The 2004 Live Aid DVD cover
|Dates||13 July 1985|
|Location(s)||Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom
John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
|Founded by||Midge Ure
|Live 8 and aid site|
Live Aid was a dual-venue concert held on 13 July 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the "global jukebox", the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people). On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as Australia and Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time: an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.
Note: the 30th Anniversary of Live Aid will be celebrated online at the Live Aid Facebook Fan Page on Monday 13 July 2015, commencing 12 noon GMT time.
- 1 Background
- 2 Organization
- 3 Collaborative effort
- 4 The broadcasts
- 5 Memorable moments at Wembley Stadium
- 6 Memorable moments at JFK Stadium
- 7 Raising money
- 8 Notable absences
- 9 Criticisms and controversies
- 10 Performers and setlists
- 11 Live Aid recordings/releases
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The 1985 Live Aid concert was conceived as a follow-on to the successful charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which was also the brainchild of Geldof and Ure. In October 1984, images of millions of people starving to death in Ethiopia were shown in the UK in Michael Buerk's BBC News reports on the 1984 famine. Bob Geldof saw the report, and called Midge Ure from Ultravox, and together they quickly co-wrote the song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in the hope of raising money for famine relief. Geldof then contacted colleagues in the music industry and persuaded them to record the single under the title 'Band Aid' for free. On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released four days later. It stayed at number-one for five weeks in the UK, was Christmas number one, and became the fastest-selling single ever in Britain and raised £8 million, rather than the £70,000 Geldof had expected. Geldof then set his sights on staging a huge concert to raise further funds.
The idea to stage a charity concert to raise more funds for Ethiopia originally came from Boy George, the lead singer of Culture Club. George and Culture Club drummer Jon Moss had taken part in the recording of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by the supergroup Band Aid, and during December 1984 while the Band Aid single was at number one in the UK Singles Chart Culture Club were undertaking a tour of the UK, which culminated in six nights at Wembley Arena. On the final night at Wembley, Saturday 22 December 1984, an impromptu gathering of various stars of the Band Aid record joined Culture Club on stage at the end of the concert for an encore of "Do They Know It's Christmas?". George was so overcome by the occasion he told Geldof that they should consider organising a concert. Speaking to the UK music magazine Melody Maker at the beginning of January 1985, Geldof revealed his enthusiasm for George's idea, saying, "If George is organising it, you can tell him he can call me at any time and I'll do it. It's a logical progression from the record, but the point is you don't just talk about it, you go ahead and do it!"
It was clear from the interview that Geldof had already had the idea to hold a dual venue concert and how the concerts should be structured:
"The show should be as big as is humanly possible. There's no point just 5,000 fans turning up at Wembley; we need to have Wembley linked with Madison Square Gardens and the whole show to be televised worldwide. It would be great for Duran to play three or four numbers at Wembley and then flick to Madison Square where Springsteen would be playing. While he's on, the Wembley stage could be made ready for the next British act like the Thompsons or whoever. In that way lots of acts could be featured and the television rights, tickets and so on could raise a phenomenal amount of money. It's not an impossible idea, and certainly one worth exploiting."
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The concert grew in scope, as more acts were added on both sides of the Atlantic. Tony Verna, famed inventor of Instant Replay, was able to secure Kennedy Stadium through his friendship with Philadelphia Mayor Goode and was able to procure, through his connections with ABC's prime time chief, John Hamlin, a three hour prime time slot on the ABC Network and, in addition, was able to supplement the lengthy program through meetings that resulted in the addition of an ad-hoc network within the USA, which covered 85 percent of TVs in the United States. Tony Verna designed the needed satellite schematic and became the Executive Director as well as the Co-Executive Producer along with Hal Uplinger. Uplinger came up with the idea to produce a four-hour video edit of Live Aid to distribute to those countries without the necessary satellite equipment to rebroadcast the live feed.
