Advertised as the "global jukebox," Live Aid was a once-in-a-lifetime event that showcased world-famous musicians under the premise of a humanitarian aid effort. There are wildly varied opinions on the impact Live Aid had on society, the people of Ethiopia, and rock and roll. The sands of time have tinted its memory with nostalgia and criticism in equal measure, which begs the question: What was Live Aid really like?
Live Aid was a life-defining moment for many of its featured artists. Careers were made and ruined, reunions were tragic as well as joyful. Some unlikely alliances were forged. For many viewers at home, the concert was simply a vessel for the Platonic ideal of rock music to actualize itself. Take Queen’s Live Aid performance, which gave fans 17 minutes of flawless, electrifying heat. That performance was undoubtedly a net gain for society as a whole, but it’s important to remember everyone else who played at Live Aid, as well. No big deal, just a collection of the best rock bands of all time.
In addition to being a widely beloved classic rock standard, "American Girl" was also significant song in the life of Tom Petty. It was the opening song for his set at Live Aid, the largest show of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers's career. A week before his passing in 2017, he performed it one last time at the Hollywood Bowl as his closing number.
For reasons unknown, Petty flipped off the audience halfway through the song. Who hurt you, Petty?
Live Aid offered U2 the chance to connect with a massive audience, and Bono made the most of the opportunity. In the middle of "Bad," Bono jumped down to pull a girl out of the crowd so she could join him onstage.
This was an audience engagement trick Bono had used before, but his bandmates weren't prepared for five minutes of helpless vamping while their frontman was lost in an endless sea of revelers. The band initially felt the Live Aid stunt had damaged their reputation, but when the press began to roll out, Bono was lauded for his gall and determination to reach out to the audience.
The payoff was well worth the confusion: Kal Khalique, the 15-year-old fan who was pulled onstage, was deeply grateful for an unexpected reason. When asked about her moment in the spotlight 20 years later, Khalique recalled, "The crowd surged and I was suffocating - then I saw Bono."
Mick Jagger And David Bowie Were Supposed To Perform An Intercontinental Duet
The transcontinental element of Live Aid was one of its primary selling points for performers and viewers alike. The show was broadcast live to millions of people across the globe, drawing approximately 1.5 billion viewers in 110 countries. ABC and MTV aired the show in the United States, while BBC supplied the feed to the United Kingdom. In the age before the internet, there was something mystical and unifying about performing alongside someone across the ocean in one contiguous event.
That was the logic behind the epic live duet that never was, a cover of Martha and the Vandellas’s “Dancing in the Street” performed by Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Unfortunately, primitive telecasting technology made it impossible for both feeds to remain synced without a half-second delay, and neither artist wanted to mime their performance alongside the other's live rendition. Instead, they released a studio version of the song and donated the proceeds to the famine relief.
While traveling via turbojet to Philadelphia, PA, Phil Collins spotted Cher from across the plane and decided to strike up a conversation with her. Cher asked Collins what was going on, and he asked her if she knew about Live Aid - and if she was interested in joining him.
Collins recalls Cher was wearing "house clothes" on the flight, but that didn't stop her from showing up fully Cher-ified hours later to perform in the concert's grand finale, a star-studded rendition of "We Are The World."