politics of life; it’s about, “Wow, I’m a star now.” It’s refreshing to hear someone singing about doing something other than shaking your ass.

 

 

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Sizing Up Fashion Rocks’ Booty Call 4

While doing interviews for Mad World, I’m often asked about the current state of music, and how it’s changed since the early 80s. The first thing that comes to mind: The music charts are no longer about music.

I know, I know. That’s some statement from an author whose book highlights the artists from the dawn of MTV — the music video era! But while the bands in Mad World were certainly concerned with how they looked — after all, almost all of them were formed from the rib of Bowie — first and foremost, they wanted to make music.  ”Our managers drove the video agenda; we were like, ‘Oh man, a video‘,” John Taylor says in the book, recalling how Duran Duran’s reps pushed them to make James Bond-ian mini movies.

While watching Fashion Rocks at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn the other night, I couldn’t help thinking that, for many of today’s biggest stars, it’s the other way around — the music hardly matters. The reps for Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj should remind them their charges that they’re singers, not strippers giving lap dances (although, to be fair, the managers and labels are a big part of the problem).Three Lions Entertainment Presents Fashion Rocks 2014 - Show nicki-anaconda-fr

“She got a big booty that’ll swallow a thong,” sang (lip-synched?) J.Lo as she shoved her infamous, barely-covered bottom in our faces. (Yes, her mid-forties ass looks mighty fine, but that’s besides the point.) A few numbers later, Minaj came out flaunting so much tush it would’ve made Daisy Duke blush. Among her poetic lyrics: “Say he don’t like ‘em boney, he want something he can grab.”

The morning after, my Mad World co-author asked how it all went. I told him how thrilled I was with Duran Duran’s performance — though, to be honest, they barely had any competition, with J.Lo and Minaj’s lame twerk-off coming more than a year after Miley’s bouncing butt hijacked/headlined the MTV Video Music Awards.

“I like Nicki,” JB said in her defense, explaining that she’s a really talented rapper. Rapping — oh, is that what she was doing on stage? I failed to notice.

Look, I’m not a prude, and I did notice that Minaj was flanked by a bunch of shirtless male dancers — perhaps an attempt at equal-opportunity eye candy? But is she really lighting the way forward for women? Is showing everything you’ve got onstage really how you show you’re a feminist, a word Beyoncé flashed at her recent VMAs performance.

JB argued that Nicki needs the butt antics to keep everyone’s attention. Hold on — I thought you said she was talented.

In Alison Moyet’s day, talent was what counted. ”Once upon a time, our attractive girl pop stars were Bananarama, who presented themselves with light independent spirits, but you never felt they were whoring themselves,” she told JB during their Mad World interview. By contrast, ”young women seem to have given up” and are “giving it all away” these days. In the early eighties, “there was less sexism, bizarrely, in the creative arena”; today “all [the female singers are] doing is playing to a sexual fantasy, and they are no more esteemed and stronger — they’re just being sex toys.”

Ironically, it was an 80s artist who drew up the blueprint. But while J.Lo, Minaj, et. al. latched on to Madonna’s shock-and-awe way to the top, they didn’t bother to learn her main lesson: Fantastic, unforgettable songs is the route to longevity. They’re cribbing from her Sex book, her “Justify My Love” video, when they should be paying attention to “Like A Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” “Papa Don’t Preach.”

And Madonna was always changing it up, trying to do something different. J.Lo and Minaj’s booty battle wasn’t nearly as shocking as it was been there-done that. “There are times now when I feel like it’s shocking when you see someone with their clothes on,” Moyet said. ”It’s shocking when someone’s not offering their arse to imagine yourself penetrating when they sing.”

 

 

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