Hal Uplinger and Neil Mallard worked together to assist in the expansion of The General Association of Sports Federations (GAISF), which was seeking to bring together the common ambitions of the Sports Federations, who were members - and non members - of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Following the highly successful expansion of GAISF, Hal Uplinger made contact with the Live Aid organisers and discovered that there appeared to be no plans for any TV News projection from the event. Hal immediately contacted Neil Mallard - who had been appointed the first-ever International Television News Agency Sports Editor at Visnews/Thomson-Reuters TV Corporation, in 1974 - and who therefore understood not just world-wide TV news but also the global satellite and PTT – a pre-fibre-optic system, which combined multiple copper telephone lines together to carry a TV signal - system backwards. Together, Neil and Hal joined forces with the Live Aid organising committee - which included Harvey Goldsmith and Bob Geldof. Neil Mallard also convinced Visnews - the world's largest TV News Agency - to contribute invaluable support from their satellite guru, Simon Patch.
After numerous meetings to address and sort out a raft of different and highly challenging technical requirements, so as to achieve Geldof’s vision of a global Live Aid viewing audience, Neil and Tim Mallard took charge of global co-ordination as a part of the BBC Live Aid outside-broadcast operation, based at Wembley Stadium, and held the operation together from the start of the event, and through to its conclusion.
As a charity fundraiser, the concert far exceeded its goals: on a television programme in 2001, an organiser stated that while initially it had been hoped that Live Aid would raise £1 million with the help of Wembley tickets costing £25.00 each, the final figure was £150 million (approx. $283.6 million). Partly in recognition of the Live Aid effort, Geldof received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. Music promoter Harvey Goldsmith also helped in bringing the plans of Geldof and Ure to fruition. For his contribution to Live Aid in the US, Uplinger won a 1989 Computerworld Smithsonian Award in the Media, Arts & Entertainment Category
The concert began at 12:00 BST (7:00 EDT) at Wembley Stadium in the United Kingdom. It continued at JFK Stadium in the United States, starting at 13:51 BST (8:51 EDT). The UK's Wembley performances ended at 22:00 BST (17:00 EDT). The JFK performances and whole concert in the US ended at 04:05 BST 14 July (23:05 EDT). Thus, the concert continued for just over 16 hours, but since many artists' performances were conducted simultaneously in Wembley and JFK, the total concert's length was much longer. It was the original intention for Mick Jagger and David Bowie to perform an intercontinental duet, with Bowie in London and Jagger in Philadelphia. Problems of synchronization meant that the only remotely practical solution was to have one artist, likely Bowie at Wembley, mime along to prerecorded vocals broadcast as part of the live sound mix for Jagger's performance from Philadelphia. Veteran music engineer David Richards (Pink Floyd and Queen) was brought in to create footage and sound mixes that Jagger and Bowie could perform to in their respective venues. The BBC would then have had to ensure that those footage and sound mixes were in synch while also performing a live vision mix of the footage from both venues. The combined footage would then have had to be bounced back by satellite to the various broadcasters around the world. Due to the time lag (the signal would take several seconds to be broadcast twice across the Atlantic Ocean) Richards concluded there would be no practical way for Jagger to be able to hear or see Bowie's performance, meaning there could be no interaction between the artists, which would defeat the whole point of the exercise. On top of this both artists objected to the idea of miming at what was perceived as a historic event. Instead, Jagger and Bowie worked with Richards to create a video clip for the song they would have performed, a cover of "Dancing in the Street". The video was shown on the screens of both stadiums and also broadcast as part of many TV networks coverage.
Each of the two main parts 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 entire event itself).
Concert organizers have subsequently said that they were particularly keen to ensure that at least one surviving member of The Beatles, ideally Paul McCartney, took part in the concert as they felt that having an 'elder statesman' from British music would give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of the political leaders whose opinions the performers were trying to shape. McCartney agreed to perform and has said that it was "the management" – his children – who 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 failed 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. He later jokingly said he had thought about changing the lyrics to "There will be some feedback, let it be".
