In 1989 a human crush occurred during the FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, which resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. Twenty-three years later the Hillsborough Independent Panel published the findings of its report which concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible for the disaster, and up to 41 lives could potentially have been saved if the response of the emergency services had been swifter. Steve Rotheram, the MP for Liverpool Walton, expressed a desire to release a charity single to raise funds for the legal costs of the Hillsborough victims' families as part of their campaign for justice. Inspired by Everton's Hillsborough tribute on 17 September 2012, when the Hollies hit, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother
" was played prior to their match against Newcastle United, it was decided that a re-recording of the song by various artists would be released as the charity single.
Artists taking part on the song include Paul McCartney, Mel C, Robbie Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Paloma Faith, Beverley Knight, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Holly Johnson, The Clash guitarist Mick Jones, Cast's John Power, former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, ex Liverpool player Alan Hansen, ex-Everton star Peter Reid, comedian John Bishop Steve Rotheram, Lawson's Andy Brown, Richard Hawley, Shane MacGowan, Ren Harvieu, Pete Hooton of The Farm, Gerry Marsden, who fronted chart-topping Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers and Holly Cook of The Slits. Said Gerry Marsden: "The original was fantastic so we just hope we did as good a job with his one as The Hollies did with the original. I think we have, I think it's a good job. We've all tried very hard to make it a success and it would be nice if it can be in the charts for Christmas."
John Power explained to NME that apart from raising money for a good cause, the song also serves as "a little celebration that the truth is coming out now."
Peter Hooton told Absolute Radio's Rock 'N' Roll Football that 'fate' was behind the charity single. "A year ago, nothing like this was planned, it's all been done like fate, as if some other force was guiding it," he said. And it was all done within six weeks from the initial idea to maybe do the song and do a re-record within six weeks. You don't plan like that, if someone had a business plan like that in the music industry 'Nah, no chance that's never going to happen'. So it's all been, it's happened by serendipity almost."
Guy Chambers was recruited to produce the single and the former Robbie Williams collaborator offered free use of his Sleeper Studios to record the tune. Hooton explained to Rock 'N' Roll Football: "Keith Mullin, The Farm's guitarist had had Guy Chambers, the producer in to Lipa, which is the performing arts school in Liverpool, they'd had him in to do a master class and he had said to Keith 'If you ever hear of anything to do with Hillsborough, I'd love to get involved'. So he made the phone call."
The song topped the UK singles charts during Christmas 2012. It was the eighth UK Christmas #1 that Paul McCartney had featured on. He'd previously logged up four festive chart-toppers with the Beatles, one with Wings, one with Band Aid and another with Band Aid 20.
Many Liverpudlians bought multiple copies of the CD single, including one man who bought 96 copies - one for each of the supporters who died as a result of the tragedy.