The Live Aid benefit concert takes place in London and Philadelphia, as well as other venues such as Moscow and Sydney.
Official Live Aid poster, artwork by Peter Blake
|Dates||13 July 1985|
|Location(s)||Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom|
John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
|Founded by||Bob Geldof|
Live Aid was a dual-venue benefit concert held on Saturday 13 July 1985, and an ongoing music-based fundraising initiative. The original event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the "global jukebox", the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people).
On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast, nearly 40% of the world population.
The impact of Live Aid on famine relief has been debated for years. One aid relief worker stated that following the publicity generated by the concert, "humanitarian concern is now at the centre of foreign policy" for western governments. Geldof states, "We took an issue that was nowhere on the political agenda and, through the lingua franca of the planet – which is not English but rock 'n' roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus." He adds, Live Aid "created something permanent and self-sustaining", but also asked why Africa is getting poorer. The organisers of Live Aid tried, without much success, to run aid efforts directly, channelling millions of pounds to NGOs in Ethiopia. Much of this, however, went to the Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam – a regime the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to "destabilise" – and was spent on guns.
The 1985 Live Aid concert was conceived as a follow-on to the successful charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which was also the brainchild of Geldof and Ure. In October 1984, images of hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Ethiopia were shown in the UK in Michael Buerk's BBC News reports on the 1984 famine. The BBC News crew were the first to document the famine, with Buerk's report on 23 October describing it as "a biblical famine in the 20th century" and "the closest thing to hell on Earth". The report shocked Britain, motivating its citizens to inundate relief agencies, such as Save the Children, with donations, and to bring the world's attention to the crisis in Ethiopia. Geldof also saw the report, and called Ure from Ultravox (Geldof and Ure had previously worked together for charity when they appeared at the 1981 benefit show The Secret Policeman's Ball in London) and together they quickly co-wrote the song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in the hope of raising money for famine relief. Geldof then contacted colleagues in the music industry and persuaded them to record the single under the title 'Band Aid' for free. On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released four days later. It stayed at number one for five weeks in the UK, was Christmas number one, and became the fastest-selling single ever in Britain and raised £8 million, rather than the £70,000 Geldof and Ure had initially expected. Geldof then set his sights on staging a huge concert to raise further funds.
The idea to stage a charity concert to raise more funds for Ethiopia originally came from Boy George, the lead singer of Culture Club. George and Culture Club drummer Jon Moss had taken part in the recording of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and in the same month, the band were undertaking a tour of the UK, which culminated in six nights at Wembley Arena. On the final night at Wembley, 22 December 1984, an impromptu gathering of some of the other artists from Band Aid joined Culture Club on stage at the end of the concert for an encore of "Do They Know It's Christmas?". George was so overcome by the occasion he told Geldof that they should consider organising a benefit concert. Speaking to the UK music magazine Melody Maker at the beginning of January 1985, Geldof revealed his enthusiasm for George's idea, saying, "If George is organising it, you can tell him he can call me at any time and I'll do it. It's a logical progression from the record, but the point is you don't just talk about it, you go ahead and do it!"
It was clear from the interview that Geldof had already had the idea to hold a dual venue concert and how the concerts should be structured:
The show should be as big as is humanly possible. There's no point just 5,000 fans turning up at Wembley; we need to have Wembley linked with Madison Square Gardens, and the whole show to be televised worldwide. It would be great for Duran to play three or four numbers at Wembley, and then flick to Madison Square where Springsteen would be playing. While he's on, the Wembley stage could be made ready for the next British act like the Thompsons or whoever. In that way, lots of acts could be featured and the television rights, tickets and so on could raise a phenomenal amount of money. It's not an impossible idea, and certainly one worth exploiting.
The concert grew in scope, as more acts were added on both sides of the Atlantic. Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay, was able to secure John F. Kennedy Stadium through his friendship with Philadelphia Mayor Goode and was able to procure, through his connections with ABC's prime time chief, John Hamlin, a three-hour prime time slot on the ABC Network and, in addition, was able to supplement the lengthy program through meetings that resulted in the addition of an ad-hoc network within the US, which covered 85 percent of TVs there. Verna designed the needed satellite schematic and became the Executive Director as well as the Co-Executive Producer along with Hal Uplinger. Uplinger came up with the idea to produce a four-hour video edit of Live Aid to distribute to those countries without the necessary satellite equipment to rebroadcast the live feed.
The concert began at 12:00 British Summer Time (BST) (7:00 Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)) at Wembley Stadium in the United Kingdom. It continued at John F. Kennedy Stadium (JFK) in the United States, starting at 13:51 BST (8:51 EDT). The UK's Wembley performances ended at 22:00 BST (17:00 EDT). The JFK performances and whole concert in the US ended at 04:05 BST 14 July (23:05 EDT). Thus, the concert continued for just over 16 hours, but since many artists' performances were conducted simultaneously in Wembley and JFK, the total concert's length was much longer.