Phil Collins performed at both Wembley Stadium and JFK, utilising the Concorde to get him from London to Philadelphia. UK TV personality Noel Edmonds piloted the helicopter that took Collins to Heathrow Airport to catch his flight. Aside from his own set at both venues, he also played the drums for Eric Clapton, and played with the reuniting surviving members of Led Zeppelin at JFK. On the Concorde flight, Collins encountered actress and singer Cher, who claimed not to know anything about the Live Aid concerts. Upon reaching the US however she did attend the Philadelphia concert and can be seen performing as part of that concert's "We Are the World" finale.
An official book was produced by Bob Geldof in collaboration with photographer Denis O'Regan.
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"It's twelve noon in London, seven AM in Philadelphia, and around the world it's time for: Live Aid ...." Richard Skinner opening the show.
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, whose broadcast was opened by Richard Skinner and Tommy Vance, co-hosted by Andy Kershaw, Mark Ellen, and David Hepworth, and included numerous interviews and chats in between the various acts. The BBC's television sound feed was mono, as was all UK TV audio before NICAM was introduced, but the BBC Radio 1 feed was stereo and was simulcast in sync with the TV pictures. Unfortunately, in the rush to set up the transatlantic feeds, the sound feed from Philadelphia was sent to London via transatlantic cable, while the video feed was bounced the much longer distance via satellite, which meant a gross lack of synchronisation on British television receivers. (Though there is no actual evidence of this when watching the original broadcasts, part of The Who's performance appeared on UK screens with the sound directly from Wembley, but with the video feed taken from the American feed after the video footage had been passed via satellite, converted from PAL to NTSC and vice versa, back to the UK, leading to the video feed of this performance being delayed behind the audio feed by around 3 seconds on the UK TV feed. The UK video feed was switched to a direct video feed from Wembley after around a minute of the concert returning after another technical fault during The Who's performance). Due to the constant activities in both London and Philadelphia, the BBC producers omitted the reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from their broadcast. The BBC, however, did supply a 'clean feed' to various television channels in Europe.
ABC was largely responsible for the US broadcast (although ABC themselves only telecast 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 US feed was provided for cable viewers by MTV, whose broadcast was presented in stereo, and accessible as such for those with special receivers of the time, as there were very few stereo sets in the summer of 1985, and few television stations were able to broadcast in stereo. While the BBC telecast was run commercial-free (as it is a public broadcaster), 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 these slots.
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 22:00 (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 American domestic 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, though this can of course not be verified. In 1995, VH1 and MuchMusic aired a re-edited ten-hour re-broadcast of the concert for its 10th Anniversary.
The Live Aid concert in London was also the first time that the BBC outside broadcast sound equipment had been used for an event of such a scale. In stark contrast to the mirrored sound systems commonly used by the rock band touring engineers, with two 40–48 channel mixing consoles at the Front of house, and another pair for monitors, the BBC sound engineers had to use multiple 12 channel desks. Some credit this as the point where the mainstream entertainment industry realised that the rock concert industry had overtaken them in technical expertise.
Memorable moments at Wembley Stadium
The Coldstream Guards band opened with the "Royal Salute", "God Save the Queen". Status Quo started their set with "Rockin' All Over the World", also playing "Caroline" and fan favourite "Don't Waste My Time". This was to be the last appearance by the band to feature bassist and founder member Alan Lancaster, and drummer Pete Kircher who had joined the band three years earlier.
Queen galvanised the stadium with some of their greatest hits, in which lead-singer Freddie Mercury at times led the entire crowd of 72,000 in thundering unison refrains. In their 20-minute set the band opened with "Bohemian Rhapsody" and closed with "We Are the Champions". They extensively rehearsed their performance at London's Shaw Theatre. Prior to their taking the stage, Queen's sound engineer covertly switched out the limiters that had been installed on the venue's sound system so the performance would be louder than the others. Queen's performance on that day has since been voted by more than 60 artists, journalists and music industry executives as the greatest live performance in the history of rock music. Mercury and fellow band member Brian May later sang the first song of the three-part Wembley event finale, "Is This The World We Created...?".
