The historic Live Aid concert was a benefit gig arranged by Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats alongside Midge Ure as a way to make the youth more aware of the worsening famine in Ethiopia. The charity still provides help for those affected by poverty in the third world and continues to be a bastion of the good the power of music can achieve with the likes of Bob Dylan, Queen, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie taking part in events all over the globe.
The event was largely known as the “global jukebox”, as on 13th July 1985, a concert was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia with attendances at 72,000 and 100,000 people respectively.
On the same day, a whole host of other concerts inspired by the Live Aid initiative happened in other countries. Nations like the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany all held events. At the time, it was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts in history. There was an astonishing estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watching the broadcast. For perspective, that is nearly 40% of the world’s population during this period.
Live Aid was truly a global event which brought the great and good of music together for a cause much bigger than themselves. It was a unifying moment that transcended music and was an event on a scale like no other which helped raise funds for a cause that was more than worthy.
We are going to take a look through the ten most memorable moments from the day of events in 1985, which includes the likes of Queen’s crowning moment at Wembley Stadium to less iconic moments such as Led Zeppelin’s disastrous reunion and a wasted Rolling Stones backing Bob Dylan.
The 10 memorable moments from ‘Live Aid’
Bowie originally had an unfeasible vision for his set with technological advances marring his plan to duet with Mick Jagger on ‘Dancing In The Street’. The plan was to link up Bowie’s London show with Jagger who was stationed at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium. Thankfully, they realised there would be a significant video delay beforehand and decided to record a studio version of the cover instead.
The show marked Bowie’s first performance in 18 months as he had opted against touring his Tonight record from the previous year and, it goes without saying, the Starman was ready to be back with a bang. He faced the impossible task of following Queen but if anyone could follow that iconic performance then it was Bowie.
Bowie delivered a four-song set of the highest calibre for which he was accompanied by his brand-new bright young band which featured Thomas Dolby on keyboard duty. They opted to open their set with the Station to Station hit ‘TVC 15’ before delivering rousing renditions of ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Modern Love’ and wrapped up in perfect fashion with an iconic performance of ‘Heroes’.
Despite being billed as Black Sabbath featuring Ozzy Osbourne, the feeling was Live Aid could mark their return. “We probably thought that it might be the first step towards getting back together again,” Tony Iommi wrote in his 2011 autobiography, Iron Man.
It was not a situation that saw Sabbath rise to the occasion, “I had a dreadful hangover,” said the guitarist. “So I put my dark glasses on and we played ‘Children of the Grave,’ ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ in the bright sunlight. It was a great thing to do and we certainly we aware of the importance of the occasion, but it was over very quickly.”
The band tore through ‘Children of the Grave’ and ‘Iron Man’ with bloated professionalism. But after an attempt to engage with the mammoth crowd once again before the final song ‘Paranoid’, with a call and response howl lacking the second part of the equation, the casket was closed.
Eric Clapton was joined by Phil Collins on drums for his rousing set with the Genesis man performing at Wembley Stadium earlier in the day before making the trip across the band to Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium for a blistering set with Clapton.
Clapton performed a 17-minute set that went down a treat with the American crowd with a three-track performance of ‘Layla‘, ‘She’s Waiting’ and ‘White Room’ marking a truly iconic set by two very special talents.
Despite the eyes of the Philadelphian crowd being set on Collins thanks to his audacious fete of performing at both events, this didn’t stop Clapton from performing a masterclass which and if anything, enhanced by the extra attention of him being joined by Collins.
Elton John had the difficult task of taking to the stage before the enigmatic Queen who all the eyes in Wembley Stadium were waiting for. However, Elton managed to deliver a remarkable set with a little help from George Michael.
The pop icon performed a six-song set which included the likes of ‘I’m Still Standing’, ‘Rocketman’ and a wonderous cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Can I Get A Witness’. It was when he was joined by Wham! for ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ which cemented George Michael’s place as being a defining voice for a generation.
The band would reunite for the first time since John Bonham’s untimely passing in 1980, a moment which marked an end to the group which would struggle to be the same entity without the drumming sensation. However, five years later and Bob Geldof would manage to convince the remaining three members of the four cornerstones of rock and roll to reunite for a very special cause, Live Aid.
