“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.”
Thinking of the Live Aid Concert held thirty years ago, those words made a lot of sense to me. I was in one of my “walk down memory lane” moods, just after my man had shown me a video of Cliff Richards singing Bachelor Boy and was also very nicely reminded that I hadn’t blogged for a very long time.
I know a lot of people in my generation will remember that event. I was in my first year of under graduation and was madly in love with most of the singers who performed in two different places simultaneously. It was truly a one of a kind concert. Sixteen hours of music from the who’s who in the musical world, 72,000 people at London’s Wembley Stadium, 100,000 more at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium and nearly two billion TV viewers at home watched more than 75 popular acts & some of the outstanding performers teamed up in interesting combinations, including (temporary) reunions of three of the most important groups in rock history. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin reunited to perform for this event.
The inauguration of the event by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the excitement of the performers and audience and
the triumph of technology combined with sheer good will – all made it hard to forget. A lot of us still recount how some of the acts were performed….Mick Jagger and Tina Turner in a very Vegas like act with Jagger changing costumes mid song (bizarre is how some would define it), Sir Elton John belting out five of his super hits, including ones with Kiki Dee and George Michael and Sir Paul McCartney singing “Let It Be”.
My personal favourites were also there Bob Dylan, Queen, Sting, Bryan Adams, U2, Tome Petty & Phil Collins. Phil Collins riding high both as a solo star and as Genesis front man at the time — thrilled the audience with his humour and singing. With the help of the Concorde supersonic jet, he played solo sets at both the London and Philadelphia shows. Plus, he played drums for both Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. After he was introduced on the Philly stage by Jack Nicholson & Bette Midler, listening to him sing, “In The Air Tonight” & playing the piano, was treat beyond words.
Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof
traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists together to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by “Band Aid,” an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham!, and others. It was the best-selling single in UK to that date and raised more than $10 million.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform “We Are the World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. “USA for Africa,” as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured Jackson, Ritchie, Geldof, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million.
The event had Bob Dylan, Keith Richards & Ron Wood (both guitarists from Rolling Stones) performing. Some artists’ works speak for itself and some artists’ works speak for it’s entire generation – that’s the power of Bob Dylan’s contribution to the world of music. To be called America’s voice of freedom is no small achievement and he once again proved it on stage that evening when he spoke about the plight of the American farmer. This actually led John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson & Neil Young to organise Farm Aid, a concert that was held a few months later and has continued to be held every year, except for two years.
Beatle Paul McCartney and the Who’s Pete Townsend held Bob Geldof aloft on their shoulders during the London finale, which featured a collective performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with “We Are the World.” 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. Bob Geldof was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.
In a lot of ways, to me this global charity event was like the final fanfare of the musical industry. The kind of reverence the world had for pop music and it’s stars came to an end during that period…with the internet changing how music is heard, downloaded & stored, the reduced combination of acts of kindness, influence and music or even the absence of a younger version of Sir Bob Geldof willing to take the lead to bring musicians together for an act like this. I have always wondered…why couldn’t we have another Live Aid?
The picture that will remain forever in my mind, will be that of the audience – the real stars. Real stars for no one could
have worshipped and enjoyed music as much as they did on that 13th July 1985. Deliriously happy, swaying their hands and pumping their fists in unison to Queen’s Radio Gaga, clambering over shoulders to listen to Sting sing Money for Nothing with Dire Straits or join the artists in the two songs that will represent musical harmony to me – Do They Know It’s Christmas and We Are The World….that ecstasy transformed millions of living rooms that day, when the proxy audience was glued to their televisions and donating their money. Live Aid created a surreal, magical experience of listening to thrilling live music…something I will never ever forget in my lifetime.