SYMPATHY OF THE UNIVERSE: 1980’s CHARITY METAL
The famine in Ethiopia during 1982-87 made headlines all around the world. The media ran images of starving children on the nightly news and in all the newspapers. Part of the response to aid this came in the form of 1980’s pop artists coming together for the “”Do They Know It’s Christmas” all-star single in the Fall of 1984. This was put together by Boomtown Rats’ singer, Bob Geldof and featured members Culture Club, Duran Duran and Sting. A year later American (and a few British) pop stars released “We Are The World” which featured Dionne Warwick, Michael Jackson and Joe Cocker among many others.
Later that summer hard rock and heavy metal got involved at least somewhat with performances of Queen, Judas Priest and a first-time reunited, original line up of Black Sabbath at the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia. However, this was the Reagan-Thatcher fuckin’ 80’s and metal was waist deep in sensational reports on how it was supposedly inspiring teen suicide and satanism. And then there was the PMRC. So, a gaggle of posi-PR minded metallers decided to flip the ‘ol script and make a few charity songs. The biggest one of them being 1986’s “Stars” by the all-star group called Hear N’ Aid, another was a mostly UK all-star group called European Team in 1986 and a year prior a group of Swedes simply called Swedish Metal Aid who released the single “Give A Helpin’ Hand”.
Starting with the big-name first, Hear N’ Aid was the idea of Ronnie James Dio along with his bandmates, Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell during a fundraiser marathon on L.A.-radio station KLOS. The line up for this was some huge and medium-names heavy metal and hard rock. I don’t have the space for all of the members but in short, it included musicians from Dio, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P, Queenryche, Y&T, Dokken, and Rough Cutt.
“Stars” even got to ‘old racist Facebook Uncle Ted Nugent to participate. Although when asked about the project he said: “I care deeply about people in Africa. I’m a black man from Detroit. Listen to my guitar playing. There’s no white boys there.” Uhhhhh. Ted?!? Ted, please don’t say anymore.
As an impressional 80’s Metalteen, I bought not just the 12″ single of “Stars” but the full LP version. The 12″ had the instrumental version on the B-side whereas the LP had previously unreleased live tracks by Accept, Motorhead, Rush, KISS, Dio, Y&T, Scorpions, and Jimi Hendrix. I also got out my guitar and tried to figure out the George Lynch and Eric Bloom parts on the solos – I didn’t give a shit about the Yngwie parts- as my guitar teacher was obsessed with that Swedish meathead and seemed like all I ever heard in that music store was the 1st Rising Force album ad nasueam. Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister claims “we (guitarists) each had twelve bars for our solos.” Although, I’m certain Yngwie had like 204 times that. But the solo section made even Journeys Neil Schon sound like a full-on six-string slayer. Plus as a huge Iron Maiden fan, I marked out big for the Murray/Smith dual solos.
Lyrically it was really inspiring to me when I had shitty days at school. Especially when Dave Menketti and Dio sing the lines:
Sometime in the night where you’re feelin’ the cold / Take a look at the sky above you
And the fact that this had Dio followed by Rob Halford in the same song– HOLY SHIT!
Regarding the song’s impact — unlike Live Aid which according to an investigative report from SPIN that tells of Wall Street-like financial fuckery, Hear N’ Aid raised $1 million and put it directly to agricultural machines to help famine victims in Ethiopia. Its additionally impact can be found on YouTube which has two that were posted in 2010 not long after Dio passed away. These are a version made up of random musicians from Manitoba, Canada and another featuring a ton of German musicians from a ton of bands I’ve never heard of (Sacred System and Ivory Tower). I’d say it works pretty close to the original albeit with a German accent. Additionally, there’s a Korean version, Mexican version, Iraqi Tribute version, Metal Female Voices Fest version, 20 musicians collaborating across the internet version, another from Germany from a group called Chainer, and *wheh* a Dutch version.
