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Simon, if you want to help haiti, go there

It's always hard for a journalist to criticise charity singles because it makes you look like a mean-spirited scrooge with all the compassion of Heath Ledger's Joker. But what the hell, I'm going to throw in my two cents anyway. I know that I'm not alone in reacting with a deep existential sigh to the news that Gordon Brown has asked Simon Cowell to oversee a charity single to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

If the record actually raises money that will make a difference to the Haitians, then some good will have come of it. But it's wrong on every other level.

Firstly, there's the unedifying sight of a beleaguered politician cravenly playing to the gallery by ringing a record industry mogul rather than, say, the minister responsible for overseas aid in his government to sort things out.

It's Brown, after all, who has the power to loosen the public purse strings as he sees fit. It's a nauseatingly populist gesture that no one can criticise without seeming colder than an Inuit's fridge.

But answer me this: when London lay in ruins after the Blitz, did Winston Churchill ring up Arthur Askey and ask him to round up his chums from Sunday Night at the Palladium for an oul' sing-song to help rebuild the shattered city?

Secondly, the choice of SiCo to lead the project means that the brief glorious hiatus of not having to look at His Royal Smugness's smirking face on the telly every other night has been shattered. It looks like the X Factor svengali has now achieved -- to use that ominous Pentagon phrase -- Full Spectrum Dominance over the airwaves and the goggle box.

And the roll call of acts lined-up to record the song, surprise surprise, hail mostly from his own label, SyCo, including Susan Boyle and X Factor alumni JLS, Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and last year's winner Joe McElderry.

And really stretching his address book, fellow judge Cheryl Cole is also in on the act. Getting the likes of Paul McCartney to agree to take part was also crushingly predictable, with the Beatle having performed on the last X Factor final.

As for Elton John, he's long been the go-to guy on these sorts of occasions. At least this time he won't be re-dedicating his one-size-fits-all 'Candle In The Wind' again.

Which brings us to the third reason why I hate the idea of this charity single: Cowell's choice of REM's 'Everybody Hurts' as the song to be defenestrated by this mob. When it was first released as a single back in 1992, it stopped everyone who heard it dead in their tracks. A sort of modern-day rewriting of Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', 'Everybody Hurts' -- whose melody was written by REM's now- departed drummer, Bill Berry -- sounded like an instant classic, and was used by The Samaritans in one of their advertising campaigns. But it's more a plea for a troubled soul to come in off the ledge, so to speak -is it really the right sentiment for the victims of a devastating natural disaster?

But given what Cowell got his performing puppets to do to Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', I await Cowell and Co's version with the same sense of dread a fly stuck in a web awaits the arrival of the spider.

Some bloggers have asked a very sensible question: if Simon really wants to help the poor earthquake victims, can he not just forget the record and go over there himself and help with the relief effort? I know it's not as glamorous and he might get his chinos and Armani t-shirt dirty, but it's just a thought.

Of course, Cowell's government-sponsored record will face stiff competition from Bono and Jay-Z's rush-released 'Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)', which at least is an original composition -- albeit one written over the phone. But having heard them perform it with Rihanna and The Edge on last weekend's Hope for Haiti Telethon, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's not bad at all.

Of course, it helps that at no point in the song does Bono declare: "Well, tonight thank God it's them, instead of yooou".

Also vying for attention is Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones's re-tooling of USA For Africa's jingle 'We Are The World', which was co-written with Michael Jackson 25 years ago to complement Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas', which itself was already re-recorded on its 20th anniversary.

Reports stated that Lionel and Quincy already planned to update 'We Are The World' but have now decided to dedicate it to Haiti -- and plan on recording it in LA the day after the Grammies when the music biz's biggest stars will already have gathered in the one place.

Now I had hoped never to hear 'We Are The World' again in my lifetime -- there's something about its mawkish sentimentality that grates -- but even if it had been a classic, I still can't understand why all that talent can't come up with an original song for the present disaster.

Besides, it shouldn't take a lame 'charity single' to spur people to donate money to worthy causes -- the desperate images on the daily news should be enough.


Irish Independent