Live Aid: The Day Heard Around the World
On July 13, 1985 rock music's elite gathered for a cause greater than themselves
“It's twelve noon in London, seven AM in Philadelphia, and around the world it's time for Live Aid.”
On July 13, 1985, the world witnessed the first global musical event of its kind. The planet’s biggest and brightest musical artists banded together in unison for a day of camaraderie and caring with the purpose of ending famine in Ethiopia, and what a day it was. This year marks the 35th anniversary of Live Aid.
The event was the brainchild of Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) who created a global jukebox of artists including: David Bowie, Alison Moyet, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Sting, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Bryan Adams and many more.
The 16-hour collaborative effort was broadcast from Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Phil Collins actually performed at Wembley, then boarded the Concorde to perform in Philly. During his performance in Philadelphia, Collins remarked: "I was in England this afternoon. Funny old world, innit?"
Live Aid went down in history for many reasons, including the unfortunate Led Zeppelin reunion debacle, and Duran Duran’s final performance (until 2003) by the five original band members, which unfortunately included an unintentional off-key falsetto note by Simon Le Bon. The incident was notoriously referred to as "The bum note heard round the world." Those fiascos aside, the day’s three most deliberated moments were performances by Madonna, Queen, and U2.
By the summer of 1985, Madonna was already the most popular female pop artist in the world and her performance took place on the heels of the unauthorized publication of her infamous nude photographs in Playboy and Penthouse magazines. Madonna took the stage with a captivating set, which consisted of tightly choreographed versions of “Holiday,” “Into the Groove,” and a yet-to-be recorded debut of “Love Makes the World Go Round,” accompanied by Thompson Twins and Nile Rodgers. Madonna made light of her then current controversy by addressing the summer’s day heat with: “No, I ain’t taking shit off today. They might hold it against me 10 years from now.”
U2 performed a career-changing set featuring “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and an extended version of “Bad,” which included segments of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” and “Walk on the Wild Side,” plus the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” This was the moment that changed U2 from an up-and-coming band to a household name which would soon soar into the stratosphere. This performance can only be described as a religious experience and a precursor to what Bono and company had been hiding up their sleeves.
When Queen took the stage early evening in London, everyone could instantly feel the electricity in the air. This legendary twenty-one-minute set would become known as “the greatest live performance in the history of rock.” Queen’s six-song performance began with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and included an audience participation version of “Radio Ga Ga,” as well as “Hammer to Fall,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the unabashed finale of “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” This historic set not only re-energized the band, but also reignited interest in Queen. It was as if the world needed to be reminded of what we all had been missing.
When artists took the stage that day, whether in London or Philadelphia, they were performing upon the world’s stage. At the time, Live Aid was the all-time biggest broadcast of a rock concert. The concert was beamed across the world on BBC Television, BBC Radio 1, American Broadcasting Company, and MTV. Additionally, 72,000 people were in attendance in London and 89,484 people in Philadelphia.
Nowadays, it’s hard to fathom a globally shared event of that magnitude, but for one special day in 1985, the world stopped to listen.