Bob Geldof himself performed with the rest of the Boomtown Rats, singing "I Don't Like Mondays". He stopped just after the line: "The lesson today is how to die" to loud applause with the lyrics taking on a whole other meaning. He finished the song and left the crowd to say the final words.
Elvis Costello appeared singing a simple but touching version of The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love", which he introduced by asking the audience to "help [him] sing this old northern English folk song".
U2's performance further established them as a pre-eminent live group  – something for which they would eventually become superstars. The band played a 14-minute rendition of "Bad", during which lead vocalist Bono jumped off the stage to join the crowd and dance with a girl. The length of their performance of "Bad" limited them to playing just two songs; the third, "Pride (In the Name of Love)", had to be ditched. In July 2005, the girl with whom he danced revealed that he actually saved her life at the time. She was being crushed by the throngs of people pushing forwards; Bono saw this, and gestured frantically at the ushers to help her. They did not understand what he was saying, and so he jumped down to help her himself.
The UK reception of the US feed failed several times and was dogged throughout the US concert by an intermittent regular buzzing on the audio from the US (see the JFK Stadium section for more detail) and also failed during their relay of Japan's concert, which blacked out most of Off Course's song "Endless Nights".
In addition, 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 fade..." (the last word was cut off when a blown fuse caused the Wembley stage TV feed to temporarily fail). The Who were playing with Kenney Jones on drums, who was still an official member of The Who at this time, although this was their first performance since they'd officially disbanded after their 1982 'farewell' tour. The Who's performance included an at times chaotic but still blistering version of "Won't Get Fooled Again", which was extremely popular with the audience in Wembley Stadium. The band's performance was described as "rough but right" by Rolling Stone magazine, but they would not perform together again until the 1988 BPI Awards.
While performing "Let it Be" near the end of the show, the microphone mounted to Paul McCartney's piano failed for the first two minutes of the song, making it difficult for television viewers and the stadium audience to hear him. During this performance, the TV audience were better off, audio-wise, than the stadium audience, as the TV sound was picked up from other microphones near Paul McCartney as a disappointing, but preferable choice to no sound at all from Paul. The stadium audience, who could obviously not hear the electronic sound feed from these mikes, unless they had portable TV sets and radios, completely drowned out what little sound from Paul could be heard during this part of his performance. As a result, organiser and performer Bob Geldof, accompanied by earlier performers David Bowie, Alison Moyet, and Pete Townshend, returned to the stage to sing with him and back him up (as did the stadium audience despite not being able to hear much), by which time, Paul's microphone had been repaired.
At the conclusion of the Wembley performances, Bob Geldof was raised heroically onto the shoulders of The Who's guitarist Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney – symbolising his great achievement in unifying the world for one day, in the spirit of music and charity.
Memorable moments at JFK Stadium
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In the beginning of the televised portion of the concert in Philadelphia, the host of the event was the famous actor Jack Nicholson, the artist Joan Baez announced to the assembled crowd (and viewing audience) that "this is your Woodstock, and long wait "before taking the crowd in" Amazing Grace "(along with a couple of verses of" We Are the World "). When Madonna got on stage, despite the 95 °F (35 °C) ambient temperature, she proclaimed "I'm not taking shit off today!" referring to the recent release of early nude photos of her in Playboy and Penthouse magazines.
During his opening number, "American Girl", Tom Petty flipped the middle finger to somebody off stage about one minute into song. Petty stated the song was a last-minute addition when the band realised that they would be the first act to play the American side of the concert after the London finale and "since this is, after all, JFK Stadium".
When Bob Dylan broke a guitar string, Ronnie 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. Although this moment was left off the DVD, the performance itself was included, featuring footage focusing solely on Keith Richards.
The JFK portion included reunions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the original Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne, and surviving members of Led Zeppelin, with Phil Collins and The Power Station (and former Chic) member Tony Thompson sharing duties on drums in place of the band's late drummer John Bonham (although they were not officially announced by their group name from the stage, but were announced as Led Zeppelin on the VH1 10th Anniversary re-broadcast in 1995).
