Benefit gigs are great for a few reasons: they raise lots of money, and hopefully a good chunk of that flows to the designated charity; they bring together disparate artists that may otherwise never share a stage; and most importantly for music geeks the resulting albums offer live and alternate takes that must be collected else the sky will fall.
Here are some of my favorite benefit album cuts. Sorry, Mike and Lionel, I still can’t stomach “We Are The World.”
“We Almost Lost Detroit,” Gil Scott-Heron, No Nukes. Remember when there was a partial nuclear meltdown outside of Detroit? Yeah, didn’t think so.
“Beware Of Darkness,” George Harrison, The Concert For Bangladesh. Hard to pick a favorite when it comes to George, but trading verses with Leon Russell is tough to beat.
“America,” David Bowie, The Concert For New York City. Bowie’s other cut on this album is the umpteenth available live version of “Heroes,” but I have to have all umpteen.
“Now I’m Here,” Queen, Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea. Queen’s Live Killers is from the same era and for whatever reason has half the energy of this cut. Live At Wembley is your best choice for a live Queen album, but this track off of Kampuchea is the business.
“Crazy Mary,” Pearl Jam, Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams. A cover version so good that Pearl Jam pretty much owned it as soon as the album came out. I will take this off my list immediately if you can prove that it is responsible for the existence of Creed.
“Bulls On Parade,” Rage Against The Machine, Tibetan Freedom Concert. Adam Yauch’s greatest contribution meets RATM’s greatest cut.
“Pinball Wizard,” Pete Townshend, The Secret Policeman’s Ball. This version of this cut is mandatory playlist stuff. ‘Round these parts we don’t take too kindly to dissenting opinions on this topic. (You can’t see me but I just fired my index finger six-shooters into the air.)
“I Don’t Like Mondays,” Bob Geldof and Johnny Fingers, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. Although I question the wisdom of playing at an Amnesty International fundraiser a song about a murderous school rampage, it’s still a tasty cut.
“Imagine,” Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins, The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball. Come on, two guitar greats noodling on a John Lennon song? You can’t buy a moment like that, except on Amazon, eBay, and at any one of the many online record dealers. Well worth the price.
“Strange Fruit,” Sting, Rock For Amnesty. This is probably my favorite post-Police pre-lute Sting song, mostly for the bass. I openly admit that twenty year old me was led to Billie Holiday by this track, which made the album well worth the sticker price.
“We’re Stars,” Hear ‘N Aid, Hear ‘N Aid. The most laughably bad benefit song ever. “Who cries for the children? I do.” And how cool is it that Spinal Tap is on board? Immediately after the cameras stopped rolling Ted Nugent began hunting the most dangerous game: man. With Aqua-Net. What a beautiful train wreck this is.
Do you have a favorite benefit album or song? I’m listening.