The Meaning of Tonight Thank God It’s Them Instead of You – A Dissertation

If we had to pick an Entity all-time favorite holiday song, despite a good run by the likes of “Holly Jolly Christmas” (Burl Ives version), “Linus & Lucy,” “Hark the Heralds” (Nate King Cole), and “It’s Cold Outside,” we’d all ultimately settle on “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time.”

Not only is this Band-Aid classic the best holiday song ever, it is among the greatest pop songs of all-time.

However, there has never been a great song with more fundamental flaws. It’s kind of like your family: lots of personalities and issues to deal with, but ultimately you love it more because of the aforementioned issues and personalities.

With this in mind, let’s break down the major flaws as we see them with the song, eventually spending some quality time examining the penultimate line of “Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you…”

1. Paul Young batting lead-off – A reader named Casey in Minnesota brought this up in a Sports Guy mailbag once, and it’s a good point: With all the talent available in Band-Aid, how does Young get the opening stanza? Sure, “Everytime You Go Away” was a great song (made even better by its use in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles)–but it hadn’t even been released by Young when they did the Band-Aid song. It was still months away from release. So what had Young done to deserve the honor of kicking this song off?

With Sting, Bono, George Michael (who needs to get some props for participating in two of the greatest holiday classics ever within the same month–this and “Last Christmas”), Simon Le Bon and David freaking Bowie at your disposal, how do you settle on Young? Doesn’t add up.

2. Making Sting sing the lyric with the word “sting” in it – Not sure whose idea it was to make Sting sing the line with his name in it, but it was obviously intentional. Go to the 1:20 mark of the song and the camera is focused solely on Sting as he delivers the line. Kinda jarring when you’re zoned in on the song.

Also, wtf is up with pairing Sting with Simon Le Bon? While 1984 Sting wasn’t as iconic as 2010 Sting, there was no comparison in quality of work between him and Le Bon, i.e. the guy who sang “The Reflex” (read the lyrics, bordering on retarded). Maybe Sting was having 8-hour tantric sessions with Bob Geldoff’s wife or something, and this was all payback. Whatever the case, pairing Sting and Le Bon would be like the modern day equivalent of putting Thom Yorke with Ke$ha.

3. They actually don’t know it’s Christmastime – Less than half the continent of Africa practices Christianity. It’s about an equal split between Christianity and Islam for the continent’s primary faith. Other countries practice “traditional African religions” (i.e. they’re pagans). So there’s at best a 50/50 chance that they really did know it was Christmastime at all afterall. Actually, scratch that. If half the African continent practices Islam (Egypt, Sudan, Somalia), then they’re probably plotting terrorist acts around the holiday within their sleeper cells, so they might be acutely aware it’s Christmastime, just for the wrong reasons. Eff you, Al-Qaeda.

4. The lyrics are kinda mean – Consider the following verses: “And it’s a world of dreaded fear / Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears…” “And the christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom…” “Where nothing ever grows / No rain or rivers flow” and “Here’s to you / Raise your glass for everyone / Here’s to them / Underneath that burning sun.” WTF? Sounds like they’re singing about the climate on Venus more than Africa. Which all leads us to…

5. Tonight thank god it’s them instead of you – Not to get all Double Rainbow Guy, but what does this mean? We think even Bono wasn’t sure, because he delivers it with a pained expression in the video (go to the 1:30 mark) that makes him look more like Bobcat Goldthwait than a rock star.

The lead-in to the line is the Sting/Le Bon pairing of, “Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears / And the christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom…” There’s your set-up. Then Bono hollers his ultimate contribution to the classic: “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” First of all, he’s right. Given the picture Band-Aid created, living in Africa is like living in hell, so we are pretty damn excited at this point that it is them dealing with Venus-levels of heat and terror instead of us. But what is Bono trying to accomplish with this line? Is it to guilt us into donating money because we have it so great? Calling out the obvious? Playing on white man’s guilt?

Here’s what we think: after Bono delivers his line, the next verses are about how there won’t be snow in Africa and the greatest gift anyone in that country gets is to live another day. However, since Africa sounds like hell-on-Earth, we’re not sure if this is much of a gift at all. In fact, given how bad it sounds, we’re surprised the entire continent didn’t choose for what Truman’s best-friend and the black chick did in the final episode of The Walking Dead and “opt-out.”

If you look at the lyrics as a whole, this really isn’t an uplifting song. It’s depressing as hell. But the music and chorus are uplifting, so it masks the harshness of the lyrics. It’s kind of like how “Semi-Charmed Kind of Life” is about meth and blowjobs, but because the chorus had a lot of singable do-do-doos that sorority girls would dance around to and scream in bars, nobody noticed or cared.

Also, if you look at that era of U2, it was their pre-Joshua Tree / Rattle & Hum / Auchtung Baby mega-rock star stage. They were more known at the time for searing protest songs like “New Year’s Day,” “Pride,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

So with that in mind, we think that Bono is simply being a dick. The line is what it is: hey assholes, their life sucks, and yours doesn’t, so fuck you.

Thoughts? Do you all agree?


2 Responses

  1. Canada is not a hat

    December 23, 2010 12:36 pm, Reply

    Regarding, “Tonight thank god it’s them instead of you” – I’m too lazy to google it but I remember hearing that Bob Geldof (who wrote and coordinated all of this, right?) fought with everyone involved to keep that line in there. Apparently he felt it was crucial to drive home the guilt and remind everyone of the contrast between American and African experiences.

  2. Andy

    June 14, 2011 12:54 pm, Reply

    Actually, you are wrong apparently. Bono did NOT want to sing that line, and almost refused it. He actually didnt like the way it came out. He even admited he pretty much didnt even deserve to be there.  

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