Mick Jagger and David Bowie intended to perform an intercontinental duet, with Bowie in London and Jagger in Philadelphia. Problems of synchronisation meant the only practical solution was to have one artist, likely Bowie at Wembley, mime along to prerecorded vocals broadcast as part of the live sound mix for Jagger's performance from Philadelphia. Veteran music engineer David Richards (Pink Floyd and Queen) was brought in to create footage and sound mixes Jagger and Bowie could perform to in their respective venues. The BBC would then have had to ensure those footage and sound mixes were in sync while also performing a live vision mix of the footage from both venues. The combined footage would then have had to be bounced back by satellite to the various broadcasters around the world. Due to the time lag (the signal would take several seconds to be broadcast twice across the Atlantic Ocean), Richards concluded there was no way for Jagger to hear or see Bowie's performance, meaning there could be no interaction between the artists, essentially defeating the whole point of the exercise. On top of this, both artists objected to the idea of miming at what was perceived as a historic event. Instead, Jagger and Bowie worked with Richards to create a video clip of the song they would have performed, a cover of "Dancing in the Street", which was shown on the screens of both stadiums and broadcast as part of many TV networks coverage.
Each of the two main parts of the concert ended with their particular continental all-star anti-hunger anthems, with Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" closing the UK concert, and USA for Africa's "We Are the World" closing the US concert (and thus the entire event itself).
Concert organizers have subsequently said they were particularly keen to ensure at least one surviving member of the Beatles, ideally Paul McCartney, took part in the concert as they felt that having an 'elder statesman' from British music would give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of the political leaders whose opinions the performers were trying to shape. McCartney agreed to perform and has said it was "the management" – his children – who persuaded him to take part. In the event, he was the last performer (aside from the Band Aid finale) to take to the stage and one of the few to be beset by technical difficulties; his microphone failed for the first two minutes of his piano performance of "Let It Be", making it difficult for television viewers and impossible for those in the stadium to hear him. He later joked by saying he had thought about changing the lyrics to "There will be some feedback, let it be".
Phil Collins performed at both Wembley Stadium and JFK, travelling by helicopter (piloted by UK TV personality Noel Edmonds) to London Heathrow Airport, then by Concorde to New York, and by another helicopter to Philadelphia. As well as his own set at both venues, he also played the drums for Eric Clapton, and played with the reuniting surviving members of Led Zeppelin at JFK. On the Concorde flight, Collins encountered actress and singer Cher, who was unaware of the concerts. Upon reaching the US, she attended the Philadelphia concert and can be seen performing as part of the concert's "We Are the World" finale. In a 1985 interview, singer-songwriter Billy Joel stated that he had considered performing at the event, but ultimately chose not to because he had difficulties getting his band together and didn't want to perform by himself.
Broadcaster Richard Skinner opened the Live Aid concert with the words:
It's twelve noon in London, seven AM in Philadelphia, and around the world it's time for Live Aid.
The concert was the most ambitious international satellite television venture that had ever been attempted at the time. In Europe, the TV feed was supplied by the BBC, whose broadcast was presented by Richard Skinner, Andy Kershaw, Mark Ellen, David Hepworth, Andy Batten-Foster, Steve Blacknell, Paul Gambaccini, Janice Long and Mike Smith and included numerous interviews and chats in between the various acts. The BBC's television sound feed was mono, as was all UK TV audio before NICAM was introduced, but the BBC Radio 1 feed was stereo and was simulcast in sync with the TV pictures. Unfortunately, in the rush to set up the transatlantic feeds, the sound feed from Philadelphia was sent to London via transatlantic cable, while the video feed was via satellite, which meant a lack of synchronisation on British television receivers. Due to the constant activities in both London and Philadelphia, the BBC producers omitted the reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from their broadcast. The BBC, however, did supply a 'clean feed' to various television channels in Europe.
ABC was largely responsible for the US broadcast (although ABC themselves only telecast the final three hours of the concert from Philadelphia, hosted by Dick Clark, with the rest shown in syndication through Orbis Communications, acting on behalf of ABC). An entirely separate and simultaneous US feed was provided for cable viewers by MTV, whose broadcast was presented in stereo, and accessible as such for those with stereo televisions. At the time, before Multichannel television sound was enacted nationwide, very few televisions reproduced stereo signals and few television stations were able to broadcast in stereo. While the telecast was run commercial-free by the BBC, both the MTV and syndicated/ABC broadcasts included advertisements and interviews. As a result, many songs were omitted due to the commercial breaks, as these songs were played during these slots.
The biggest issue of the syndicated/ABC coverage is that the network had wanted to reserve some of the biggest acts that had played earlier in the day for certain points in the entire broadcast, particularly in the final three hours in prime time; thus, Orbis Communications had some sequences replaced by others, especially those portions of the concert that had acts from London and Philadelphia playing simultaneously. For example, while the London/Wembley finale was taking place at 22:00 (10:00 pm) London time, syndicated viewers saw segments that had been recorded earlier, so that ABC could show the UK finale during its prime-time portion. In 1995, VH1 and MuchMusic aired a re-edited ten-hour re-broadcast of the concert for its 10th anniversary.
The Live Aid concert in London was also the first time that the BBC outside broadcast sound equipment had been used for an event of such scale. In stark contrast to the mirrored sound systems commonly used by the rock band touring engineers, with two 40–48-channel mixing consoles at the front of house and another pair for monitors, the BBC sound engineers had to use multiple 12-channel desks. Some credit this as the point where the mainstream entertainment industry realised that the rock concert industry had overtaken them in technical expertise.