Also, Duran Duran performed a four-song set. The five original band members would not perform together publicly again until 2003. Their set is also memorable for an incredibly weak, off-key falsetto note hit by frontman Simon Le Bon during "A View to a Kill". The error was trumpeted by some media outlets as "The Bum Note Heard Round The World", in contrast to Freddie Mercury's powerful, sustained note during the a cappella section of Queen's Wembley set, which was dubbed as "The Note Heard Round The World". Simon later recalled that it was the most embarrassing moment of his career.
The UK TV feed from Philadelphia was dogged by an intermittent regular buzzing on the sound during Bryan Adams' turn on stage and continued less frequently throughout the rest of the UK reception of the American concert and both the audio and video feed failed entirely during that performance and during Simple Minds's performance.
Phil Collins, who had performed in England earlier in the day, began his set with the quip, "I was in England this afternoon. Funny old world, innit?", to cheers from the Philadelphia crowd.
Throughout the concerts, viewers were urged to donate money to the Live Aid cause. Three hundred phone lines were manned by the BBC, so that members of the public could make donations using their credit cards. 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 which he later called "absolutely amazing", Geldof gave an infamous interview in which he used the word 'fuck'. The BBC presenter David Hepworth, conducting the interview, had attempted to provide a list of addresses to which potential donations should be sent; Geldof interrupted him in mid-flow and shouted: "Fuck the address, let's get the numbers!" It has passed into folklore  that he yelled at the audience, "Give us your fucking money!" although Geldof has stated that this phrase was never uttered. Private Eye magazine made great capital out of these outbursts, emphasising Geldof's accent which meant the profanities were heard as "fock" and "focking". After the outburst, giving increased to £300 per second.
Later in the evening, following David Bowie's set, a video shot by the CBC (images by cameraman Philippe Billard and edited by Colin Dean) was shown to the audiences in London and Philadelphia, as well as on televisions around the world (though notably neither US feed, ABC or MTV chose to show the film), showing starving and diseased Ethiopian children set to the song "Drive" by The Cars. (This would also be shown at the London Live 8 concert in 2005.) The rate of giving became faster in the immediate aftermath of the moving video. Ironically, Geldof had previously refused to allow the video to be shown, due to time constraints, and had only relented when Bowie offered to drop the song "Five Years" from his set as a trade-off.
As Geldof mentioned during the concert, the Republic of Ireland gave the most donations per capita, despite being in the threat of a serious economic recession at the time. The single largest donation came from the ruling family of Dubai. They donated £1m in a phone conversation with Geldof.
The next day, news reports stated that between £40 and £50 million had been raised. It is now estimated that around £150m has been raised for famine relief as a direct result of the concerts.
Bruce Springsteen failed to appear at the Wembley Live Aid concert despite his huge popularity in 1985, later stating that he "simply did not realise how big the whole thing was going to be". He has since expressed regret at turning down Geldof's invitation stating that he could have played a couple of acoustic songs had there been no slot available for a full band performance.
Prince did not play, but did send a pre-taped video of an acoustic version of "4 the Tears in Your Eyes", which was played during the concert. The original version appears on the We Are the World album, while the video version was released in 1993 on Prince's compilation The Hits/The B-Sides. He wrote the song "Hello" about the criticism he got for turning it down.[not in citation given]
Billy Joel, Boy George, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Tears for Fears, and Huey Lewis and the News and Paul Simon, were all included in the initial promotional material for the Philadelphia concert, but failed to appear at the show itself. Paul Simon and Huey Lewis both accepted requests to play the Philadelphia concert but later issued press statements stating they had chosen not to appear after all, citing disagreements with promoter Bill Graham. The final poster for the Philadelphia show features the acts Peter, Paul and Mary and Rod Stewart (who also featured in the Philadelphia concert programme). Peter, Paul and Mary were to have joined Bob Dylan for a rendition of "Blowing In The Wind" since they had a tremendously successful version in the 1960s - but Dylan called the organizers a few days before the show saying that he would play with Ron Wood and Keith Richards instead (ironically, Bill Wyman apparently told Geldof before not to approach the Stones because ‘Keith doesn’t give a f***’). Stewart was not touring at the time and was ultimately unable to put together a band in time for the concert as was Billy Joel who actually did not like the idea of performing solo in front of such a big stadium audience. Geldof claimed Stevie Wonder eventually agreed to appear, but then he phoned me up and said, ‘‘I am not going to be the token black on the show".
