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.
While U2 had been together for nearly 10 years by the time they took the stage at Live Aid, the concert was a pivotal moment in the band's career. They had grown a faithful following across the pond, but they had yet to achieve superstardom. Starting off with their acclaimed hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2 then took a great risk by playing "Bad," an experimental and admittedly "unfinished" song from their most recent album, The Unforgettable Fire.
After days of obsessive soundchecking and practicing, the live version of “Bad” took on a new form, empowering an uncharacteristically spry Bono to dance, howl, and jump off the stage - much to the chagrin of his bandmates.
Mick Jagger and Tina Turner Sang A Duet
In the middle of Live Aid, Mick Jagger threw down a duet with Tina Turner. The performance was sultry, steamy, and completely unexpected. Jagger and Turner were already friends prior to the concert, but Live Aid gave them the opportunity to collaborate with one another. In the days leading up to the show, they carefully workshopped and choreographed their entire routine.
The pair sought to scandalize with their on-stage chemistry, but they had to dial it down for the sake of the telecasters’ censorship requirements. In a particularly lascivious moment during “State Of Shock,” Jagger ripped Turner's skirt off to reveal a risque leotard beneath. A proto-JT and Janet moment?
Jagger recalls, “I have to watch myself. I can’t really take it too far... We both had to say that we wouldn’t go too far, the way we normally would at a show. MTV might stay on, but I don’t know about ABC.”
During his UK performance, Phil Collins dropped a selection of his solo hits, including “Against All Odds” and “In the Air Tonight”, and also provided backing vocals for the Police. The two concerts were collectively over 16 hours long, though there were hours of overlap between the two events.
After Collins finished his performance at Wembley Stadium in London at 4:00 pm, he immediately boarded a Concorde turbojet to perform at the American show in Philadelphia, PA. In addition to an encore rendition of his set from just hours before, he also played drums for Eric Clapton and the ill-fated Led Zeppelin reunion.
Paul McCartney’s performance was almost cut short by a technical mishap. When he took the stage to sing “Let It Be,” he quickly realized his microphone wasn't working correctly. Nevertheless, he soldiered on through the performance, accompanied by Pete Townshend, Alison Moyet, Bob Geldof, and David Bowie.
When the Live Aid recording was released on DVD in 2004, they used an overdubbed version McCartney had recorded days after the Live Aid performance.