The charity single is an institution that is a more recent phenomenon than you might think.
The first song widely recognised as a purpose-made charity single was released in 1971 by George Harrison; his track Bangla Desh raised money for UNICEF to help refugees following the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the Bangladesh Liberation War. The song, which reached Number 10 on the Official Singles Chart, was centrepiece of his charity Concert for Bangladesh held in New York.
Since then hundreds of charity records have been released, seen as both a tool to inspire the public to donate to cause and an easy and relatively inexpensive way for individuals to contribute.
57 charity records have reached Number 1 on the Official UK Singles Chart, with the first being Do They Know It's Christmas? by Band Aid in 1984. Led by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the supergroup - including George Michael, Duran Duran and Boy George - released the song to raise money for anti-famine efforts in Ethiopia. The single was recorded in just 24 hours and massively exceeded initial expectations, topping the chart for 5 weeks and claiming that year's Official Christmas Number 1. Its sales to date stand at 3.8 million, making it the second bestselling single ever in the UK.
Three more versions of the Do They Know It's Christmas? with different performers - released in 1989, 2004 and 2014 - have also reached Number 1, making it one of three songs that have had four different versions go to Number 1 (the other two being Unchained Melody and You'll Never Walk Alone).
There's one charity single that was even bigger than the original Band Aid: Elton John's Candle In The Wind 97/Something About The Way You Look Tonight. Released after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the single was released to raise money for her memorial fund and has sold 4.93 million copies to become the UK's all-time bestseller.
Charity singles released for TV charity marathon Comic Relief are also among the most successful, notching up 13 chart-toppers, starting with the event's first, Cliff Richard's Living Doll, in 1986. While many Comic Relief singles are by big-name acts of the time, including Spice Girls and Boyzone, to drive sales, several are comedy songs inkeeping with the spirit of the charity. In 2003 Gareth Gates collaborated with TV funny family The Kumars for a cover of Spirit In The Sky, and in 2005 comedian Peter Kay teamed up with Tony Christie to re-release (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, which became that year's best-selling single.
Recent years have seen YouTuber and dad-blogger LadBaby score two consecutive Christmas Number 1s in 2018 and 2019, raising money for foodbank charity The Trussell Trust, and in April this year, 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore topped the Official Chart with Michael Ball collaboration You'll Never Walk Alone. After raising more than £29 million for the NHS during the coronavirus crisis, he teamed up with his favourite singer on the track, which debuted at Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart, making Captain Tom the oldest artist to score a Number 1 single in UK chart history.
Every Number 1 charity song on the Official UK Singles Chart
|DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?||BAND AID||1984||BAND AID TRUST|
|WE ARE THE WORLD||USA FOR AFRICA||1985||FAMINE IN ETHIOPIA|
|YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE||THE CROWD||1985||BRADFORD CITY STADIUM FIRE|
|DANCING IN THE STREET||DAVID BOWIE & MICK JAGGER||1985||BAND AID TRUST|
|LIVING DOLL||CLIFF RICHARD||1986||COMIC RELIEF|
|LET IT BE||FERRY AID||1987||HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE DISASTER AT ZEEBRUGGE|
|WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS||WET WET WET||1988||CHILDLINE|
|FERRY CROSS THE MERSEY||GERRY MARSDEN, PAUL MCCARTNEY, HOLLY JOHNSON AND THE CHRISTIANS||1989||HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER|
|DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?||BAND AID II||1989||BAND AID TRUST|
|SACRIFICE/HEALING HANDS||ELTON JOHN||1990||AIDS CHARITIES|
|THE STONK||HALE AND PACE||1991||COMIC RELIEF|
