Contemporary historian Lucy Robinson has spent the last five year’s listening to, writing about and thinking about charity singles. From Oxfam’s association with the Beatles in the 60s, to ‘Do they Know its Christmas?’ in all of its various incarnations, the charity single has turned fans into communities, and allowed over indulgent celebrities to show their caring side. Now finally her work has come to life in a brand new charity single. She has been volunteering her expertise as Minister for Nagging in the newly launched People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove.
Charity singles were the perfect cultural form for Thatcher’s Eighties. They were packaged and sold within the Victorian values of philanthropy but in a form that fitted well with new media opportunities, new media technology and new ‘yoof’ orientated broadcasting space. Charity singles facilitated a set of donations; the primary donation was the time of musicians and celebrities, (and sometimes technicians and distributors) which may have included additional donations of royalties, rights and or all profits.
The secondary donation was by the consumer who bought the single regardless of their motivation; for the cause, for their favourite pop star, for the song, or for a combination thereof. Whatever Thatcher said about there being no such thing as society, and however many clips of champagne quaffing Yuppies we see on retro documentaries, in the Eighties people turned to charity to fill the gaps they saw opening up in social provision. Charitable donation increased in Thatcher’s Britain, as did the number of charities and the number of ways of making a donation. Charity singles, like all parts of a charity campaign, were not just about raising money. Charitable donation raises funds, but it also raises awareness about particular issues and builds a sense of community. It builds a sense of the community for the donors, as well as an imagined community of worthy recipients. By the end of the Eighties these three functions produced a recognizable charity single formula; collective choruses, recognizable voices on individual lines, and ego-free co-operation between different generations of musicians.