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  • Gavin Scott

Today In 1985: The Best of Live Aid

Three decades ago today, on Saturday July 13, 1985, the charity movement that had started with "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "We Are The World" (which both topped the Australian chart for a combined total of 13 weeks) reached its history-making climax as some of the world's biggest music acts (and a few ring-ins) united for concerts on either side of the Atlantic.

Almost two billion people around the world watched Live Aid on July 13, 1985

Behind the scenes, there were all sorts of logistical nightmares and rock star egos to contend with, while on stage, performances varied greatly in quality - but for everyone at the stadiums in London and Philadelphia, and the millions more watching around the world, none of that mattered. We all just got to enjoy an international music event like nothing that had ever been seen before and know that it was all in aid of an incredibly worthy cause.

Wembley Stadium, London

Status Quo might not have been the most obvious band to kick off Live Aid, but their choice of first song, "Rockin' All Over The World", was certainly appropriate and set the tone for the event.

Indeed, most of the acts taking part in Live Aid chose crowd-pleasers or event-relevant material over promoting new releases, while some superstar collaborations (Sting and Phil Collins, Paul Young and Alison Moyet) gave the proceedings an added sense of excitement. Who knew what would happen on stage next? 

For me, earlier performers like Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet (certainly, the event's most fashion-conscious act) were highlights, but when it comes to historical significance, these were some of the more momentous performances:

The Style Council

Decked out in their best resort wear, Paul Weller's post-The Jam project finished off their four-song set with anti-establishment anthem "Wall Come Tumbling Down!" - in front of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who attended the proceedings at Wembley Stadium.

The Boomtown Rats

It may have been a while since the Irish band had graced the UK top 10, but given the fact that without singer Bob Geldof there would be no Live Aid, The Boomtown Rats were always going to appear on the bill - and receive a huge response, which they did, especially during the extra-long pause in the middle of "I Don't Like Mondays".


Talk about a game-changer. Until recently, it was hard to imagine a time when U2 weren't one of the biggest bands in the world, but in mid-1985, they were still very much on the rise outside Ireland. With a couple of hits under their belts in the UK and Australia, they were also starting to make inroads into America, but the all-conquering The Joshua Tree was still a couple of years away. The band's set at Live Aid, which consisted of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and a super-sized version of "Bad" (during which Bono pulled a fan out of the audience), resulted in them, in turn, standing out from the crowd. 


From the roar Freddie Mercury got when he took to the stage, it was clear Queen were one of the more anticipated acts on the UK lineup - and the band's charismatic frontman whipped the sea of fans into a frenzy of audience participation in a set that consisted of songs like "Bohemian Rhamsody", "We Will Rock You" and "Radio Ga-Ga". Pretty much unanimously viewed as the best slot of the whole event.

David Bowie

Looking incredibly civilised, David Bowie chose a set more heavily weighted towards his '70s output, but it was 1983 single "Modern Love" that got the crowd most fired up. He also earnt respect for giving up one of his songs to allow time for a short film showing the drastic situation in Ethiopia to be screened.

The Who

Notable more for the fact that they got through their set without punching each other than because it was a good performance, The Who hadn't played together since their breakup three years earlier - and may not even have appeared at Live Aid had Bob Geldof not announced them as part of the lineup before they'd agreed to it.

Elton John

With the exception of "I'm Still Standing", Elton and his technicolour dreamcoat followed David Bowie's lead and also eschewed his more recent output for '70s hits like "Rocket Man", "Bennie And The Jets" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee, his only backing singer not dressed in the tiniest shorts known to man. Elton even invited George Michael on stage to perform "Don't Let The Go Down On Me" in what was quite possibly the best vocal performance of the show.

Band Aid

After Bob Geldof, Pete Townshend, Alison Moyet and David Bowie joined Paul McCartney on stage for the end of "Let It Be" and Bob came in at the wrong point, the stage was set for a version of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which is best described as a shambles. As Bob said in his preamble, "It might be a bit of a cock-up, but if you're going to cock it up you may as well do it with two billion people watching you." But what a glorious mess it was - with those acts that had stuck around backstage throughout the concert trooping out on stage to crowd round microphones as Bob, George Michael, Sting and Bono led the enthusiastic rendition.

