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Charity Songs

Music, Current Events | By The Top 13 on February 18, 2010

With the release last week of "We Are the World 25 for Haiti," a remake of the 1985 hit song for charity "We Are the World," we decided to take a look at the best of those songs recorded to raise money and awareness for charitable causes. The resulting list - ranked based on the quality of the song and artists who contributed to it, as well as the song's social and financial impact - features a who's who of the biggest recording artists of the past quarter-century laying it down for a diverse group of critically important charities. Where possible, we've provided links to those charities and encourage you all to check them out. Now, without further ado, we present the Top 13 Charity Songs of All Time.

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We Are the World

1

We Are the World

1985

It's doubtful any charity single will ever match the financial and social impact of this song. Though the next song on this Top 13 was released the prior year, USA for Africa's "We Are the World" placed the famine in Ethiopia squarely in the public consciousness. As the biggest-selling single of all time (more than 20 million copies), it also raised more than $63 million for charity. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, this emotional, yet catchy ballad featured memorable vocal solos from many of the biggest selling artists of all time, including Jackson, Richie, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles, among so many others, setting an impossibly high standard for all future benefit songs.

Do They Know It's Christmas?

2

Do They Know It's Christmas?

1984

This is the song that started it all. Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Ultravox wrote the track and Geldof assembled an all-star group – know as Band Aid – featuring many of the most popular Irish and British musicians of the time. All of the proceeds of the song were funneled to charities providing relief for the famine in Ethiopia. Members of Band Aid included, among many others, Sting, Bono, Phil Collins, Boy George, George Michael, and members of Duran Duran. The song topped the United Kingdom charts for five weeks on its way to selling more than three million copies there. It has been remade twice, including in 2004 to benefit Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

That's What Friends Are For

3

That's What Friends Are For

1985

Though this Burt Bacharach-penned song was originally recorded by Rod Stewart for the Night Shift soundtrack, the best-known version of it, of course, is the cover performed by Dionne & Friends, a one-off supergroup featuring vocal heavyweights Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight. This unforgettable love song raised more than $3 million for the American Foundation for AIDS research, topped the Billboard "Hot 100" for four weeks on its way to becoming the biggest single of 1986, and earned Dionne & Friends a well-deserved Grammy Award.

Sun City

4

Sun City

1985

Steven Van Zandt, best known as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and as a star of The Sopranos, wrote this song to convey his opposition to South Africa's policy of apartheid, which he believed was perpetuated by places like the Sun City gambling resort. Van Zandt recruited a stunning collection of musicians (who performed under the moniker Artists United Against Apartheid) to record the song, including Springsteen, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr, Run-D.M.C., Pete Townsend, and U2, each of whom also vowed never to perform at Sun City. The result is a fantastic, critically acclaimed fusion of hip-hop, rock, and R&B that, although unsurprisingly banned in South Africa, charted in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?

5

Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?

2005

As the name suggests, this is a satire of the second entry on this Top 13. And like the song that gave co-writers and organizers Nick Thorburn (The Unicorns, Islands) and Adam Gollner their inspiration, all proceeds from this track were donated to charity - in this case UNICEF. Thorburn and Gollner put together an incredible band – known as the North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative or NAHPI – to perform the track, and explained in a press release that the song's inspiration "stems from a frustration with other benefit songs' misguided, somewhat patronizing attitude, and Western-centric worldview." Members of NAHPI included Beck, Win Butler & Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire, Feist, Jenny Lewis, Thurston Moore, Spencer Krug & Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, and Karen O, among many other indie rock favorites.

Self Destruction

6

Self Destruction

1989

Following the shooting death of Boogie Down Productions DJ Scott La Rock and the death of a fan during a fight at one of his shows, legendary MC KRS-One formed the Stop the Violence Movement and brought together a collection of East Coast hip hop pioneers to record this song for the benefit of the National Urban League's anti-violence programs. This memorable track featured contributions from Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, Stetsasonic, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, Heavy D, and beats from Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee of the Bomb Squad.

Perfect Day

7

Perfect Day

1997

Originally recorded as a promotion for the BBC's diverse music coverage, this star-studded cover of the Lou Reed classic was so well-received by the public that the BBC released it as a benefit for its Children in Need charity. Featuring a diverse group of performers including Reed, Bono, David Bowie, Elton John, Burning Spear, and Shane MacGowan, the song topped the United Kingdom's charts for three weeks and raised more than $3.3 million for the charity. Reed wholeheartedly approved of the cover, noting that he had "never been more impressed with a performance of one of my songs."

We're All in the Same Gang

8

We're All in the Same Gang

1990

The West Coast corollary to the East Coast track that appears two spots higher on this list, "We're All in the Same Gang" by the West Coast Rap All-Stars is unquestionably the better song of the two. But this Dr. Dre produced anti-violence song checks in lower on the list because of some uncertainty surrounding the charitable nature of the song. Organized by Dre and former gangbanger Michael Concepcion, the Grammy nominated song featured fantastic and politically charged verses by rappers such as Ice-T, N.W.A., and Digital Underground, as well as crossover stars M.C. Hammer, Young MC, and Tone Loc.

We're Stars

9

We're Stars

1986

The third of four songs on this Top 13 recorded to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, "We're Stars" came about when members of Dio noticed the scarce representation of heavy metal bands in the USA for Africa and Band Aid charity releases at the top of this list. Ronnie James Dio and his band wrote this classic metal song and recruited some of the biggest names in the genre, including members of Judas Priest, Dokken, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Queensryche, Spinal Tap, and Twisted Sister, among many others. The song was released under the name Hear 'n Aid along with an album of live tracks from various metal acts, and quickly raised more than $1 million for famine relief efforts.

What's Going On

10

What's Going On

2001

Recorded just weeks before 9/11, this peppy, radio friendly cover of Marvin Gaye's Motown classic "What's Going On" was originally intended to be a benefit for AIDS programs in third-world countries. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, however, the organizers of Artists Against AIDS Worldwide decided to donate a portion of the song's proceeds to the American Red Cross' September 11th fund. Produced by Jermaine Dupri and Bono, this single's liner notes read like a who's who of pop music; among the many mega-stars who participated were Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Destiny's Child, Wyclef, Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Stipe, and Nas.

Come Together Now

11

Come Together Now

2005

Where else can you hear a catchy verse from Los Angeles gangster rapper The Game followed by the balladeering of Celine Dion? That's exactly what you get on this pleasant mishmash of a song, recorded to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Co-written by noted songwriters Denise Rich and Mark Feist (don't ask us why Sharon Stone also received a writing credit), "Come Together Now" peaked at thirteen on the Billboard "Hot 100." In addition to The Game and Dion, other vocalists included John Legend, Joss Stone, Patti LaBelle, Natalie Cole, Mya, and Chingy.

Everybody Hurts

12

Everybody Hurts

2010

At the request of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Simon Cowell quickly assembled a stunning collection of talent to record this fine cover of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" for the benefit of several charities helping in the Haiti relief effort. Released on Super Bowl Sunday earlier this month, the single sold nearly half a million copies in its first week. Contributors to the song include Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Dido, Jon Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Kylie Minogue, and Chrissie Hynde. Though R.E.M. did not participate, the band did agree to waive all royalties.

Tears Are Not Enough

13

Tears Are Not Enough

1985

Musicians from the United Kingdom (Band Aid) and the United States (USA for Africa) didn't have a monopoly on supergroup songs aimed at putting an end to the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. A group of Canadian musicians - led by Bryan Adams and known as Northern Lights - released this single, which was the number one song on the Canadian charts for all of 1985 and ultimately was included on the USA for Africa We Are the World album. Though not quite as good as its fellow famine fighting songs, it featured an all-star cast including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Geddy Lee, as well as chorus members such as John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O'Hara. Plus, it raised well over $3.2 million for famine relief.

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Comments Leave a comment

abujabu 

dumb list these are the kind of lists that undermine your site. no one cares about ranking these.

12:04 PM   Feb 18, 2010

stillathreat ★★

Disagree with abu. I like this list, particularly the two hip hop songs.

12:38 PM   Feb 18, 2010

aussiesunrise 

Great list. There should be a category for albums for charity. I came upon the world's longest which is world record by glenn davis doctor g

11:02 AM   Feb 13, 2011

Kagurane 

Think this is a very useful and interesting list (: Thank you!

2:53 AM   Apr 19, 2012

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