Regarding Tears for Fears' absence, band member Roland Orzabal remarked that Bob Geldof "gave us so much gip for not turning up at Live Aid. All those millions of people dying, it was our fault. I felt terrible. I tell you, I know how Hitler must have felt." The group made up for their absence by donating the proceeds from several shows of their world tour that year, and also contributed a re-recording of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (entitled "Everybody Wants to Run the World") for Geldof's Sport Aid charity event in 1986. The single reached the Top 5 in the UK, even though the band's original version had been a hit only a year earlier.
Cat Stevens wrote a song for the Live Aid concert, which 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. However according to the official book that was released after the event, he arrived at Wembley Stadium on the day without prior warning, and Geldof was unable to fit him into the schedule.
A reunited Deep Purple were also due to appear from Switzerland via satellite, but pulled out after guitarist Ritchie Blackmore refused to take part in the event. Eurythmics were scheduled to play Wembley but cancelled after Annie Lennox suffered serious throat problems. Deep Purple (minus Blackmore, who left the band in 1993) appeared at Geldof's Live 8 sequel 20 years later, performing at the Toronto leg of the event while Annie Lennox appeared at the London and Edinburgh Live 8 concerts.
Frank Zappa was invited to perform, but refused because he believed that the money raised by Live Aid did not address the core problems facing the developing world and instead aided the developed world by providing ways to get drugs, calling the concert "the biggest cocaine money laundering scheme of all time." 
A sighting of George Harrison arriving Wednesday night at Heathrow Airport led to widespread speculation that a reunion of the three living Beatles was in the works. He was approached by Geldof to join Paul McCartney at "Let it Be", answering ‘Paul didn’t ask me to sing on it (Let It Be) ten years ago, why does he want me now?’ Frustrated by a bombardment of Beatles reunion questions, Geldof said: "It's just something you have to answer. I find it silly that with all these acts and the real purpose of the concert that the one thing people suddenly get caught up over is, 'Are the Beatles going to reform?' Who cares? Besides, they can't reform--or haven't people read the papers the last five years?"
Bill Graham is said to have turned down Foreigner and Yes because there was no free space on the bill for them. For the same reason Marillion didn't play at the Wembley Stadium, although their lead singer, Fish, was able to participate in the "Do They Know It's Christmas" finale as were Justin Hayward and John Lodge from The Moody Blues, Stewart Copeland from The Police and the members of Big Country. On the other hand, Lionel Richie, Harry Belafonte, Dionne Warwick, Sheena Easton and Cher all showed up at the JFK finale performing "We Are The World".
Diana Ross, Van Halen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Smiths, Talking Heads and Donna Summer also turned down requests to appear. Depeche Mode, one of the most successful English bands of the 1980s, was not invited. Alan Wilder, one of the DM members at the time said: "I doubt very much that we would have accepted the invitation, had we been asked. My personal view is that giving to 'chariddy' should be a totally private gesture, out of which no personal gain should be made. Inevitably, nearly all the artists who took part in Live Aid achieved a considerable rise in record sales and being the cynic I am, I wonder just how much of the profit gained from those sales actually ended up going to Ethiopia." 