JFK Stadium, Philadelphia While the UK line-up was a pretty good representation of the biggest British music acts of the previous decade, the American concert consisted of a more diverse assortment of performers, including: 

When it came to America's current music heavyweights, although some of the big bands of the day (REO Speedwagon, The Cars) were on the bill, there were notable absences. Where were Foreigner, Huey Lewis & The News and Van Halen?  That was especially the case when it came to solo stars like Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom had appeared on "We Are The World". In terms of male artists, we got Kenny Loggins, Rick Springfield and Bryan Adams instead, and, representing the current soul and R&B scene, Patti LaBelle, with one of those performances of "Imagine" in which she was constantly racing to catch up to the music. Then there was... The Beach Boys These guys sure had a blast. How could they not in those outfits - although Carl Wilson didn't seem to get the garish shirt memo. Besides being dressed to party, the surf rock band really looked like they were enjoying busting out classics like "Good Vibrations", "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Surfin' USA" as much as the crowd enjoyed hearing them.

Madonna She'd been left out of the "We Are The World' recording session, but the world's newest superstar made her mark at the Philadelphia show with a burst of dance/pop amid a sea of old rockers. Performing "Holiday", "Into The Groove" and future album track "Love Makes The World Go Round", Madonna and her tightly choreographed tambourine dance routine established her live credentials. 

Phil Collins Famously the only artist to perform at both the UK and the US shows, Phil had jetted by Concorde from one gig to the other, only to perform the exact same two solo hits ("Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" and "In The Air Tonight") at each venue. Of course, he was also put to work as a guest musician with Sting in London, and Eric Clapton and, somewhat awkwardly, the ex-Led Zeppelin members in Philadelphia, making him one of the more prominent performers of the whole event.

Duran Duran Momentous more for the fact that it would turn out to be the final live appearance by the full lineup of the band for almost two decades than the performance itself - with critics quick to pounce on Simon Le Bon's vocal slip during "A View To A Kill". Simon recovered to give solid renditions of "Union Of The Snake", "Save A Prayer" and "The Reflex", while two-fifths of the band wouldn't play those songs again until 2003.

Hall & Oates Besides singing their own hits like "Out Of Touch" and "Maneater", Hall & Oates combined with The Temptations' Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin for a soul medley featuring "Ain't Too Proud To Beg", "Get Ready", "My Girl" and "The Way You Do The Things You Do". They all then stuck around on stage for...

Mick Jagger and Tina Turner The image of The Rolling Stones frontman performing alongside a stilettoed, short skirt-sporting, spiky-haired Tina Turner is one of the most enduring from the whole of Live Aid - it even made the cover of Life magazine. It was also a far better idea than trying to sync up Mick in the US and David Bowie in the UK for a cross-continent duet - the video of "Dancing In The Streets" was debuted at the concert instead. Mick and Tina's electric double act on "State Of Shock" and "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" went a little bit off the rails when Tina's skirt came off and Mick had an inexplicable mid-song costume change, but neither of them seemed to mind one bit.

USA For Africa Watch Lionel Richie try to keep "We Are The World" from getting completely out of hand. Watch Harry Belafonte stand in for about half a dozen singers who didn't bother to show up. Watch Sheena Easton refuse to give up the microphone. Watch Patti LaBelle out-crazy Cyndi Lauper's performance from the single. Watch for Cher in the background. Watch Chevy Chase look like a safari park tour guide. Watch a choir of kids storm the stage.

Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney Living in Australia made watching the entire telecast tricky since the London gig would've begun around 9pm in Sydney. But a show we could tune in to from start to finish more easily was screened on Australian TV earlier that day.  Featuring big names from our local music scene like Mental As Anything, Models, Men At Work and Little River Band (and some band called Party Girls I've never heard of), Oz For Africa took place the night before, on July 12 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre - with parts of the set by headline act INXS included in overseas broadcasts.

EDIT: Someone has posted the entire Oz For Africa concert on YouTube. How long it will stay up is anyone's guess.

Tomorrow, I'll stay in 1985, for my weekly look back at the ARIA top 50 from 1985 - and in coming weeks, we'll be able to see the impact Live Aid had on the local charts.

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