The Coldstream Guards band opened with the "Royal Salute", a brief version of the national anthem "God Save the Queen". Status Quo were the first act to appear and started their set with "Rockin' All Over the World", also playing "Caroline" and fan favourite "Don't Waste My Time". "Bob told me, 'It doesn't matter a fuck what you sound like, just so long as you're there,'" recalled guitarist and singer Francis Rossi. "Thanks for the fucking honesty, Sir Bob." This would be the band's last appearance with bassist and founder member Alan Lancaster and drummer Pete Kircher. Princess Diana and Prince Charles were among those in attendance as the concert commenced.
Bob Geldof performed with the rest of the Boomtown Rats, singing "I Don't Like Mondays". He stopped just after the line "The lesson today is how to die" to loud applause. He finished the song and left the crowd to sing the final words. Elvis Costello sang a version of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love", which he introduced by asking the audience to "help [him] sing this old northern English folk song".
Queen's twenty-one minute performance, which began at 6:41 pm, was voted the greatest live performance in the history of rock in a 2005 industry poll of more than 60 artists, journalists and music industry executives. Queen's lead singer Freddie Mercury at times led the crowd in unison refrains, and his sustained note during the a cappella section came to be known as "The Note Heard Round the World". The band's 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...?"
Other well-received performances on the day included those by U2 and David Bowie. The Guardian cited Live Aid as the event that made stars of U2. The band played a 14-minute rendition of "Bad", during which vocalist Bono jumped off the stage to join the crowd and dance with a girl. The length of "Bad" limited them to two songs; the third, "Pride (In the Name of Love)", had to be dropped. In July 2005, the girl with whom he danced said that he saved her life. She was being crushed by people pushing forwards; Bono saw this, and gestured frantically at the ushers to help her. They did not understand what he was saying, and so he jumped down to help her himself. David Bowie's performance has been described by Rolling Stone as "arguably Bowie's last triumph of the 1980s".
The UK reception of the US feed failed several times and was dogged throughout the US concert by an intermittent regular buzzing on the audio from the US (see the John F. Kennedy Stadium section for more detail) and also failed during their relay of Japan's concert, which blacked out most of Off Course's song "Endless Nights".
In addition, the transatlantic broadcast from Wembley Stadium suffered technical problems and failed during The Who's performance of their opening song "My Generation", immediately after Roger Daltrey sang "Why don't you all fade ..." (the last word "Away" was cut off when a blown fuse caused the Wembley stage TV feed to temporarily fail). The broadcast returned as the last verse of "Pinball Wizard" was played. John Entwistle's bass wouldn't work at the start, causing an awkward delay of over a minute before they could start playing. The band played with Kenney Jones on drums and it was their first performance since disbanding after a 1982 'farewell' tour. The Who's performance, including an at times chaotic but blistering version of "Won't Get Fooled Again", was described as "rough but right" by Rolling Stone, but they would not perform together again until the 1988 BPI Awards.
While performing "Let It Be" near the end of the show, the microphone mounted to Paul McCartney's piano failed for the first two minutes of the song, making it difficult for television viewers and the stadium audience to hear him. During this performance, the TV audience were better off, audio-wise, than the stadium audience, as the TV sound was picked up from other microphones near McCartney. The stadium audience, who could obviously not hear the electronic sound feed from these mics, unless they had portable TV sets and radios, drowned out what little sound from McCartney could be heard during this part of his performance. As a result, organiser and performer Bob Geldof, accompanied by earlier performers David Bowie, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend returned to the stage to sing with him and back him up (as did the stadium audience despite not being able to hear much), by which time McCartney's microphone had been repaired.
John F. Kennedy Stadium
The host of the televised portion of the concert in Philadelphia was actor Jack Nicholson. The opening artist Joan Baez announced to the crowd, "this is your Woodstock, and it's long overdue," before leading the crowd in singing "Amazing Grace" and "We Are the World".
When Madonna got on stage, despite the 95 °F (35 °C) ambient temperature, she proclaimed "I'm not taking shit off today!" referring to the recent release of early nude photos of her in Playboy and Penthouse magazines.
During his opening number, "American Girl", Tom Petty flipped the middle finger to somebody off stage about one minute into the song. Petty stated the song was a last-minute addition when the band realised that they would be the first act to play the American side of the concert after the London finale and "since this is, after all, JFK Stadium".
When Bob Dylan broke a guitar string, while playing with the Rolling Stones members Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, Wood took off his own guitar and gave it to Dylan. Wood was left standing on stage guitarless. After shrugging to the audience, he played air guitar, even mimicking the Who's Pete Townshend by swinging his arm in wide circles, until a stagehand brought him a replacement. The performance was included in the DVD, including the guitar switch and Wood talking to stage hands, but much of the footage used was close-ups of either Dylan or Richards.
