Live Aid was a defining global musical event back in July 1985 and was either a musical masterpiece which helped millions of starving African children or a ego driven event which helped hypercritical, barely remembered pop stars sell records depending what side of the fence you sit on. Whilst people remember the Wembley show which somewhat synced up with its American counterpart around halfway through the day, there was concerts held globally for what no one could deny was a good cause. What Bob Geldof managed to do that day (with a little help from his friends) was pull off arguably the best music concert of the Century. What happened after with the money raised is up for debate however no one can argue that Live Aid stands up as the first truly international concert and some of those performances today still stand out as career defining for the artists involved.
When Live Aid happened I'm told I watched it but being a day shy of two years old at the time I'll admit I don't remember any of it. According to my mum while the family sat in awe of this global even I managed to miss my potty and fall asleep in my dinner. Since then of course I have watched the show in its entirety (including omissions from the official release) whilst staying awake and making the toilet on time and in doing so I have compiled this blog consisting of my favourite moments of the event. I hope you enjoy.
10 Simon Le Bon's fluffed up note.
Despite their silly, often embarrassing and budget bloated vides, Duran Duran wanted to be taken seriously as a band. There luck was to change however when they was offered a decent billing at the JFK stadium show to a packed house (not to mention a global audience of 1 Billion) and this was to be their chance of artistic recognition. Their set went without a hitch.... well almost.
During their bond featured hit "A View To A Kill", Simon attempts to hit one of the notes but ends up sounding like the exact moment Bobcat Goldthwait (from police academy fame) hits puberty. The tuneless squeak echoed around the world and bounced from satellite to satellite turning Simons face bright red and leaving John Taylor shaking his head is embarrassed disbelief.
9 David Bowie Heroes
David Bowie was a household name in the 80s and his presence at Live Aid truly helped add to the prestige of the event. Originally the plan was to have David and Mick Jagger sing their duet "Dancing in the Street" via satellite link up (David in London and Mick in Philadelphia ) however technical difficulties and signal delays rendered that idea impossible. David stepped up to the revised idea of him doing a live set at Wembley instead.
Bowie played a four song set right after Queens performance and whilst his show was great it was his emotional take of his hit "Heroes" that smashed everyone in the feels and kept the donations flooding in. For Bowie this was his 80s peak after his sell out "Serious Moonlight" tour 2 1/2 years before and it would take a few more years and some failed side projects until he hit heights anywhere near this again .
8 Elton John and George Michael Don't let the sun go down on me
Elton and George were both great friends in 1985 and this collaboration was the coming together of two equally talented artists on a beautifully poignant song. Elton played piano and gave the limelight to George who sang the song beautifully. In later performances of this song Elton and George sang it as a duet but at live Aid it was George handling the vocals ( with some questionable help from Andrew Ridgely and Pepsi and Shirley). This performance helped the pop star George connect with an older audience and his subsequent success in the 80s can be traced back to that awesome performance at Wembley.
7 Led Zeppelin reuniting for Live Aid
I include this in here purely for the comedy value. Whilst it admirable that the biggest rock band of the 70's decided to reunite for a worthy cause 5 years after disbanding (due to John Bonham's) death, the actual performance on the night left a lot to be desired.
Plagued with sound problems the reunited Led Zep carried on like troopers putting up with no sound monitors, Jimmy Pages out of tune guitar and Robert Plant's hoarse vocal. Add to the mix a jet lagged and under rehearsed drummer by the name of Phil Collins ( drumming alongside the legendary chic drummer Tony Thompson) and you had a calamity unfolding live to around 1.5 Billion people. Rewatching this back on YouTube ( Led Zep didn't allow the footage to be released on the official video/DVD) it's not quite as bad as people claim however up against the worlds best bands as they were that day it does stand out as a bad performance. Over 20 years later however they reformed for a one off show at the London O2 ( with Johns son Jason on drums) and restored any credibility that was lost at Live Aid with a truly mesmerising performance.