As far as the antithesis to this – welllll, there was the racist garbage heap from 1987’s M.O.D.’s “USA For Africa” album (and song) by Billy “if they can say it why can’t I say it?!?” Milano. Aaaand I already told you about Dickie Spencer’s black metal pal, “Weird Al” Kurtagic. Anyway, for a fun review of “Stars” check out Weaboo Reacts.
Swedish Metal Aid features well, just a bunch of Swedes from “never heard of ’ems” like Baltimoore and Aphrodite but also members of great but also underground-ish bands like 220 Volt and Heavy Load along with Joey Tempest from Europe in his pre-“Final Countdown” form. Also Eurovision svenskadude, Tommy Nilsson’s on here if that means anything to ya. Swedish Metal Aid is the worst of these three “charity metal” songs and seems it veers closer to “We Are the World” mixed with I dunno a Styx ballad. The slow, Air Supply-like tempo and nature of this song made Sweden surpass export France in cheese exports. There’s a LOT of Joey Tempest & like-minded vocals hamming it up to this redundant as hell chorus of “To-gether we can save the world/To-gether we must/and help us all survive”. The guitars are barely there and overwhelmed by hammy singing and doofy piano chords. Moreso, its a pallet of bad 80’s fashion and cocaine-addled “industry genius”. I’m certain this angered many a future Stockholm-area death metaller.
The song was featured on a Swedish TV show that made it sound way heavier than it was on the appropriately titled, “Nöjesmassakern (Entertainment massacre)”. This is intro-ed by one of the hosts by saying “Hard rock? They wear make-up…they have long hair…they play (music like) *BOOOMB BOOMB BOOMB!*
Even 15 year old me would’ve been “uhhhh I dunno about this – there’s no guitar solos and it really sucks but am I supposed to like this?!?”
“Sport Alive” was a predominately UK effort led by a prolific Italian singer-songwriter named Edourdo Bennato who had no connection to metal at all. This was put together as fundraiser for the victims of the 1985 soccer stadium tragedy during a Juventus (Italy) vs. Liverpool Euro Cup Final match in Belgium where 39 fans died when a wall collapsed. You can read more about that here. As for the record – it consisted of a members of lotta of faves of mine like Motorhead, Venom and Girlschool. Plus, Doro from Warlock and some guys from 80’s AOR bands like Lionheart (not to be confused with Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmet’s 90’s AOR band Lionsheart) and Heavy Pettin’ along with the UFO-connected Waysted, a few guys from Uriah Heep, the Whitesnake-connected Alaska and the motör-metallers Rogue Male. There was also a goofus named Robin George who was pretty much the Corey Hart of the UK. Robin George’s saccharin rock was hyped like mad by Kerrang! magazine (The latter which promoted Metal Forces magazine to called them Kerrap!). The song itself is an slightly above-average power ballad with strong echoes of Accept’s early mellow jam, “Can’t Stand The Night”. The first verse is in English followed by Edoardo’s 2nd verse in Italian a sign of cooperation in music, sport and society. The B-side followed the same pattern as “Stars” and put on the instrumental mix full of more guitar heroics. The only issue I have is with the Heavy Pettin’ dude and Edoardo’s oversinging however this goes by quick and the hesher chorus and big guitars overcome it. Also, if you listen closely you can hear Lemmy’s voice – Cronos and Mantas not so much though.
The lyrics are about as simple and direct English as you can get:
“Support the sport – no one has to lose/ No more fights / We want sport – we sport alive / No More wars / We want life again”
In summary these three songs are an interesting corner of Heavy Metal history and show you the good, not bad and whaaat the hell is this?!?
- Despite the famine in the past and shitty jokes like “Ethiopian food – duuhhh is that just a 1 pea on a plate?” – I assure you Ethiopian food is one of the best things you can ever try. It’s easy to find in cities like Pittsburgh and Oakland, too.
- Ethiopian Jazz is also amazing – seek out any of the Ethiopiques series.