The JFK portion included reunions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the original Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne, the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, and surviving members of Led Zeppelin, with Phil Collins and the Power Station (and former Chic) member Tony Thompson sharing duties on drums in place of the band's late drummer John Bonham (although they were not officially announced by their group name from the stage, but were announced as Led Zeppelin on the VH1 10th Anniversary re-broadcast in 1995).
Duran Duran performed a four-song set which was the final time the five original band members would publicly perform together until 2003. Their set saw a weak, off-key falsetto note hit by frontman Simon Le Bon during "A View to a Kill". The error was trumpeted by numerous media outlets as "The Bum Note Heard Round the World", in contrast to Freddie Mercury's "Note Heard Round the World" at Wembley. Le Bon later recalled that it was the most embarrassing moment of his career.
The UK TV feed from Philadelphia was dogged by an intermittent buzzing on the sound during Bryan Adams' turn on stage and continued less frequently throughout the rest of the UK reception of the American concert and both the audio and video feed failed entirely during that performance and during Simple Minds' performance.
Phil Collins, who had performed in the United Kingdom earlier in the day, began his solo set with the quip, "I was in England this afternoon. Funny old world, innit?" to cheers from the Philadelphia crowd.
Throughout the concerts, viewers were urged to donate money to the Live Aid cause. Three hundred phone lines were manned by the BBC, so that members of the public could make donations using their credit cards. The phone number and an address that viewers could send cheques to were repeated every twenty minutes.
Nearly seven hours into the concert in London, Bob Geldof enquired how much money had been raised so far; he was told about £1.2 million. He is said to have been sorely disappointed by the amount and marched to the BBC commentary position. Pumped up further by a performance by Queen which he later called "absolutely amazing", Geldof gave an interview in which BBC presenter David Hepworth had attempted to provide a postal address to which potential donations could be sent; Geldof interrupted him in mid-flow and shouted "Fuck the address, let's get the numbers". Although the phrase "give us your fucking money" has passed into folklore, Geldof has stated that it was never uttered. Private Eye magazine made great humorous capital out of this outburst, emphasising Geldof's Irish accent which meant the profanities were heard as "fock" or "focking". After the outburst, donations increased to £300 per second.
Later in the evening, following David Bowie's set, a video shot by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was shown to the audiences in London and Philadelphia, as well as on televisions around the world (though neither US feed showed the film), showing starving and diseased Ethiopian children set to "Drive" by The Cars. (This would also be shown at the London Live 8 concert in 2005.) The rate of donations became faster in the immediate aftermath of the video. Geldof had previously refused to allow the video to be shown, due to time constraints, and had only relented when Bowie offered to drop the song "Five Years" from his set as a trade-off.
Geldof mentioned during the concert that the Republic of Ireland gave the most donations per capita, despite being in the midst of a serious economic recession at the time. The single largest donation came from Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who was part of the ruling family of Dubai, who donated £1M in a phone conversation with Geldof. The next day, news reports stated that between £40 and £50 million had been raised. It is now estimated that around £150 million in total has been raised for famine relief as a direct result of the concerts.
Bruce Springsteen decided not to appear at Live Aid despite his huge global popularity in 1985. He later stated that he "simply did not realise how big the whole thing was going to be". He has since expressed regret at turning down Geldof's invitation to appear at the London concert, stating that he could have played a couple of acoustic songs had there been no slot available for a full band performance.
Michael Jackson declined to appear. His press agent, Norman Winter, released a statement at the time saying that Jackson was "working around the clock in the studio on a project that he's made a major commitment to," and consequently could not free up sufficient time to rehearse and perform at Live Aid. Winter added, "Michael is just about living in the studio, rehearsing and recording. I know, what could be more major than Live Aid, but Michael couldn't turn his back on his responsibility to the people he's working with. This affected employment for a lot of people."
Prince also did not appear in person, but sent a pre-taped video of an acoustic version of "4 the Tears in Your Eyes", which was played during the concert in Philadelphia. The original version appears on the We Are the World album, while the video version was released in 1993 on Prince's compilation The Hits/The B-Sides.
Billy Joel, Boy George, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Tears for Fears, and Paul Simon were all included in initial promotional material for the Philadelphia concert, but did not appear, though Boy George appeared at the London concert.
Huey Lewis and the News were scheduled to play the Philadelphia leg, and were in some of the promotional material, but decided on 28 June to pull out over concerns that the money raised by relief efforts thus far had not been reaching those it was intended to help. "It was a very tough decision", Lewis told Rolling Stone. "We felt, having done the USA for Africa thing, that we should wait and watch that ... The prudent thing to do is to see how that money translates into food for the people before we do another one." Harry Belafonte, who had organised USA for Africa, responded harshly, calling Lewis's scepticism "disruptive and divisive". He had himself recently returned from a trip to Africa to see how the money had so far been spent, and suggested the Lewis do the same. "For him to sit back here and send out information based on hearsay is unfair to his colleagues and very unfair to the victims."
Cliff Richard later stated he was unable to perform as he was committed to a gospel charity concert in Birmingham, although Geldof indicated he had no recollection of having asked Richard to appear.
Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears remarked that Bob Geldof "gave us so much gip for not turning up at Live Aid. He made us feel very guilty; all those millions of people dying, it was all our fault. I felt terrible. I tell you, I know how Hitler must have felt." The group donated the proceeds from several shows of their world tour that year, and also contributed a re-recording of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (entitled "Everybody Wants to Run the World") for Geldof's Sport Aid charity event in 1986. The single reached the Top 5 in the UK, even though the band's original version had been a hit only a year earlier.
A reunited Deep Purple were also due to appear from Switzerland via satellite, but pulled out after guitarist Ritchie Blackmore refused to take part. Eurythmics were scheduled to play Wembley but cancelled after Annie Lennox suffered serious throat problems. Deep Purple (minus Blackmore, who left the band in 1993) appeared at Geldof's Live 8 sequel 20 years later, performing at the Toronto leg of the event while Lennox appeared at the London and Edinburgh Live 8 concerts.
British rock band Marillion, riding high in the UK charts that summer with their Misplaced Childhood album and "Kayleigh" single, missed out on an invitation to perform at Wembley because their manager had deemed it not worthwhile for singer Fish to participate in the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" single. Fish was quoted: "When it came to the bill for the concert we were passed over, I think because I'd turned down being on the Christmas song"
UB40 lead singer Ali Campbell admitted that his band was also ignored by Geldof while planning the list of musical acts of the British leg of the event: "We weren't asked to do Live Aid because Uncle Bob didn't like our music much. It was a great gig, but I thought it was a bit dodgy not having any black acts on the bill when it was raising money for Africa."
Thin Lizzy keyboard player Darren Wharton expressed regrets about the band not being asked to perform: "That was a tragic, tragic decision. It could've been and it should've been the turning point for Phil (Lynott). And I think that really did Phil in quite a lot, that we were never asked to play. I mean Phil, he had a few problems at the time, but at the end of the day, if he would've been asked to play Live Aid, that would've been a goal for him to clean himself up to do that gig. We were all very upset of the fact that we weren't asked to do it because Phil knew Geldof and Midge Ure very well indeed. I was surprised that we weren't asked to do that. I don't think Phil ever forgave Bob." Lynott died less than five months after the concert, from complications associated with his drug and alcohol addictions.
Neil Peart, drummer of Canadian rock band Rush said: "Geddy was involved with the Northern Lights charity record here in Canada, although Rush weren't invited to participate in the Live Aid event – mainly because if you look at the guest list, it was very much an 'in-crowd' situation. We were 'out' by then. We didn't refuse to take part because of any principles. Mind you, I wouldn't have been happy being part of this scenario. Those stars should have shut up and just given over their money if they were genuine. I recall that Tears For Fears, who made a musical and artistic decision to pull out of the concert, were subsequently accused by Geldof of killing children in Africa – what a shockingly irresponsible and stupid attitude to take. But I have nothing bad whatsoever to say about Bob Geldof; he sacrificed his health, his career, everything for something he believed in. But others around him got involved for their own reasons. Some of those involved in Northern Lights were actually quoted as saying that their managers told them to get down to the recording sessions because it would be a good career move!"
"I tried to pitch into Live Aid," recalled Roger Waters, "They asked me to put Pink Floyd back together for it and I said no, but I'd bring my new band to play. They didn't want that. But that's alright. I went along on my own."
Criticisms and controversies
Bob Dylan's performance generated controversy after he said: "I hope that some of the money ... maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks. ... " He is often misquoted, as on the Farm Aid website, as saying: "Wouldn't it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?". In his autobiography, Is That It? (published in 1986), Geldof was critical of the remark, saying "He displayed a complete lack of understanding of the issues raised by Live Aid. ... Live Aid was about people losing their lives. There is a radical difference between losing your livelihood and losing your life. It did instigate Farm Aid, which was a good thing in itself, but it was a crass, stupid, and nationalistic thing to say." Although Dylan's comments were criticised, his remark inspired fellow musicians Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp to organize the Farm Aid charity, which held its first concert in September 1985. The concert raised over $9 million for America's family farmers and became an annual event.
Geldof was not happy about the Hooters being added as the opening band in Philadelphia. He felt pressured into it by Graham and local promoter Larry Magid. Magid, promoting the concert through Electric Factory Concerts, argued that the band was popular in Philadelphia; their first major label album Nervous Night had been released almost three months earlier and had been a hit. In an interview for Rolling Stone, Geldof asked: "Who the fuck are the Hooters?" Conversely, in December 2004, Geldof appeared on the bill with the Hooters in Germany as their opening act.
Adam Ant subsequently criticised the event and expressed regrets about playing it, saying, "I was asked by Sir Bob [sic] to promote this concert. They had no idea they could sell it out. Then in Bob's book he said, 'Adam was over the hill so I let him have one number.' ... Doing that show was the biggest fucking mistake in the world. Knighthoods were made, Bono got it made, and it was a waste of fucking time. It was the end of rock 'n' roll." Geldof stated in his autobiography that Miles Copeland, manager of Adam Ant and Sting, asked Geldof if he'd thought of asking Ant after Geldof contacted him to get Sting to appear: "I hadn't. I thought he was a bit passé. But then so were the Boomtown Rats, and each represented a certain piece of pop history, so I agreed. I also thought that might entice him to encourage Sting, or perhaps all three of the Police."
BBC coverage co-host Andy Kershaw criticised the event in his autobiography No Off Switch, stating, "Musically, Live Aid was to be entirely predictable and boring. As they were wheeled out – or rather bullied by Geldof into playing – it became clear that this was another parade of the same old rock aristocracy in a concert for Africa, organised by someone who, while advertising his concern for, and sympathy with, the continent didn't see fit to celebrate or dignify the place by including on the Live Aid bill a single African performer." Kershaw also described the attitude of Geldof and his showbusiness associates as "irritating, shallow, sanctimonious and self-satisfied".
Led Zeppelin reunion
—Phil Collins on the Led Zeppelin performance
Led Zeppelin performed for the first time since the death of their drummer John Bonham in 1980. Two drummers filled in for Bonham: Phil Collins, who had played on singer Robert Plant's first two solo albums, and Tony Thompson. The performance was criticised for Plant's hoarse voice, Jimmy Page's out-of-tune guitar, a lack of rehearsal, and poorly functioning monitors. Plant described the performance as "a fucking atrocity for us. ... It made us look like loonies".
Page later criticised Collins' performance, saying: "Robert told me Phil Collins wanted to play with us. I told him that was all right if he knows the numbers. But at the end of the day, he didn't know anything. We played 'Whole Lotta Love', and he was just there bashing away cluelessly and grinning. I thought that was really a joke." Collins responded: "It wasn't my fault it was crap... If I could have walked off, I would have. But then we'd all be talking about why Phil Collins walked off Live Aid – so I just stuck it out... I turned up and I was a square peg in a round hole. Robert was happy to see me, but Jimmy wasn't."
Due to their "sub-standard" performance, Led Zeppelin have blocked broadcasts of the performance and withheld permission for it to be included on the DVD release. Philadelphia named it "one of the worst rock-and-roll reunions of all time", with Victor Fiorillo writing: "I'd like to be able to blame all of the awfulness on anaemic Phil Collins, who sat in on drums, and Page himself later fingered the Genesis drummer for screwing up the set. But Collins was just the beginning of the bad. Go ahead. Watch and remember. It really was that terrible."
Fund use in Ethiopia
In 1986 Spin published an exposé on the realities of Live Aid's actions in Ethiopia. They claimed that Geldof deliberately ignored warnings from Médecins Sans Frontières, who had complained directly to Geldof even before Live Aid, about the role of the Ethiopian Government under Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam in causing the famine and that by working with Mengistu directly, much of the relief funds intended for victims were in fact siphoned off to purchase arms from the Soviet Union, thereby exacerbating the situation even more. Geldof responded by deriding both the articles and Médecins Sans Frontières, who had been expelled from the country, and reportedly saying, "I'll shake hands with the Devil on my left and on my right to get to the people we are meant to help". According to the BBC World Service, a certain proportion of the funds were siphoned off to buy arms for the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front. This coalition battled at the time against Derg. The Band Aid Trust complained to the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit regarding the specific allegations in the BBC World Service documentary, and their complaint was upheld.
Arguing that Live Aid accomplished good ends while inadvertently causing harm at the same time, David Rieff gave a presentation of similar concerns in The Guardian at the time of Live 8. Tim Russert, in an interview on Meet the Press shortly after O'Reilly's comments, addressed these concerns to Bono. Bono responded that corruption, not disease or famine, was the greatest threat to Africa, agreeing with the belief that foreign relief organisations should decide how the money is spent. On the other hand, Bono said that it was better to spill some funds into nefarious quarters for the sake of those who needed it than to stifle aid because of possible theft.
Performances and setlists
London, Wembley Stadium
- Richard Skinner — opened the show and introduced Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales
- Tommy Vance — introduced Coldstream Guards, Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Nik Kershaw and Dire Straits
- Harvey Goldsmith — introduced Adam Ant
- Andy Peebles — introduced Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Noel Edmonds, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, Paul Young, Griff Rhys Jones with Mel Smith and David Bowie
- Noel Edmonds — introduced Sting with Phil Collins
- Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith — introduced Queen
- Jack Nicholson and Tommy Vance — introduced U2 and The Who
- Billy Connolly — introduced Elton John
- John Hurt — introduced Freddie Mercury and Brian May
Philadelphia, John F. Kennedy Stadium
- Bill Graham — introduced Jack Nicholson (before his first and last appearance), Chevy Chase w/ Joe Piscopo, Marilyn McCoo, Dire Straits, Santana, Bette Midler, Don Johnson, Eric Clapton and Dionne Warwick
- Jack Nicholson — introduced Joan Baez, Bryan Adams, The Who and Bob Dylan
- Chevy Chase and Joe Piscopo — introduced The Hooters
- Chevy Chase — introduced Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, REO Speedwagon, Judas Priest, David Bowie, Kenny Loggins and Duran Duran
- Joe Piscopo — introduced Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, Simple Minds and Neil Young
- Marilyn McCoo — introduced The Beach Boys
- George Segal — introduced George Thorogood and the Destroyers
- Grace Slick — introduced Pretenders
- Bette Midler — introduced Madonna, Thompson Twins, Patti LaBelle and Mick Jagger
- Don Johnson — introduced Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Power Station
- Jack Nicholson & Bette Midler — introduced Phil Collins
- Phil Collins — introduced Led Zeppelin
- Dionne Warwick — introduced Hall & Oates
|13:05||Sydney, Australia||Oz for Africa||various (depends on the broadcaster)|
(performers from Japan)
|Off Course||"Endless Night"|
|Eikichi Yazawa||"Take It Time"|
|Meiko Nakahara||"Ro-Ro-Ro-Russian Roulette"|
|14:40|| The Hague, Netherlands
(from the North Sea Jazz Festival)
|B.B. King||"When It All Comes Down"|
"Why I Sing the Blues"
"Don't Answer the Door"
"Rock Me Baby"
|15:10||Belgrade, Yugoslavia||YU Rock Misija||"Za milion godina"|
|15:55||Moscow, Soviet Union||Autograph||"Golovokruzhenie"|
"Nam nuzhen mir"
|16:27||Cologne, West Germany||[de]||"Nackt Im Wind"|
"Ein Jahr (Es geht voran)"
|21:19||studio||Kool & the Gang||"Stand Up and Sing"|
|2:11||London, United Kingdom||Cliff Richard||"A World of Difference"|
- Molly Meldrum — introduced Oz for Africa
- Mladen Popović — introduced YU Rock Misija
- Vladimir Posner — introduced Autograph and made a speech between their performances
- Evelyn Selbert and Ken Janz — introduced [de]
- Udo Lindenberg — made a speech between the [de] performances
- Andy Kershaw — introduced Cliff Richard
Live Aid recordings
When organiser Bob Geldof was persuading artists to take part in the concert, he promised them that it would be a one-off event, never to be seen again. That was the reason why the concert was never recorded in its complete original form, and only secondary television broadcasts were recorded. Following Geldof's request, ABC even erased its own broadcast tapes. However, before the syndicated/ABC footage was erased, copies of it were donated to the Smithsonian Institution and have now been presumed lost. The ABC feed of the USA for Africa/"We Are The World" finale does exist in its entirety, complete with the network end credits, and can be found as a supplemental feature on the We Are The World: The Story Behind The Song DVD.
Meanwhile, MTV decided to keep recordings of its broadcast and eventually located more than 100 tapes of Live Aid in its archives, but many songs in these tapes were cut short by MTV's ad breaks and presenters (according to the BBC). The BBC also decided to erase fragments of the performance due to storage limitations, to pave the way for newer programmes. Many performances from the US were not shown on the BBC, and recordings of these performances are missing. There were four separate Audio Trucks in Philadelphia provided by David Hewitt of Remote Recording Services. ABC had taken the decision that no multi track tape recordings would be allowed, so no remixing of the Philadelphia show was possible.
Official Live Aid DVD
An official four-disc DVD set of the Live Aid concerts was released on 8 November 2004. The new DVD was given a European premiere and limited cinematic release with screenings held in London, Zurich, Milan, Rome, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin in DTS surround sound featuring a short compilation of the four-disc DVD box set. The 52-minute compilation was later released as a limited edition DVD in July 2005 titled 20 Years Ago Today: Live Aid. The box set contains 10-hour partial footage of the 16-hour length concert. The DVD was produced by Geldof's company, Woodcharm Ltd., and distributed by Warner Music Vision. The DVD has since been out of print and no longer available in stores. The decision to finally release it was taken by Bob Geldof nearly 20 years after the original concerts, after he found a number of unlicensed copies of the concert on the Internet.
The most complete footage that exists is used from the BBC source, and this was the main source of the DVD. During production on the official DVD, MTV lent Woodcharm Ltd. their B-roll and alternate camera footage where MTV provided extra footage of the Philadelphia concert (where ABC had erased the tapes from the command of Bob Geldof). Songs that were not originally littered with ads were also used on the official DVD.
Working from the BBC and MTV footage, several degrees of dramatic license were taken, in order to release the concert on DVD. Many songs had their soundtracks altered for the DVD release, mainly in sequences where there were originally microphone problems. In one of those instances, Paul McCartney had re-recorded his failed vocals for "Let It Be" in a studio the day after the concert (14 July 1985) but it was never used until the release of the DVD. Also, in the US finale, the original USA for Africa studio track for "We Are the World" was overlaid in places where the microphone was absent (consequently, it includes the vocals of Kenny Rogers and James Ingram, two artists who did not even take part in Live Aid).
Some artists did not want their performances to be featured on the DVD. At their own request, Led Zeppelin and Santana were omitted. The former defended their decision not to be included on the grounds that their performance was 'sub-standard', but to lend their support, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant pledged to donate proceeds from the DVD release of Page & Plant: No Quarter to the campaign, and John Paul Jones pledged proceeds from his American tour with Mutual Admiration Society.
Judicious decisions were also made on which acts would be included and which ones would not, due to either technical difficulties in the original performances, the absence of original footage, or for music rights reasons. Rick Springfield, the Four Tops, the Hooters, the Power Station, Billy Ocean, Kool and the Gang and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were among those acts that were left off the DVD. Several artists who did feature on the DVD also had songs that were performed omitted. Madonna performed three solo songs in the concert, but only two were included on the DVD ("Love Makes the World Go Round" was omitted). Phil Collins played "Against All Odds" and "In the Air Tonight" at both Wembley and JFK, but only the London performance of the former and the Philadelphia performance of the latter were included on the DVD. The JFK performance of "Against All Odds" was later included on Collins' Finally ... The First Farewell Tour DVD. Tom Petty performed four songs, and only two were included on DVD. Patti LaBelle played six songs but only two songs were included.
In 2007, Queen released a special edition of Queen Rock Montreal on Blu-ray and DVD formats containing their 1981 concert from The Forum in Montreal, Canada, and their complete Live Aid performance, along with Freddie Mercury and Brian May performing "Is This the World We Created...?" from the UK Live Aid finale, all re-mixed in DTS 5.1 sound by Justin Shirley-Smith — this marked the first Live Aid material officially released in a high-definition/Blu-ray format. Also included is their Live Aid rehearsal, and an interview with the band, from earlier in the week.
On its release, the then British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, decided the VAT collected on sales of the Live Aid DVD would be given back to the charity, which would raise an extra £5 for every DVD sold.
|Dutch Music DVDs Chart||2|||
|Spanish Music DVD Chart (Promusicae)||8|||
|UK Music Video Chart (OCC)||1|||
|US Top Music Video (Billboard)||2|||
|Australia (ARIA)||2× Platinum||30,000^|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||Gold||5,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||2× Diamond||200,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||Platinum||6,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||6× Platinum||300,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||10× Platinum||1,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
Official Live Aid audio
An audio copy of Live Aid was officially released by the Band Aid Trust label on 7 September 2018 on digital download. When first released in 2018, the Queen performance was excluded. The band's set was, however, later included as a part of the digital download in May 2019. It has a total of ninety-three audio tracks.
Live Aid channel
On 12 September 2018, YouTube launched the Official Live Aid channel with a total of 87 videos from the Live Aid 1985 concert. According to the channel, all earnings from viewings go to the Band Aid Trust. As with the digital download release, a few notable performances are not included for unknown reasons, although Queen's set was uploaded to the channel with its inclusion on the digital download.
Because the Live Aid broadcast was watched by 1.5 billion people, most of the footage was recorded on home consumer video recorders all around the world, in various qualities. Many of these recordings were in mono, because in the mid-1980s most home video machines could only record mono sound, and also because the European BBC TV broadcast was in mono. The US MTV broadcast, the ABC Radio Network and BBC Radio 1 simulcasts were stereo. These recordings circulated among collectors, and in recent years, have also appeared on the Internet in file sharing networks.
Since the official DVD release of Live Aid includes only partial footage of this event, unofficial distribution sources continue to be the only source of the most complete recordings of this event. The official DVD is the only authorised video release in which proceeds go directly to famine relief, the cause that the concert was originally intended to help.
Wembley sound system
The Wembley speaker system was provided by Hill Pro Audio. It consisted primarily of the Hill J-Series Mixing Consoles, Hill M3 Speaker System powered by the Hill 3000 amplifiers. In an interview with Studio Sound in December 1985, Malcolm Hill described the concept for the system in detail.
John F. Kennedy Stadium sound system
Live Aid eventually raised $127 million in famine relief for African nations, and the publicity it generated encouraged Western nations to make available enough surplus grain to end the immediate hunger crisis in Africa.
Many artists and performers at Live Aid gained prominence and positive commercial influence. For all the cultural, charitable, and technological significance of 1985's Live Aid, its most immediate impact was on the charts. In the UK, for example, No Jacket Required by Phil Collins and Madonna's Like a Virgin leapt back into the top ten. Queen's three year old Greatest Hits rose fifty-five places into the top twenty, followed by Freddie Mercury's Mr. Bad Guy. Every U2 album available at the time also returned to the chart. In 1986, Geldof received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.
Queen's performance at Live Aid was recreated in the band's 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Footage from the 1985 performance can be seen to match with the movie performance. The background to the staging of the concert as a whole was dramatised in the 2010 television drama When Harvey Met Bob.
- List of historic rock festivals
- 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia
- Harry Chapin
- Live 8, Geldof's 2005 series of concerts aimed at increasing poverty awareness
- Live Earth, a 2007 series of concerts aimed at increasing awareness of Global Warming.
- Farm Aid, a Live-Aid inspired relief event for American farms, instigated by Bob Dylan
- Self Aid, a 1986 Live-Aid inspired 14-hour concert highlighting severe unemployment in Ireland, promoted by Jim Aiken
- Sport Aid, another famine relief event organised by Geldof
- NetAid, concert and anti-poverty initiative using the internet
- YU Rock Misija (YU Rock Mission), Yugoslav contribution to Band Aid campaign
- The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, organised by George Harrison
- Hear 'n Aid, similar joint effort from the heavy metal scene of the 1980s
- Band Aid
- Chef Aid, a South Park parody of the benefit concert
- Wave Aid Concert held in Australia in 2005 to benefit victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami.
- When Harvey Met Bob a 2010 television film dramatising the events leading up to and including the concert.
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