6 Phil Collins against all odds
Whilst most bands went on and gave it their best 20 minutes Phil went above and beyond for the show. Appearing first at Wembley singing as a solo artist and also collaborating with Sting he then flew via Concorde to the USA to perform solo again plus play drums with Eric Clapton and alongside the reformed Led Zeppelin....phew. Whilst flying across the Atlantic in a luxury plane perhaps wasn't in fitting with the message of the event which was idealistically to end world hunger it did mean he could be in effect in two places at once. Perhaps (no pun intended) he bit off more than he could chew as his drumming on the Zep set wasn't that memorable (and the entire set left off the official release) however his one man and a piano performance of Against All Odds (at Wembley) was something to be admired. The performance again wasn't without its flaws as Phil famously smirked when he hit the wrong piano key in a musician interlude but it was a honest take on a fantastic song which stands up even today as one of his finest moments.
5 The Cars
The Car were a band who had enjoyed rising success in America and by Live Aid they had already had 4 top ten albums and their most recent record Album Heartbeat City (produced by hit producer Mutt Lange) had given them a top ten single in "Drive". When that song was coupled with a disturbing video of the famine victims and shown on the big screens and around the world at Live Aid it had a gigantic impact on people.
As well as that memorable impression of such a beautifully mournful song played against such heartbreaking footage was their actual performance in Philadelphia.
The whole set for me is perfect which included their new wave breakthrough hit "just what I needed" and the aforementioned song Drive but the highlight for me is Heartbeat City.
4 Status Quo
Someone had to be that band to open up the event. They had to be energetic and positive and set the tone for what was going to be the biggest concert of the 20th century. After a brief introduction by Bob Geldof, the 'Quo burst into their setlist. The stage was awash with swirling hair, telecaster guitars and more denim than a Texas rodeo.
Whilst the 'Quo weren't as internationally recognised as some of the other acts on the bill they was the perfect opening act to kickstart the donations and get the crowd warmed up. Their opening track "Rocking all over the world" fitted perfectly and they remain even to this day one of the most memorable acts of the entire day.
3 Howard Jones (Hide and Seek)
Perhaps Howard's performance isn't as well remembered as say Queens moment of glory or any of the other more well established acts but I think it deserves its place in my top three. Howard was the embodiment of 80s pop culture with hair bigger than his defining hits and a fashion sense that screamed for attention but underneath all the synthesisers and rags to riches story ( one week a factory worker, the next on TOTP) he has some serious substance to his songs.
Hide and seek is a piano ballad with a beautiful yet hopeful lyric and a song that just seemed perfect for the occasion. Due to time constraints he played only this song but with him and his piano he had the whole of Wembley singing the along by the chorus in a goosebumps inducing moment that even Howard looks surprised at. Not the bigger star of the night but for me certainly the best song.
2 Bob Geldof's F-Bomb
Perhaps one of the most memorable (and wrongly quoted) moments of Live Aid was Bob Geldof saying "fuck" live on the BBC's coverage of the event. Bob was clearly feeling the pressure of the occasion and being the main guy behind it ( although rumour has it Boy George came up with the idea of the concert) and after an update from his team implying the donations weren't as great as expected he decided to take matters into his own hands and visited the BBC studio set up on site.
Speaking to David Hepworth he made a passionate speech proclaiming "we need your money, there are people dying NOW!. When David tried to read out the addresses to send the cheques Bob snapped back "fuck the address let's give them the numbers" meaning he preferred the immediacy of the credit card pledges. Perhaps because of the charitable nature of the occasion, and partly because people saying "fuck" live on air barely happened back then no one really complained and the show carried on without an apology. "Give is your fucking money" has done down in Live Aid folklore but as recorded above that's not what he said on the night. Either way the phone lines lit up like a supernova and the donations rolled in.
It had to be Queen. Whilst Queen was a massive band by the time Live Aid came around they perhaps didn't seem as relevant as they used to be but with their Epic 21 minute greatest hit medley they proved to be the best thing about the whole event. Freddie's stage presence is godlike and he has the crowd in his pocket instantly. Hit after hit only served to remind everyone how fantastic their back catalogue was and the phone lines went into meltdown with donations during and straight after the set. It's arguable one of the finest performances of any band at any time and for Queen it guaranteed their place in musical royalty for all time.