In a recent interview, Thin Lizzy keyboard player Darren Wharton expressed his regrets about the band not being asked to perform at the event: "I think that was a tragic, tragic decision. It could've been and it should've been the turning point for Phil (Lynott). And I think that really did Phil in quite a lot, that we were never asked to play. I mean Phil, had a few problems at the time, but at the end of the day, if he would've been asked to play Live Aid, that would've been a goal for him to clean himself up to do that gig. We were all very upset of the fact that we weren't asked to do it. Because as you say, it was Geldof and Midge who Phil knew very well. I was surprised that we weren't asked to do that. That would've been the turning point, you know, definitely. I don't think Phil ever forgave Bob and Midge for that really."
Neil Peart, drummer of the Canadian rock band Rush said about the whole Live Aid idea: "Geddy (Lee) was involved with the 'Northern Lights' charity record here in Canada, although Rush weren't invited to participate in the 'Live Aid' event -- mainly because if you look at the guest list, it was very much an 'in-crowd' situation. We didn't refuse to take part because of any principles. Mind you, I wouldn't have been happy being part of this scenario. Those stars should have shut up and just given over their money if they were genuine. I recall that 'Tears For Fears', who made a musical and artistic decision to pull out of the concert, were subsequently accused of killing children in Africa – what a shockingly irresponsible and stupid attitude to take towards the band. But I have nothing bad whatsoever to say about Bob Geldof; he sacrificed his health, his career, everything for something he believed in. But others around him got involved for their own reasons. Some of those involved in 'Northern Lights' were actually quoted as saying that their managers told them to get down to the recording sessions because it would be a good career move! What a farce!"
Criticisms and controversies
"I hope that some of the money…maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe…one 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…"
"Wouldn't it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?"
In his best-selling autobiography, Is That It? (published in 1986), 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."
Geldof was apparently not happy about The Hooters being tacked onto the bill as the opening band in Philadelphia. He felt pressured into it by Graham and local promoter Larry Magid. Magid, promoting the concert through Electric Factory Concerts, argued that the band was hugely popular in Philadelphia, despite their first major label album Nervous Night being released less than three months beforehand. Geldof let his feelings be known during an interview for Rolling Stone saying: "Who the fuck are The Hooters?" The Hooters did get their revenge in December 2004, when Geldof appeared on the bill with the Hooters in Germany as their opening act.
Led Zeppelin's reunion for the first time since the death of their drummer John Bonham in 1980 was poorly received due to Robert Plant's hoarse voice, Jimmy Page's struggling with an out-of-tune guitar, lack of rehearsal with the two drummers (Phil Collins and Tony Thompson) taking Bonham's place and poorly functioning monitors. Plant described the performance as "a fucking atrocity for us... it made us look like loonies". Page later criticised Phil Collins, who had played on Plant's first two solo albums, for his performance on drums. Page said: "Robert told me Phil Collins wanted to play with us. I told him that was all right if he knows the numbers. But at the end of the day, he didn't know anything. We played "Whole Lotta Love", and he was just there bashing away cluelessly and grinning. I thought that was really a joke." However, Collins himself recalled that
"It was a disaster, really. Robert wasn’t match-fit with his voice and Jimmy was out of it, dribbling. It wasn’t my fault it was crap ... If I could have walked off, I would have. But then we’d all be talking about why Phil Collins walked off Live Aid — so I just stuck it out ... I thought it was just going to be low-key and we’d all get together and have a play ... But something happened between that conversation and the day — it became a Led Zeppelin reunion. I turned up and I was a square peg in a round hole. Robert was happy to see me, but Jimmy wasn’t."
Due to their "sub-standard" performance, the band members have blocked all possible broadcasts of it since and they withheld permission for it to be included on the official DVD release of the concerts, although footage of the band's performance does exist in its entirety on YouTube.
