From Band Aid to George Michael, and Michael Jackson to U2, charity singles have been music and society’s way of coming together to support some of the noblest causes. Below we’ve picked our 50 favourite charity songs. You’ll find plenty of wonderful not-for-profit music recorded by some of the biggest and most-loved musicians.
Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Originally released in December 1984, before being recorded three times, this song by charity supergroup Band Aid is probably the most famous not for profit music of all time.
George Harrison: Bangla Desh
Recorded to raise awareness about the plight of millions of refugees affected by the 1970 Bhola cyclone and 1971 outbreak of the Bangladesh Liberation War, this is first nonprofit song to be recorded.
Various Artists: That’s What Friends Are For
Featuring Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Elton John, this song was written by Burt Bacharach and re-released to raise awareness for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Elton John: Candle in the Wind 1997
Princess Diana was renowned for her work supporting humanitarian causes and nonprofit organisations.
It’s fitting then that one of the highest-selling songs of all time is a not for profit re-release by Elton John which was re-recorded in 1997 as a tribute to Diana, after her death in August that year.
Taylor Swift: Ronan
Before Taylor Swift was the biggest pop star on the planet she was a country star with one of the biggest hearts in pop. Ronan written by Swift after she read about four-year-old Ronan Thompson’s death from neuroblastoma.
This single was released a year after Ronan’s 2011 passing and all of the proceeds went towards the fight against cancer.
Tears For Fears: Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Alongside Duran Duran, and Simple Minds, Bath pair Tears For Fears were one of the biggest acts on the 1980s.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World is Tears For Fears’ best-known song and the duo re-recorded it as Everybody Wants to Run the World in support of Sport Aid, a 1986 campaign to help tackle famine in Africa.
Michael Jackson: Heal The World
Heal The World hit the shelves in 1992. It was the fifth single from the King of Pop’s eighth studio album, Dangerous, but is most famous for have the proceeds of its sale paid to the the Heal the World Foundation, a non profit organisation set up by Michael Jackson to help end poverty.
Wet Wet Wet: With A Little Help From My Friends
Recorded for the UK children’s and young person’s counselling service, ChildLine, this charity cover of The Beatles’ classic song gave Scottish pop act Wet Wet Wet their first UK No. 1 single.
Wham! Last Christmas
Since his death on Christmas Day in 2016, there have been numerous stories released about many unreported charitable donations made by George Michael during his lifetime.
One of the most well-known acts of kindness from this generous member of the music society was when he and his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley donated the profits of their single, Last Christmas, to help people affected by the 1983-85 Ethiopian famine.
Artists for Haiti: We Are the World 25 For Haiti
We Are the World 25 for Haiti is a re-recording of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s 1985 song, We Are the World.
It charted in over a dozen countries worldwide and in doing so helped to raise awareness for the victims of the world’s most severe earthquake for two centuries – the Haiti earthquake, which caused the death of 100,000-316,000 people.
Cliff Richard and the cast of The Young Ones: Living Doll
This song had worldwide sales on 1.86 million when it was first released by Cliff Richard, as The Drifters, in 1959.
27 years later, Richard and the cast of the enormously popular UK TV show, The Young Ones, re-released it for Comic Relief, with the reissued version selling 1.5 million copies across the globe.
Spice Girls: Mama
In 1997 they were the biggest pop group in the UK and the Spice Girls used this to help support charitable causes. Mama was the Spice Girls’ fourth UK No 1 (a record) and was the official single of Comic Relief’s 1997 campaign.
Northern Lights: Tears Are Not Enough
One of the best all star Canadian supergroups to release a non profit song came together in support of the victims of the 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia.
Written by David Foster, Jim Vallance, Bryan Adams, Rachel Paiement, Paul Hyde, and Bob Rock. Tears Are Not Enough topped the charts in Canada and raised a vast amount of money to help starving Ethiopians.
S Club 7: Never Had a Dream Come True
Since 1980, UK charity telethon, Children In Need, has helped to raise more than £950 million to help disadvantaged children and young people from the UK.
Never Had a Dream Come True was the official BBC non profit song for the 2000 Children In Need telethon, which raised a total of £20,000,000.
Michael Jackson: Earth Song
Michael Jackson’s second contribution to this charity song list was written to raise money for famine relief. Released in November 1995 and with over 20 million copies sold, Earth Song, this is Michael Jackson Christmas gift to starving children.
Lou Reed & Friends: Perfect Day (1997)
Lou Reed’s classic track was first featured on his classic album, Transformer. In 1997 it was released as a BBC charity song. Staying at No 1 on in the UK for three weeks, the second round of Perfect Day was one of the most successful singles of 1997.
USA For Africa: We Are The World
Less the 30 physical singles have sold at least 10 million copies. This Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie penned number sold over 20 million.
Inspired by the Christmas in Africa song which Band Aid had released the previous year, We Are The World raised over $63 million (USD) to provide humanitarian aid in both Africa and the USA.
Artists United Against Apartheid: Sun City
Formed by Steven Van Zandt in protest against the South African government’s apartheid policy, Artists United Against Apartheid’s Sun City is less a charity song than it is a record whose purpose was to bring about necessary change. It still raised over $1 million (USD) to help anti-apartheid organisations.
Tony Christie and Peter Kay: (Is This the Way to) Amarillo
Recorded by UK comedian Peter Kay, at the height of his fame, and UK singer Tony Christie, this re-recording of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield’s 1971 song was released in 2005 for Comic Relief and was the UK’s third biggest selling single of the 00s.
The Christians, Holly Johnson, and Paul McCartney: Ferry Across The Mersey
Written by by Gerry Marsden and originally performed by Gerry and his band, The Pacemakers, Ferry Across The Mersey was re-recorded in 1989 by an array of Liverpool artists to raise aid for for those affected by the Hillsborough disaster.
The Crowd: You’ll Never Walk Alone
Gerry Marsden’s first song to be re-recorded for charity came 4 years earlier. Like Ferry Across The Mersey, You’ll Never Walk Alone was released to help the victims of a football disaster, this one being the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire.
Boyzone: When The Going Gets Tough
A video featuring an all star cast (including, Graham Norton, Jo Brand, Phill Jupitus, Mel Smith, Davina McCall, Harry Hill, Will Mellor, James Dreyfus, the cast of Emmerdale, Adam Buxton and and Ulrika Jonsson among others) helped this Comic Relief single from Boyzone achieve a platinum certification in the UK.
Gareth Malone and the Military Wives Choir: Wherever You Are
This 2011 charity single was an enormous success. Claiming the Christmas No 1, it sold more than rest of the top 12 of the UK singles chart in its first week of sales (selling over 556,000 copies).
Martine McCutcheon: Love Me
Former Eastenders star, Martine McCutcheon was selected as the artist to provide the 1999 Children In Need single. Love Me made it into the top 10 of the UK singles chart and was part of a campaign that raised £16,700,000 for charity.
Denise & Johnny: Especially For You
Recorded at the height of the fame of Big Breakfast presenters, Denise van Outen and Johnny Vaughan, Especially For You also features pop group Steps. It was the 1998 Children In Need single, helping to raise £17,900,000 for charity.
Ellie Goulding: How Long Will I Love You
Written by The Waterboys, Ellie Goulding’s 2013 version of How Long Will I Love You was that year’s official Children in Need single. The charity single sold 82,872 copies and featured on the Richard Curtis film, About Time.
JLS: Love You More
Three years prior to the release of Ellie Goulding’s cover, JLS were picked as the musical face of the Children in Need charity appeal. Their single, Love You More, made it to No 1 on the UK Singles Chart, giving the group their third top10 single of 2010.
Jess Glyne: Take Me Home
Jess Glyne’s third single of 2015 was another top 10 entry. Peaking at No 4 in the UK, this was another charity single for success for Children in Need and helped towards raising £55,000,000 for 2015’s appeal.
Will Young: Don’t Let Me Down
Reaching No 2 on the UK Singles Chart, the fourth single from Pop Idol winner, Will Young, was one of 2002’s most successful songs. It was also a charity song that helped Children in Need to reach a total of £26,200,000 in donations in 2002.
Band Aid 30: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
The Band Aid song, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, was given it’s fourth airing in 2014 to mark the 30 year anniversary of its first release. A cross-country chart-topper, Do They Know It’s Christmas? round four was yet another successful charity single for Band Aid.
Elton John and George Michael: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Another entry for both George Michael and Elton John. This song was written by Elton and his long-time lyrical partner, Bernie Taupin, and originally released in 1974. The live cover charity re-release of the song made it to No 1 in both the US and UK.
Downtown: Emma Bunton
The second charity single to feature Emma Bunton was a solo release from the former Spice Girl. Released as the 2006 Children in Need single, Downtown peaked at No 3 on the UK Singles Chart.
