On July 13, 1985, perhaps the largest concert event of my lifetime took place.
Live Aid was a benefit concert for sub-Saharan African relief, a single day comprised of two concerts–one in London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK.
Born in Bob Geldoff’s head, Live Aid was a trans-Atlantic follow-up to 1984’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the UK single that inspired USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” the following spring. They raised some $245 million dollars as a result of this one day.
I was one of the more than 2 billion people that watched the live broadcast, a day’s worth of music shown in more than 60 countries.
It was an historic day on many levels. The surviving members Led Zeppelin played onstage for the first time since Bonham’s death. U2 blew people away with their concert performance, no doubt beginning the generally accepted view of them as one of the best live bands of the next generation. The Who played, their first time on stage since their ’82 “Farewell Tour.” Black Sabbath reunited, as did Crosby, Still, Nash and Young.
There were famous no-shows, people who were invited but did not perform for one reason or another. Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and a host of others were invited to perform but didn’t. Some had conflicts, some had a falling out with US promoter Bill Graham. Others didn’t believe Geldoff’s vision. Springsteen later said he didn’t know it was going to be as big as it was.
The show began at 12 noon GMT at Wembley. The band Status Quo played the first set. Two hours later, the show began in Philadelphia with Joan Baez. The shows ran concurrently, with one act on stage at a time, the UK audience watching the US stage via satellite when it was live, and vice versa. Paul McCartney closed out the UK show, formally closed with a rendition of “Do They Knoew It’s Christmas.” Bob Dylan and friends Ronnie Wood and Keith Richard were the last act, taking the US stage at around 3:30 am London time, followed by “We Are the World.”
For all this greatness, and the greatness that never was to be, one performance stood out the most for me. The set played Queen was one of the most amazing live rock moments I have ever seen, largely for the crowd’s participation, but due in no small part to Freddy Mercury’s command of the stage. It left a memorable impression on my 12-year-old self. I was never a huge fan, but I forever carried a tremendous amount of respect for the band after this day in July 1985.
Here’s their entire set, in 3 parts: