Live Aid

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Live Aid was a multi-venue rock music concert held on July 13, 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in order to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. Billed as a "global jukebox", the main sites for the event were Wembley Stadium, London, attended by 72,000 people, and JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, attended by about 90,000 people, with some acts performing at other venues such as Sydney and Moscow. It was one of the largest scale satellite link-ups and TV broadcasts of all time: an estimated 1.5 billion viewers in 100 countries watched the live broadcast.



The concert was conceived as a follow-up to another Geldof/Ure project, the successful charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" performed by a collection of British and Irish music acts billed as "Band Aid" and released the previous winter.

The concert grew in scope as more acts were added on both sides of the Atlantic. As a charity fundraiser, the concert far exceeded its goals: on a television programme in 2001 one of the organizers stated that while initially it had been hoped that Live Aid would raise £1 million ($1.64 million), the final figure was £150 million (approx. $245.4 million) for famine relief. Partly in recognition of the Live Aid effort, Geldof received an honorary knighthood. Music promoter Harvey Goldsmith was also instrumental in bringing Geldof's and Ure's plans to fruition.

Collaborative effort

The concert was started in 12:00 (GMT) in Wembley (UK). It continued at JFK Stadium (US) starting at 13:51 (8:51 AM Eastern time). The UK's Wembley performances ended at 22:00. The US's JFK performances and whole concert ended at 04:05 (11:05 PM Eastern time). (See the full schedule of the concert here ). Thus the concert continued for 16 hours, but since many artists' performances were conducted simultaneously in Wembley and JFK the total concert's length was much longer.

No one concert before had brought together so many famous performers from the past and present, whose names are shown below (under Live Aid performers). However, some of the artists who had been announced earlier did not appear at the last minute, including Tears For Fears, Julian Lennon and Cat Stevens (who wrote a song for the Live Aid concert that he never got to perform--had he done so, he would have made his first public concert appearance since converting to Islam and changing his name to Yusuf Islam), while Prince provided a clip of 4 The Tears In Your Eyes.

It was the original intention for Mick Jagger to perform an intercontinental duet from the U.S. with David Bowie in London, but problems of synchronisation made it impossible -- instead, Jagger and Bowie created a video clip for the song they would have performed, a cover of Dancing In The Street. Jagger still performed with Tina Turner live at the Philadelphia portion of the concert.

Each of the two main portions of the concert ended with their particular continental all-star anti-hunger anthems, with Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas closing the UK concert, and USA for Africa's We Are The World closing the US concert (and thus the day's proceedings).

Since the concert, bootleg videos and CDs have circulated widely. The concert was never supposed to have been released commercially, but in November 2004 Warner Music Group released a 4 disc DVD edition of the concert (see more details below).

The Broadcasts

The concert was the most ambitious international satellite television venture that had ever been attempted at the time.

In Europe, the feed was supplied by the BBC. BBC's broadcast was opened by Richard Skinner, co-hosted by Andy Kershaw and included numerous interviews and chatters in between the various acts. The BBC's TV feed was mono, but the "BBC Radio 1" feed was simulcast in stereo. Due to the constant activities in both London and Philadelphia, the BBC producers omitted the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion from their broadcast. The BBC did, however, supply a "clean" feed to various TV channels in Europe.

ABC was largely responsible for the U.S. broadcast (although ABC themselves telecast only the final three hours of the concert from Philadelphia, hosted by Dick Clark, with the rest shown in syndication through Orbis Communications, acting on behalf of ABC). An entirely separate and simultaneous U.S. feed was provided for cable viewers by MTV. The MTV broadcast was presented in stereo, and accessible as such for those with special receivers of the time, as there were very few stereo TVs in the summer of 1985, and few television stations were able to broadcast in stereo. While the BBC telecast was run commercial-free (it is a public channel), both the MTV and syndicated/ABC broadcasts included advertisements and interviews. As a result, many songs were omitted due to the commercial breaks as these songs were played during such times.

The biggest caveat of the syndicated/ABC coverage is that the network had wanted to reserve some of the biggest acts that had played earlier in the day for certain points in the entire broadcast, particularly in the final three hours in prime time, thus Orbis Communications had some sequences replaced by others, especially those portions of the concert that had acts from London and Philadelphia playing simultaneously. For example, while the London/Wembley finale was taking place at 10:00 PM London time, syndicated viewers saw segments that had been recorded earlier, so that ABC could show the UK finale during its prime-time portion.

The ABC Radio Network broadcast the domestic radio feed of the concert, and later broadcast many of the acts that were missing from the original live radio broadcast.

At one point midway through the concert Billy Connolly announced he had just been informed that 95% of the television sets in the world were tuned to the event.


The success of Live Aid inspired Roger Waters' song "The Tide is Turning" and Queen's song "One Vision."

Memorable moments at JFK Stadium

At the very beginning of the U.S. portion, Joan Baez announced to the assembled crowd (and the viewing audience) that "this is your Woodstock".

When Bob Dylan broke a guitar string, Ron Wood took off his own guitar and gave it to Dylan. Wood was left standing on stage guitarless. After shrugging to the audience, he played air guitar, even mimicking The Who's Pete Townshend by swinging his arm in wide circles, until a stagehand brought him a replacement.

The JFK portion included reunions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and members of Led Zeppelin (although they were not officially announced by their group name from the stage, they were announced as Zeppelin on the VH1 10th Anniversary re-broadcast in 1995).

Teddy Pendergrass made his first public appearance since his near-fatal car accident which paralyzed him for life. Pendergrass, along with Ashford & Simpson, performed "Reach Out And Touch".

Memorable moments at Wembley Stadium

Status Quo opened with "Rocking All Over The World"

Queen played better and more tightly than ever, and the antics of lead singer Freddie Mercury got the entire Wembley crowd clapping in unison to "Radio Ga-Ga" and singing along, word-for-word, to "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions."

Another moment that garnered a huge crowd response was when David Bowie performed "Heroes" and dedicated it to his young son, as well as "all our children, and the children of the world."

U2's performance established them as a pre-eminent live group for the first time — something for which they would eventually become superstars.

The transatlantic broadcast from Wembley Stadium suffered technical problems and failed during The Who's performance of their song "My Generation," immediately after Roger Daltrey sang "Why don't you all f---" (the last word was cut off when the transmission broke).

Concerts organisers have subsequently said that they were particularly keen to ensure that at least one Beatle, ideally Paul McCartney, took part in the concert as they felt having an "elder statesman" from British music would give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of the political leaders whose opinions were trying to shape. McCartney agreed to perform and has said that it was "the management" - his children - that persuaded him to take part. In the event he was the last performer (aside from the Band Aid finale) to take to the stage and one of the few to be beset by technical difficulties. His microphone was turned off for the first two minutes of his piano performance of Let It Be making it difficult for television viewers, and impossible for those in the stadium to hear him.

Raising money

Throughout the concerts viewers were urged to donate money to the Live Aid cause. Three hundred phone lines were manned by the BBC in order that members of the public could make donations using their credit card. The phone number and an address that viewers could send cheques to were repeated every twenty minutes. Nearly seven hours into the concert in London Bob Geldof enquired how much money had been raised. He was told £1.2 million. He is said to have been sorely disappointed by the amount and marched to the BBC commentary position. Pumped up further by a performance by Queen that he later called "absolutely amazing", Geldof gave a famous interview. Many now recall that Geldof said "Just give us the fucking money." However this is not true. He did say "People are dying NOW. Give us the money NOW. Give me the money now." And later when trying to impress on the BBC TV presenter the importance of his plea, "Fuck the address, just give the phone, here's the number...". After the outburst, giving increased to £300 per second. Later in the evening, following David Bowie's set, a video shot by CBC was shown to the audiences in London and Philadelphia as well as on televisions around the world, showing starving and diseased Ethiopian children set to the song "Drive" by The Cars. The rate of giving was faster in the immediate aftermath of the moving video.

As Geldof mentioned during the concert, the Republic of Ireland (Éire) gave the most donations per capita, despite being in the throes of a serious economic depression at the time. The single largest donation came from the ruling family of Dubai. They donated £1m in a phone conversation with Bob Geldof.

The next day news reports stated that between £40 and £50 million had been raised. Now it is estimated that around £150mn has been raised for famine relief as a direct result of the concerts.

Criticisms and controversies

Bob Dylan's performance generated controversy for his comment:

I hope that some of the money...maybe they can just take a little bit of it, or two million, maybe...and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks...

He is often misquoted, as on the Farm Aid web site[1], as saying:

Wouldn't it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?

In his biography Bob Geldof was extremely critical of the remark; he states:

He displayed a complete lack of understanding of the issues raised by Live Aid.... Live Aid was about people losing their lives. There is a radical difference between losing your livelihood and losing your life. It did instigate Farm Aid, which was a good thing in itself, but it was a crass, stupid, and nationalistic thing to say.

Anarchist band Chumbawamba released a record called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records in 1986. They viewed the Live Aid concert with cynicism, suggesting that performers were in it for themselves as much as the people they were professing to help.

Although an admirer of Bob Geldof's generosity and concern, Fox News TV host Bill O'Reilly has been critical of the Live Aid producer's oversight of the money raised for starving Ethiopian people, noting in June 2005 that much of the funds were siphoned off by Mengistu Haile Mariam and his army. O'Reilly believes that charity organizations operating in aid-receiving countries should control donations, rather than possibly corrupt governments[2].

Tim Russert, when interviewing Bono on Meet The Press shortly after O'Reilly's comments, addressed this concern of O'Reilly and others to the pop singer. Bono responded that corruption, not disease or famine, was the greatest threat to Africa, agreeing with the belief that foreign relief organizations should decide how the money is spent. On the other hand, the pop singer said that it was better to spill some funds into nefarious quarters for the sake of those who needed it than to stifle aid because of possible theft[3].

Live Aid performers

(in order of appearance, times given are British Summer Times and indicate the start time of the performance. Key: W - London Wembley Stadium, JFK - Philadelphia JFK Stadium):

Live Aid recordings / releases

When organiser Bob Geldof was persuading artists to take part in the concert, he promised them that it would be a one-off event, never to be seen again. That was the reason why the concert was never recorded in its complete original form, and only secondary TV broadcasts were recorded. Following Geldof's request, ABC even erased its own broadcast tapes. However, before the syndicated/ABC footage was erased, copies of it were donated to the Smithsonian Institution and now have been presumed lost. MTV decided to keep recordings of its broadcast and recently located more than 100 Live Aid tapes in its archives, but many songs in these tapes were cut short by MTV's ad breaks and presenters (according to BBC). BBC also decided to keep its broadcast recordings, but many performances from the US were not shown on the BBC and recordings of these performances are missing.

Official Live Aid DVD

Madonna at Live Aid (JFK Stadium, Philadelphia). (screenshot of official DVD)
Madonna at Live Aid (JFK Stadium, Philadelphia). (screenshot of official DVD)

An official 4-DVD set of the Live Aid concerts was released on November 8, 2004. It contains 10-hour partial footage of the 16-hour length concert. The DVD was produced by Geldof's company, Woodcharm Ltd., and distributed by Warner Music Group.

The decision to finally release it was taken by Bob Geldof nearly 20 years after the original concerts, after he found a number of pirate copies of the concert on the Internet (see full story here). There has been controversy over the DVD release because a decision had been taken for a substantial number of tracks not to be included in this edited version.

The most complete footage that exists is from the BBC, and it was the main source of the DVD. During production on the official DVD, MTV lent Woodcharm Ltd. their B-roll and alternate camera footage; this was an additional source of the U.S. footage that appears on the official DVD.

Working from the BBC and MTV footage, several degrees of dramatic license were taken in order to release the concert on DVD. For example, many songs on the official DVD had their soundtracks altered, mainly in sequences where there were originally microphone problems. For example, Paul McCartney had to re-record his failed vocals for "Let It Be" in a studio, nearly twenty years after the fact, expressly for the DVD, otherwise both "Let It Be" and the UK finale that followed would have been left off the official DVD for continuity reasons. Also, in the USA finale, the original USA For Africa studio track for "We Are The World" was overlaid in places where the microphone was absent (in fact, if you listen closely, you can hear the vocals of Kenny Rogers and James Ingram, two artists who did not even take part in Live Aid).

Judicious decisions were also made on which acts would be included and which ones would not, due to either technical difficulties in the original performances, the absence of original footage, or for music rights reasons. For example, Rick Springfield, The Four Tops, The Hooters, Power Station, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were among those acts that were left off the DVD. Many of the artists' songs that were performed were also omitted. For example Madonna performed 3 solo songs in the concert, but only 2 were included on DVD - "Love Makes the World Go 'Round" was omitted.

There were also issues with the artists themselves. Two such performers were left off at their own request - Led Zeppelin and Santana. The rock band Led Zeppelin defended their decision not to be included on the grounds that their performance was "sub-standard," but to lend their support Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have pledged to donate proceeds from an upcoming Led Zeppelin DVD release to the campaign, and John Paul Jones has pledged proceeds from his current American tour with Mutual Admiration Society.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown decided the VAT collected on the DVD will be given back to the charity, which will raise an extra £5 for every DVD sold.

Unofficial recordings

Because the "Live Aid" broadcast was watched by billions of people, most of the footage was recorded on home consumer VCRs all around the world in various qualities. Many of these recordings were in mono, because most of the home VCRs at that time were mono recorders and also because the European BBC broadcast was in mono (as mentioned previously, the US MTV broadcast and the ABC Radio Network & BBC Radio One simulcasts were stereo). These recordings started to circulate among collectors 20 years ago and in recent years have also appeared on the internet in file sharing networks. Since the official "Live Aid" DVD release includes only partial footage of this event, unofficial distribution sources continue to stay the one and only source of the most complete recordings of this important historical music event.

In any event, the official DVD is the only authorized video release in which proceeds go directly to famine relief, the cause the concert was originally intended to help.

See also

External links


  • Live Aid: Rockin' All Over the World - BBC TV documentary recalling the build-up to the day and the day itself. Viewed 18th June 2005.
  • Live Aid: World Wide Concert Book - Peter Hillmore with Introduction by Bob Geldof -ISBN 0-88101-024-3 - Copyright 1985 The Unicorn Publishing House, New Jersey.
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