Being Modern: Charity records

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The Independent Culture

Sir Bob Geldof, to many the father of the modern fund-raising record, once said that the first law of any such project was "to create good art". But if the cause is worthy enough, do we really care about the strength of the "art" before deciding whether to part with our hard-earnt cash?

To help answer that question, let's return to the pioneering moment in the history of the charity pop record. It is 1971 and, spurred by a refugee crisis, the former Beatle George Harrison decides to put on a show at New York's Madison Square Garden. The Concert for Bangladesh will, in time, become a triple album and a film of the same name that will raise more than $17m for Unicef. Was it all good art, though? At the start of the show the Indian musician Ravi Shankar took 90 seconds to tune his sitar. When he finished, the audience burst into enthusiastic applause. "If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more," said Shankar, before launching into a 17-minute raga to the bemusement of a crowd waiting to hear "My Sweet Lord" and Bob Dylan.

Never mind. The charity record was born and, ever since, it's been difficult to stop artists and audiences attempting to solve all of the world's problems through the power of pop. Together, we have changed the world, run the world, healed the world, rocked all over the world, fed the world and freed Nelson Mandela.

It is easy to be cynical. Here we have some of the world's wealthiest people (Bono, Chris Martin, Paul McCartney, Elton John) urging us to donate money so that they can show us how much they care in song. Today, Gary Barlow's The Collective release "Teardrop" for the BBC's Children in Need. The song features Tinchy Stryder, Rizzle Kicks, Wretch 32, Chipmunk and Tulisa, who line up to deliver their lines with all the sincerity of the Calvin Klein "Just Be" advert. If "Teardrop" signifies anything, it is that the charity-record baton has been passed to the next generation. Though for anyone of Sir Bob's vintage, just thank god that it's them instead of you who actually have to listen to the bloody thing.