FLASHBACK: 'Live Aid' Concerts Raise $140 Mil For African Relief
It was 28 years ago today (July 13th, 1985) that the Live Aid concerts took place in Philadelphia's JFK Stadium and London's Wembley Stadium. The mammoth fundraising shows were organized by then-Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof, who began the music industry's efforts to fight famine in Africa with Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" all-star single in 1984.
Live Aid featured performances by Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner with Hall & Oates, Madonna, U2, Judas Priest, Duran Duran, Queen, Eric Clapton, Sting, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan with Rolling Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood, David Bowie, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and scores of others. Led Zeppelin, the Who, and Black Sabbath staged one-off reunions especially for that day. The 16-hour Live Aid marathon was watched by an estimated global audience of 1.5 billion and raised more than $140 million for famine relief.
Organizer Bob Geldof recalls that his panic for the show to come off smoothly actually turned into physical pain for him: "I was frightened that nobody would show up. I had no contracts. I had a very sore back and my wife used to put towels underneath the sheets in the bed because I used to have cold sweats, y'know, with fear. And as the day wore on, my back got more and more painful, and Bowie came over and said, 'Lie down.' So I lay down and David Bowie gave me a massage, y'know. Best massage by a rock star that I ever had."
Judas Priest performed at the Philadelphia portion of the event and Rob Halford remembers that it finally gave him the opportunity to meet one his personal musical heroes, Joan Baez. However, for Halford it was temporarily an anxious encounter, because Priest had made a monstrous metal anthem out of her song, "Diamonds And Rust," and he worried that she would not approve: "She's like, 'I just wanted to speak to you about the "Diamonds And Rust" song,' and I go 'Yeah . . . OK . . .' She says, 'My son is like a huge Priest fan and, y'know, I really think you did an incredible version of my song.' So, I'm like, huge sigh of relief, y'know, major letting-go of the slumping shoulders. And I said, 'Well, that is so cool that you've said that to me because it is an incredible song and we certainly (laughs) mutated it beyond belief.' Because the original version is just Joan and acoustic guitar, and Priest got a hold of it and just threw all these slabs of heavy metal on top of it and crushed it to death."
Hall & Oates, who were at the peak of their success at the time of Live Aid, performed a separate set with Temptations' David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks -- as well as serving as Mick Jagger's backing band. Daryl Hall revealed that it actually was his idea to work with the Rolling Stones frontman: "Mick was doing his first solo thing then. And in fact, I was working with him on one song and he didn't have the band -- the rest of his band -- so he needed a backup band. So, I said, 'Well, why don't, y'know, Hall & Oates band will back you up.' And then that's how we closed the show. So it all worked out."
Phil Collins was among Live Aid's stars, playing in London on his own and with Sting, then taking the Concorde to America, where he was rushed to Philadelphia to perform on his own and with Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. He says that he was surprised Live Aid came off in the first place: "Sting called me and said 'Have you heard about this concert Bob's trying to put on? I said, 'I've heard about it, yeah. It won't happen, will it?' And he said, 'Well, I think it's gonna happen.' And he said, 'Do you want to do something together.' And I actually did not dream that it would still be talked about 20 years on."
Collins recalls legendary British promoter Harvey Goldsmith explaining to him that it was feasible that he could actually perform at both the London and Philly shows: "He said 'Of course you could do it if you wanted to. You could play both.' I said 'What do you mean?' He said 'Well, you could in theory get on Concorde and be there, you know, in time to catch Eric's set and Robert's (Led Zeppelin's) set if we put them on later.' So, because it could be done, I did it."
Brian Wilson's bandleader Jeff Foskett first began touring with the Beach Boys in 1982 and was on hand when the band -- including Wilson -- performed at the Philadelphia show: "It was so cool. We did 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' and Brian and I were singing it together and they had Brian's picture up on the screen of that for the majority of the time and, it was so cool. We walked off that stage and somebody, y'know, had a cell phone -- which was fairly new in '85, I mean, they didn't really start happening till later in the '80s. And somebody called from Wembley backstage and said, 'The Beach Boys just destroyed Great Britain!' (Laughs) How cool is that? That was a really, really great gig."
Paul McCartney, who was the final act prior to the finale at Wembley, remembers Live Aid as being one of the worst gigs of his career: "Oh my God, Live Aid is just one of those things I'd sooner forget. I didn't have a roadie, I didn't even have someone to make sure my mic and speakers were working! So I just sort of went on -- there I was in front of the world. And I heard in my monitors a very ominous sound of roadies talking. I though, 'This could be a disaster.' I couldn't hear myself, I couldn't hear anything, so I was not giving a sort of measured performance. But the dear old audience helped me out, God bless 'em!"
Live Aid was commemorated in two 2005 DVD packages: Live Aid: Boxed Set, which contained portions of the two historic shows, and the single-disc documentary Live Aid -- 20 Years Ago Today.
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