Some things are perhaps best left in the past, such as Led Zeppelin’s Live Aid reunion, an event that didn’t turn out to be the nostalgia-soaked affair they all hoped for. In truth, the big comeback was nothing short of a disaster.
The show didn’t go to plan because of a lack of preparation on the band’s behalf, but Jimmy Page has always harshly redirected blame at stand-in drummer Phil Collins. While Collins was part of the problem, it’s incorrect to say he was wholly responsible for the nightmarish reunion in Philadelphia.
At the time, Live Aid was such a gargantuan event that Zeppelin couldn’t resist getting the band back together for one night only. It was their first show since the death of John Bonham, and the group decided they needed to recruit two drummers in a bid to adequately replace him.
Chic’s Tony Thompson was drafted in, yet, that wasn’t enough for the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, who also wanted an A-list name to join them too, and Collins was the chosen one. The Genesis member should have never agreed to the project as he was already occupied with the UK leg of the event. However, the organisers wanted him at both and arranged for a private plane to take him across the Atlantic.
Collins agreed to join Led Zeppelin out of politeness even though he was wholly underprepared and knew the likely outcome. Furthermore, when he said yes to their invitation, he didn’t even realise they would be performing as Led Zeppelin and assumed they would be billed as Page and Plant.
For the show, the new-look band only performed ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but it was riddled with difficulties. Immediately after they finished playing, Page vented his frustration to MTV and made a scapegoat out of Collins in front of the nation. He said: “‘One drummer was halfway across the Atlantic and didn’t know the stuff.” In Collins’ autobiography, he admitted: “I got pissed off. Maybe I didn’t know it as well as he’d like me to have done, but… I became the flagship, and it looked like I was showing off.”
In an interview with the Sunday Times in 2021, Page looked back at the frightful night and expressed regret about the sorry episode. He referred to the reunion as a regret and said their decision to get the band back together was “not very clever”.
The guitarist also couldn’t a swipe at Collins and added: “The drummer couldn’t get the beginning of ‘Rock and Roll’. So we were in real trouble with that.”
Thankfully, Led Zeppelin didn’t let their Live Aid performance become the closing chapter of their story. The band later reunited on two more occasions before retiring permanently in 2007 following an iconic performance at London’s O2 Arena, which was the perfect way to bring their tale to an end.