Adam Ant subsequently criticised the event and expressed regrets about playing it, saying, "I was asked by Sir (sic) Bob to promote this concert. They had no idea they could sell it out. Then in Bob's book he said, 'Adam was over the hill so I let him have one number.' ... Doing that show was the biggest fucking mistake in the world. Knighthoods were made, Bono got it made, and it was a waste of fucking time. It was the end of rock 'n' roll." Geldof stated in his autobiography that Miles Copeland, manager of Adam Ant and Sting, asked Geldof if he'd thought of asking Ant after Geldof contacted him to get Sting to appear: "I hadn't. I thought he was a bit passe. But then so were the Boomtown Rats, and each represented a certain piece of pop history, so I agreed. I also thought that might entice him to encourage Sting, or perhaps all three of the Police".
Andy Kershaw, one of the presenters of the BBC's coverage, criticised the event in his autobiography No Off Switch, stating, "Musically, Live Aid was to be entirely predictable and boring. As they were wheeled out – or rather bullied by Geldof into playing – it became clear that this was another parade of the same old rock aristocracy in a concert for Africa, organised by someone who, while advertising his concern for, and sympathy with, the continent didn’t see fit to celebrate or dignify the place by including on the Live Aid bill a single African performer." Kershaw also described the attitude of Geldof and his showbusiness associates as "irritating, shallow, sanctimonious and self-satisfied".
Fund use in Ethiopia
Although a professed admirer of Geldof's generosity and concern, Fox News Channel television host Bill O'Reilly has been critical of the Live Aid producer's oversight of the money raised for starving Ethiopian people, claiming (in June 2005) that much of the funds were siphoned off by Mengistu Haile Mariam and his army (which included the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front). This coalition battled, at the time against Derg. O'Reilly believes that charity organizations, operating in aid-receiving countries, should control donations, rather than possibly corrupt governments.
Arguing that Live Aid accomplished good ends while inadvertently causing harm at the same time, David Rieff gave a presentation of similar concerns in The Guardian at the time of Live 8. Tim Russert, in an interview on Meet the Press shortly after O'Reilly's comments, addressed these concerns to Bono. 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, Bono 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.
Performers and setlists
London Wembley Stadium
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 television 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 have now been presumed lost. It should be noted here that the ABC feed of the USA for Africa/"We Are The World" finale does exist in its entirety, complete with the network end credits, and can be found as a supplemental feature on the We Are The World: The Story Behind The Song DVD.
Meanwhile, MTV decided to keep recordings of its broadcast and eventually located more than 100 tapes of Live Aid in its archives, but many songs in these tapes were cut short by MTV's ad breaks and presenters (according to the BBC). The BBC also decided to erase fragments of the performance due to storage limitations, to pave the way for newer programmes. Many performances from the US were not shown on the BBC, and recordings of these performances are missing.
Official Live Aid DVD
An official four-disc DVD set of the Live Aid concerts was released on 8 November 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 Vision.
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. 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 used from the BBC source, and this was the main source of the DVD. During production on the official DVD, MTV lent Woodcharm Ltd. their B-roll and alternate camera footage where MTV provided extra footage of the Philadelphia concert (where ABC had erased the tapes from the command of Bob Geldof), and those songs that were not littered with ads were used 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. In one of those instances, Paul McCartney had re-recorded his failed vocals for "Let It Be" in a studio the day after the concert (14 July 1985) but it was never used until the release of the DVD. Also, in the US 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, The Power Station, Billy Ocean, Kool and The Gang 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 three solo songs in the concert, but only two were included on the DVD ("Love Makes the World Go Round" was omitted). Phil Collins played "Against All Odds" and "In the Air Tonight" at both Wembley and JFK, but only the London performance of the former and the Philadelphia performance of the latter were included on the DVD. The JFK performance of "Against All Odds" was later included on Phil Collins' Finally...The First Farewell Tour DVD. Tom Petty performed four songs, and only two were included on DVD.
There were also issues with the artists themselves. Two such performers were left off at their own request: Led Zeppelin and Santana. The former 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 DVD release of Led Zeppelin to the campaign, and John Paul Jones has pledged proceeds from his current American tour with Mutual Admiration Society.
In 2007, Queen released a special edition of Queen Rock Montreal on Blu-ray and DVD formats containing their 1981 concert from The Forum in Montreal, