Today is the anniversary of Live Aid, the historic benefit concert for African famine relief that occurred in London and Philadelphia in 1985. I watched the whole thing, calling in sick to my job doing flower deliveries. The event was carried on broadcast television in addition to MTV, which is why I was able to see it, and was treated like a telethon as much as a festival. Casey Kasem, who was not usually an MTV veejay, served as host and reminded fans at every commercial break “Live Aid – we’re coming together.” With the live satellite broadcast and even one performer playing on both shows, it really felt like the world got smaller that day.
Live Aid was part of the momentum initiated by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s benefit single under the name Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed the World),” a very good song with the cream of British pop at the time. Artists like Sting, Bono and Annie Lennox were just getting their political identities going at this point, and their participation added poignancy to their own music. It was a well-made record too, despite coming together quickly. Not to be outdone, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie soon collaborated to write and record “We are the World.”
Once the concert was announced, tickets were gone. Led Zeppelin was to reunite in Philadelphia, and they could have sold out JFK themselves. As the show started in London, one of the first artists, U2, stole the show, proving their anthemic rock was ready for stadiums. Bono gave Freddy Mercury, David Bowie and other megas a kick in the ass that day. Phil Collins personally broke bottled water, previously considered a waste of money a big boost by appearing in every interview with a bottle of Evian (naive spelled backwards we said at the time).
It was a helluva a day for rock… Joan Baez opening up, telling the kids “this is your Woodstock,” before an unfortunate version of “Shout” by Tears for Fears. We all know how Bob Dylan, Ron Wood and Keith Richards closed the show with some patchy playing. Remember too that in that moment, Bob Dylan inspired Willie Nelson to start Farm Aid, which continues to this day. I wonder if the benefits or work of Live Aid are still being felt, especially in Africa.
George Harrison also deserves credit for Live Aid, having set up the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. It was schlock, but Live Aid helped further music’s world-saving reputation. Now, we always turn to a grand concert to get a message out and raise money. Amnesty’s Conspiracy of Hope tour, the aforementioned Farm Aid, Concert for the Heroes, Telethon for America and many other benefits followed in these footsteps.
It’s also amusing to recall 50s icon Pat Boone’s comments about the show and its “obvious references to Satan, such as Mick Jagger’s highly erotic dance with Tina Turner (they had to do something to pump up “State of Shock,” his single with Michael Jackson). As the quotes from the Chicago Tribune show, he made an impression on me because I remember them so well:
“I heard Duran Duran talking about dancing into the fire,” Boone said, “and songs that were obviously hymns to the devil and satanic things, while you`re talking about feeding the hungry. I find a real inconsistency there.” If there was ever any question about this man’s abominable legacy in American music, this quote should solidify it.
Run-DMC was the only hip hop artist on the show. Remember, it was 1985.
Queen “One Vision”
Mick Jagger & Tina Turner “State of Shock”