Charity & the charts: The hits and the misses

On its release today, the Haiti fundraiser is likely to top the pops. Nina Lakhani spins the best and worst of philanthropic singles

Love or hate them, when it comes to charity singles, extensive radio play and a top-five chart spot are almost guaranteed. Today's release of the Haiti relief single, a not-so-great version of REM's "Everybody Hurts", features performers ranging from Susan Boyle via Mariah Carey and Paul McCartney to Take That, produced by pop svengali Simon Cowell at the behest of the Prime Minister.

But as well as raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, it looks set to reignite the cross-Atlantic charity single war which began when "We Are The World" written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie for famine relief in Ethiopia wiped the floor with Sir Bob's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" a quarter of a century ago.

The American offering this time is a re-recording of that same song sung by Snoop Dogg, Celine Dion and Pussycat Dolls among others: not quite in the same league as the 1985 supergroup which included Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Stevie Wonder.

Sir Bob's Band Aid spent five weeks at number one and sold 3.5 million copies in the UK alone. The biggest selling single of all time is Elton John's tear-jerking re-write of "Candle In The Wind", which was released as a tribute to Princess Diana.

The charity single is an essential stepping stone for anyone seeking celebrity status; you're nobody until you've done at least one. Flailing stars in need of a career boost inevitably try their best to get in on the action too. Frankly, some of the offerings here beg the question who was donating – and who was receiving – charity.

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Band Aid/November 1984

The daddy of all charity singles, it sold a million copies in the first week and brought worldwide attention to the Ethiopian famine. On the downside, it gave Bono and Bob Geldof enduring saint status.

We Are The World

USA for Africa/April 1985

The US rock and pop glitterati turned out a much better song, which was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and went on to win three Grammies.

Living Doll

Cliff Richard and Young Ones/April 1986

It wasn't that great in 1959 and it certainly wasn't good in 1986, but at least it was sort of funny, raised money for Comic Relief, and Rick, from The Young Ones, got to record a song with his all-time hero.

Everybody Wants To Run The World

Tears for Fears/May 1986

Hounded down by Sir Bob after they failed to turn up for Band Aid, the band offered up this musical gem, a re-jigged version of "Everybody Wants To Rule The World", for Sport Aid.

Let It Be

Ferry Aid/March 1987

In aid of survivors of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, in which 193 people died. The recording was organised by The Sun which had sold cheap tickets for the ferry, Herald of Free Enterprise, on that day.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Wet Wet Wet/May 1988

Before the addiction, before the really terrible songs, the Scottish pop pin-ups recorded this Beatles cover at the height of their success, for Childline.

Running All Over The World

Status Quo for Sport Aid/August 1988

After "Rockin' All Over The World" became the unofficial anthem for Live Aid, the Quo came back with an uninspired re-jigged version for Sport Aid, to very little critical acclaim.

Help

Bananarama and Lananeeneenoonoo/February 1989

Funny women Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke took the opportunity to do their bit for Comic Relief with the biggest-selling female group of the 1980s.

Ferry Cross The Mersey

Various artists/April 1989

Recorded by popular Liverpool artists such as Holly Johnson, The Christians and, of course, Paul McCartney to raise money for those affected by the Hillsborough football disaster.

Use It Up And Wear It Out

Pat and Mick/April 1990

Surely, the worst charity song of all time. Capital Radio DJs Pat Sharp and Mick Brown took it upon themselves to release eight tortuous singles. At least this one raised some money for Help a London Child.

The Stonk

Hale and Pace featuring Brian May/March 1991

Teachers turned comedians Hale and Pace released only one charity song (for Comic Relief) which was based on a fictitious dance craze: The Stonk. Brian May should have known better.

Absolutely Fabulous

Absolutely Fabulous/May 1994

Starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley from Absolutely Fabulous (the clue's in the title) and produced by the Pet Shop Boys, the song for Comic Relief features dialogue from the show. Not really funny.

Candle In The Wind 1997

Elton John/September 1997

Originally written as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe in 1973, the remake was in memory of Princess Diana and started with: "Goodbye England's rose..." It is the biggest selling British single of all time. No more need be said.

Perfect Day

Various artists/November 1997

This beautiful Lou Reed song seduced a whole new generation after it was used by the BBC in an advertising campaign to promote its music coverage. The single for Children in Need elicited high praise from the man himself.

Uptown Girl

Westlife/March 2001

The only reason why the Billy Joel original wasn't naff was because he had a great voice and sounded like a 1930s American doo-wop singer. The Westlife version for Comic Relief had none of these qualities, and so was naff.

Spirit In The Sky

Gareth Gates and the Kumars/ March 2003

There have been some great versions of this song, but this definitely wasn't one of them. Oh well, got to Number One, raised loads of money for Comic Relief, so who cares?

I'm Your Man

Shane Richie/November 2003

This is one of George Michael's and Wham's best ever songs, so why would anyone let Shane Richie get his hands on it? For Children In Need, why else?

Is This The Way To Amarillo?

Tony Christie and Peter Kay/March 2005

Now this was absolute genius. The video featured Shakin' Stevens, Mr Blobby, Michael Parkinson and Mahatma Gandhi to name a few, helping it to become the year's best-selling single for Comic Relief.

Old Clash Fan Fight Song

Johnny Clash, aka Billy Bragg/August 2007

Billy Bragg's alias was inspired by his heroes The Clash and Johnny Cash. The song raised money for Bragg's Jail Guitar Doors project which aims to rehabilitate prisoners through music.

Everybody Hurts

Various artists/February 2010

Today's release for the Haiti earthquake appeal came after Gordon Brown asked Simon Cowell to put his magic to good use. Rod Stewart, Coldplay, Take That and Mariah Carey are among the stars. Buy it, it's for charity.

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