Sorry Canada, but Bob Geldof’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” beats Bryan Adams’ “Tears Are Not Enough”

tears

By Steve Newton

Thirty years ago today–on October 4, 1985–the Tears Are Not Enough music documentary was released in Canadian theatres. You might have seen it. More likely you only heard the song, which was Canada’s response to USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”, which in turn was the United States’ response to Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”.

It all goes back to former Georgia Straight music editor Bob Geldof, who cowrote “Christmas” with Midge Ure and was the main motivator behind the Band Aid charity supergroup and the Band Aid concerts that raised millions for Ethiopian famine relief.

Good on ya, Bob.

Here’s my review of the Tears Are Not Enough movie, which was published in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper the week after it opened. (Looking back, I can’t believe that I mentioned schmaltz king David Foster’s “musical genius”. Must have been feeling pretty damn charitable that day!)

If you haven’t already contributed to Ethiopian aid by sending in pledges during Live Aid, or purchasing the “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, USA For Africa, “Tears Are Not Enough”, or West Coast Musicians Aid for Africa records, there is still a way to do your part–and get a behind-the-scenes look at how Canada’s top performers did theirs.

Tears Are Not Enough, the movie, opened last week at Cineplex Odeon theatres across Canada. And while it won’t be challenging Ghostbusters or Back to the Future in terms of mainstream popularity, the film does have its attraction apart from being a way to help starving people. It provides an intriguing look at the recording process, and how a producer–in this case Grammy Award-winner David Foster–works in the studio. In this respect the Tears Are Not Enough documentary is of particular interest to musicians and people who work in the music industry.

The John Zaritsky-directed and CBC-produced film opens up with singer Dalbello (formerly Lisa Dalbello) explaining how–after being in Britain at the time of the original Band Aid sessions–it occured to her that Canada should do the same sort of thing. Clips from the “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World” videos are shown, and Foster tells of a phone call he got from USA For Africa producer Quincy “The Dude” Jones. It was that call that set everything in motion for the Tears Are Not Enough project.

A small portion of the film is dedicated to showing how the song itself was conceived and put on paper. Foster is shown singing the melody into a tape recorder on his way to work, and then fleshing it out on piano in the studio. There’s one surprising scene of Loverboy guitarist Paul Dean putting down metallic licks on a rough mix of the tune. Then Bryan Adams and his songwriting partner Jim Vallance are brought in to do the lyrics. Meanwhile there are shots of Bruce Allen on the phone in the office, getting down to the business of fitting all the hoped-for singers into a workable schedule for the actual recording of the song.

“You can’t pull up to a benefit in a limousine,” he tells one unidentified participant, “take a cab! No, we’re not gonna reimburse you–it’s only 30 bucks!”

Then it’s off to Toronto, where the happening took place, and the singers are shown arriving at the studio. In typical Platinum Blonde fashion Mark Holmes pulls up in a long silver limo, and the girls gathered outside start to scream. They also scream for Bryan Adams. But they scream the loudest for Corey Hart. Autographs are signed and kisses given, and then the teen heartthrobs head into the studio past a sign that Foster has hung near the entrance: “Please check your egos at the door.”

Several minutes of the film are taken up with the musicians–and invited celebrities such as SCTV‘s John Candy, Robin Duke, and Catherine O’Hara–mingling amongst themselves. Candy is shown cracking funnies with Ian Thomas, brother of SCTV‘s Dave, and Burton Cummings does his Rodney Dangerfield impersonation for a not-too-impressed Terry David Mulligan. But the party atmosphere is soon replaced by a serious tone as an unidentified black woman gives a moving speech about the starving people of her homeland. The gathered performers are visibly chocked up by her sincere choice of works, and the stage is set for them to give their all–whether in solo singing spots, or as part of the chorus.

The next segment was, for me anyway, the most interesting part of TearAre Not Enough. As the individual singers record their lines Foster coaches and coaxes. He is really the star of this film, and his ambition, musical genius, and genuine personality shine throughout.

On the negative side, there were a couple of things the documentary could have done without. During the profile of Bryan Adams and Corey Hart clips of their videos (“Somebody” and “Sunglasses at Night”) were shown, which wasn’t necessary. What is this, Good Rockin’ Tonite?

Wrong.

And near the start of the film there’s a bit where Bruce Allen is on the phone to Adams, telling how how the “Tears Are Not Enough” song is better than the British and American Band-Aid tunes. Wrong again, I’m afraid…or maybe half right. “Tears Are Not Enough” is a great song–it may even be a “better” song than “We Are the World”–but to say it beats “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is going a bit far.

Geldof’s tune is definitely tops.

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