|DON'T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME||GEORGE MICHAEL & ELTON JOHN||1991||10 CHARITIES FOR AIDS, CHILDREN AND EDUCATION|
|BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY||QUEEN||1991||TERRANCE HIGGINS TRUST|
|FIVE LIVE EP||GEORGE MICHAEL, QUEEN, LISA STANSFIELD||1993||MERCURY PHOENIX TRUST|
|LOVE CAN BUILD A BRIDGE||CHER, CHRISSIE HYNDE, NENEH CHERRY, ERIC CLAPTON||1995||COMIC RELIEF|
|EARTH SONG||MICHAEL JACKSON||1995||HEAL THE WORLD FOUNDATION|
|KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR/THROW THESE GUNS AWAY||TED CHRISTOPHER, MARK KNOPFLER||1996||VICTIMS OF THE DUNBLANE MASSACRE|
|MAMA/WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?||SPICE GIRLS||1997||COMIC RELIEF|
|CANDLE IN THE WIND 97/SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT||ELTON JOHN||1997||DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES MEMORIAL FUND|
|PERFECT DAY||VARIOUS ARTISTS||1997||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH||BOYZONE||1999||COMIC RELIEF|
|MILLENNIUM PRAYER||CLIFF RICHARD||1999||CHILDREN'S PROMISE|
|NEVER HAD A DREAM COME TRUE||S CLUB 7||2000||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|UPTOWN GIRL||WESTLIFE||2001||COMIC RELIEF|
|HAVE YOU EVER||S CLUB 7||2001||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|SPIRIT IN THE SKY||GARETH GATES AND THE KUMARS||2003||COMIC RELIEF|
|I'LL STAND BY YOU||GIRLS ALOUD||2004||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|AGAINST ALL ODDS||STEVE BROOKSTEIN||2005||ASIAN TSUNAMI FUND|
|DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?||BAND AID 20||2004||FAMINE IN ETHIOPIA|
|ALL ABOUT YOU/YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND||MCFLY||2005||COMIC RELIEF|
|(IS THIS THE WAY TO) AMARILLO?||TONY CHRISTIE FT PETER KAY||2005||COMIC RELIEF|
|PLEASE, PLEASE/DON'T STOP ME NOW||MCFLY||2006||SPORT RELIEF|
|WALK THIS WAY||GIRLS ALOUD VS SUGABABES||2007||COMIC RELIEF|
|I'M GONNA ROLL (500 MILES)||MATT LUCAS AND PETER KAY||2007||COMIC RELIEF|
|WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD||EVA CASSIDY AND KATIE MELUA||2007||BRITISH RED CROSS|
|HERO||THE X FACTOR FINALISTS||2008||HELP FOR HEROES|
|BARRY ISLANDS IN THE STREAM||JENKINS/WEST/JONES/GIBB||2009||COMIC RELIEF|
|YOU ARE NOT ALONE||THE X FACTOR FINALISTS||2009||GREAT ORMOND STREET HOSPITAL|
|OFFICIAL BBC CHILDREN IN NEED MEDLEY||PETER KAY'S ALL STAR BAND||2009||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|EVERYBODY HURTS||HELPING HAITI||2010||HAITI EARTHQUAKE RELIEF|
|LOVE YOU MORE||JLS||2010||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|HEROES||THE X FACTOR FINALISTS||2010||HELP FOR HEROES|
|WISHING ON A STAR||THE X FACTOR FINALISTS||2011||TOGETHER FOR SHORT LIVES|
|WHEREVER YOU ARE||MILITARY WIVES WITH GARETH MALONE||2011||ROYAL BRITISH LEGION, SSAFA FORCES HELP|
|SING||GARY BARLOW & THE COMMONWEALTH BAND||2012||QUEEN'S DIAMOND JUBILEE TRUST|
|HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY BROTHER||JUSTICE COLLECTIVE||2012||HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER|
|IMPOSSIBLE||JAMES ARTHUR||2012||TOGETHER FOR SHORT LIVES|
|ONE WAY OR ANOTHER (TEENAGE KICKS)||ONE DIRECTION||2013||COMIC RELIEF|
|SKYSCRAPER||SAM BAILEY||2013||GREAT ORMOND STREET HOSPITAL, TOGETHER FOR SHORT LIVES|
|LET'S GET READY TO RHUMBLE||PJ & DUNCAN||2013||CHILDLINE|
|A BRIDGE OVER YOU||LEWISHAM & GREENWICH NHS CHOIR||2013||NHS CHARITIES, CARERS UK, MIND|
|WAKE ME UP||GARETH MALONE'S ALL STAR CHOIR||2014||CHILDREN IN NEED|
|DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?||BAND AID 30||2014||AID FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY EBOLA|
|LAY ME DOWN||SAM SMITH & JOHN LEGEND||2015||COMIC RELIEF|
|BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER||ARTISTS FOR GRENFELL||2017||VICTIMS OF THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE|
|WE BUILT THIS CITY (ON SAUSAGE ROLLS)||LADBABY||2018||THE TRUSSELL TRUST|
|I LOVE SAUSAGE ROLLS||LADBABY||2019||THE TRUSSELL TRUST|
|YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE||MICHAEL BALL, CAPTAIN TOM MOORE, NHS VOICES OF CARE CHOIR||2020||NHS CHARITIES TOGETHER|
|TIMES LIKE THESE||BBC RADIO 1'S STAY HOME LIVE LOUNGE ALLSTARS||2020||COMIC RELIEF, CHILDREN IN NEED|
©2020 Official Charts Company. All rights reserved.
Listen to every Number 1 charity single on our Spotify playlist below.