Carrie Underwood: I’ll Stand by You
Recorded as a charity single by American Idol’s fourth season winner, Carrie Underwood, this re-release of The Pretenders’ classic song collected over 300,000 downloads.
Graham Coxon: Falling
Britpop hero Graham Coxon recorded and released this song written by his friend, Luke Daniel, in 2017 after Daniel took his own life.
All of the proceeds made by the single were given to the charity, Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), which works to reduce the suicide rate among men.
Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua: What A Wonderful World
Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’ beloved pop ballad was re-release in 2007 by Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua as a charity single for the British Red Cross. Cassidy and Melua’s version of What A Wonderful World made it to No 1 the UK.
Justin Timberlake, featuring Esmee Denters: Follow My Lead
This collaboration between US artist Justin Timberlake and Dutch singer Esmée Denters was released for charity in 2008, with the proceeds going to Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Ariana Grande: One Last Time
Re-released as a charity single by Ariana Grande after the tragic events of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, One Last Time made it to No 2 on the UK Singles Chart and No 1 on the Scottish Singles Chart.
Helping Haiti: Everybody Hurts
This song from US college-rock pioneers R.E.M. featured on the band’s classic 1992 album, Automatic for the People. 18 years later it was charitably re-recorded by an array of celebrity artists, with all of the proceeds going towards helping victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Rage Against The Machine: Killing In The Name
Los Angeles quartet were known for their both visionary fusion of rap, rock, and metal, and their vocal political and social conscience.
Killing in the Name was re-released as a protest against the domination of music by The X Factor. The song went to No 1 in the UK and the group supported charity with the proceeds.
Ted Christopher: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Bob Dylan’s much-loved classic was released by Scottish musician Ted Christopher after the heartbreaking Dunblane school massacre of 1996.
Christopher wrote a new verse in tribute to the children and teacher who lost their lives and the proceeds from the single went to three separate charities.
Friends of Jo Cox: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Labour politician Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right terrorist in 2016. To celebrate Cox’s life and continue her message of peace and unity, a collection of musicians recorded a version of The Rolling Stones’ song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
The proceeds went to the Jo Cox Foundation, which was set up to give money to charities supported by Cox.
Manic Street Preachers: Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)
Welsh rock icons Manic Street Preachers covered the theme song from the TV series, M*A*S*H, as a charity single in 1992.
The proceeds were given to Scope, a UK disability charity the campaigns to confront and alter negative attitudes towards disabled people.
The Irish rock were one of the biggest acts of the 1980s and 1990s and are one of the rock’s enduring bands.
Few songs recorded by the group are better known than **One. Its name is taken from singer Bono’s charitable organisation, the ONE Campaign, and the proceeds from its sale went to AIDS research.
Pet Shop Boys with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley (of the television series Absolutely Fabulous): Absolutely Fabulous
Comic Relief’s 1994 single joined together one of the UK’s most-loved electro duos with one of Britain’s most-popular comedy pairings.
Recorded by the Pet Shop Boys together with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, the charity single, Absolutely Fabulous, made it to No 6 on the UK Singles Chart.
The Saturdays: Just Can’t Get Enough
Another much loved electronic duo but this team featuring only because their song was covered for charity. Pop group The Saturdays recorded Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough for Comic Relief in 2009 and saw the song peak at No 2 in the UK.
One Direction: One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)
English-Irish boy band One Direction gave The Undertones’ classic punk-pop song the charity treatment in 2013. Recorded for Comic Relief, One Direction’s cover of One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks) shifted 292,000 copies in the UK.
Various Artists: This Is For My Girls
America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, brought together a group of performers that included Kelly Clarkson, Missy Elliott, Lea Michele, Kelly Rowland, Zendaya, and Janelle Monáe, to perform this song by Dianne Warren. All money made by This Is For My Girls went to the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund.
Artists for Grenfell: Bridge over Troubled Water
A star-studded collection of artists came together in 2017 to record a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s timeless Bridge over Troubled Water to mark one of the UK’s most tragic events of recent times.
The song reached No 1 in the UK and its success went towards helping The London Community Foundation and the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Since the first charity single was released by George Harrison in 1971, millions of pounds have been raised by not for profit music. We salute the fantastic work by every artist who features on these 50 songs and thank them for helping to make the world a better place.
If you want to find out about some the other great charity work that’s been done, check out one of the many fantastic organisations who have featured as our Charity of the Month.