A song decrying the horrors of Halloween? They've got to be kidding, right? Well, yes, actually, Nick Diamonds (formerly of the Unicorns) and Vice alum Adam Gollner conceived the multi-artist singalong Do They Know It's Hallowe'en? as a goofy Band Aid spoof.But profits from sales of the four-track EP which boasts the participation of Beck, Malcolm McLaren, Nardwuar, Elvira, Roky Erickson, Karen O, David Cross, Peaches, Buck 65, Feist and various members of Arcade Fire, Sum 41 and Sloan go to benefit UNICEF.
Evidently, not everyone thinks Boomtown Rats main man Bob Geldof deserved an honorary knighthood for his famine relief efforts in 84.
"Just before the 20th anniversary of Band Aid, I was record shopping in Connecticut and found the original Do They Know It's Christmas single," explains Diamonds, whose new group, Islands, plays the Distillery November 5. "Listening back to the thing, I found it very patronizing and very funny."
Sure, it took some wrangling for Sir Bob to gather British pop star pals like Bono, Sting and members of Bananarama, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, and Heaven 17 to sing a song benefiting people in Africa.
And the fact that Do They Know It's Christmas? sold 50 million copies is pretty amazing, particularly when you take a closer look at Geldof's lyrics, which describe Ethiopia as a place where "Nothing ever grows / No rain or rivers flow." It ridiculously suggests people were starving due to some natural catastrophe, overlooking the role played by ruling tyrant Colonel Mengistu.
With 20 years of hindsight, we now see that the aptly named Band Aid project probably did more damage to Ethiopia than good.
Much of the food delivered if it wasn't confiscated by Mengistu's militias for their own use rotted in storehouses because there was no delivery mechanism in place. And the myth perpetuated by Geldof's song that Ethiopia is a barren wasteland did no favours for the tourism industry on which the country's economic recovery now largely depends.
So it's understandable why Nick Diamonds found Do They Know It's Christmas? so ripe for parody.
"It seemed like a great idea to get a bunch of musicians together to try and save the world from something just as a joke. I figured Halloween would be a good holiday to use, because there are great topical metaphors for all the fear-mongering that's happening right now.
"I told my friend Adam, and in three days we wrote the lyrics and the music and recorded it in Los Angeles with Steve McDonald from Redd Kross," Diamonds boasts. "In no time at all, our "what if' stoner concept was on its way to becoming a reality."
With their combined music biz connections, it turned out to be far less of a logistical nightmare to get people to voice their gag lines about the ghoulish night than anyone anticipated.
"We just asked people if they'd sing on this song we were doing about Halloween, and most of them said, "Uh, yeah, sure.'
"I'm not certain if everyone got the joke," he continues. "Elvira initially had some concerns about appearing on an anti-Halloween single because she has sponsorship deals with some candy companies, but she eventually did it and she was awesome.
"The really surprising thing was that David Cross, the comedian, had the best pitch and range of anyone involved. He nailed his parts really fast."
Having Feist proved to be an asset in getting some artists on board whom Diamonds and Gollner couldn't recruit.
"She helped us get Malcolm McLaren, who literally walked in, did his line and left. But it was great. She almost had Sting, too. His manager thought it would be a good idea to position him with a younger demographic, but ultimately I think they decided the project was a little too weird for him."
north american hallowe'en prevention initiative Do They Know It's Hallowe'en? (Vice/Sony-Connect) Rating: NNN