John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant obliged to perform at the Philadelphia leg of the groundbreaking event but, in a disappointing turn of events, the reunion was marred with a catalogue of errors. The band played for 20 minutes, dusting off three classics which were ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
Tony Thompson and Phil Collins deputised for Bonham on drums who both hadn’t been given ample time to rehearse, one of the many grievances the band had following the set. But the blame wasn’t solely on the newly acquired members’ shoulders with Robert Plant confessing to Rolling Stone in 1988: “Emotionally, I was eating every word that I had uttered. And I was hoarse. I’d done three gigs on the trot before I got to Live Aid. We rehearsed in the afternoon, and by the time I got on stage, my voice was long gone.”
It may have been five years on from the Irish band’s debut release Boy in 1980 and they had acquired themselves critical acclaim as well as an adoring fanbase but they were by no means the stadium-filling outfit they are today, which is somewhat down to this performance which marked their mainstream arrival.
The group delivered an extended 11-minute rendition of their track ‘Bad’ for the 1.9 billion television audience, following a glorious performance of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. Due to their extended version of ‘Bad’ which meant that they had to cut the third track from their set, however, even this couldn’t put a dampener on their short but sweet set.
Beatles legend Paul McCartney only performed a one-song set which was all he needed to do when he has ‘Let It Be’ in his arsenal which was perhaps the most fitting song for the occasion in existence. However, the performance was marred by technical difficulties but if anyone can get through that storm then McCartney can and that’s what he exactly did.
Macca’s microphone suddenly stopped working which left thousands in the stadium bemused but thankfully people were on hand to fix the issue and the former Beatle had Wembley in the palm of his hands. He was then joined Bob Geldof, Pete Townsend, Alison Moyet and David Bowie came out on stage to sing along with the Beatle for the final chorus in unison with every soul in the stadium.
A performance that goes somewhat under the radar when talking about Live Aid is that of Elvis Costello and, most notably, his rendition of The Beatles’ classic ‘All You Need is Love’. Costello, humble in front of 72,000 screaming fans, has a small set-up — the performance preferring to use only his voice and his guitar — and proceeds to incorporate the ‘modern bard’ persona he’d begun to craft.
That notion is even more firmly set in play when Costello, deciding to move away from his well-known repertoire of grooving new-wave boppers, decides to sing a special ‘folk’ song. He begins by asking the crowd: “I want you to help me sing this old English Northern folk song” before beginning to play the first notes of ‘All You Need Is Love’ to rapturous applause and glee.
The song rings through the Wembley stadium, greedily gobbled up by the adoring crowd, and continued the warming sentiment of the day. The subject matter of the track is obviously intrinsic to the performance and Costello’s simplified and stripped back performance only adds to it. The remaining feeling of the day is that with love and care we can look after everyone.
Bob Dylan with The Rolling Stones
Dylan was introduced in true style when arriving on stage: “Some artists’ work speaks for itself. Some artists speak for a generation. It’s my deep personal pleasure to present to you one of America’s great voices of freedom, it can only mean one man, the transcendent, Bob Dylan!” with such an intro there was a lot to live up to and on this occasion, Dylan missed the mark but it wasn’t entirely his fault.
For ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, Dylan was joined by The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood who were both heartily wasted. When you put these immense talents together on stage you expect nothing short of magic to take place but the result was far from that as they just couldn’t get on the same place and what should have been the JFK’s Stadium’s version of McCartney’s ‘Let It Be’ fell dramatically short on the high expectation’s.
Saving the best till last, Queen’s performance at Live Aid is up there with the greatest live performances of all time and for good reason. Their twenty-one-minute performance, saw Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon take to the Wembley stage at 6:41pm with Freddie famously on multiple occasions lead the crowd in unison thanks to his sustained note during the a cappella section which became to be known as “The Note Heard Round the World’.
Their six-song set opened with a shortened version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and closed with ‘We Are the Champions’. Mercury and fellow band member Brian May later sang the first song of the three-part Wembley event finale, ‘Is This the World We Created…?’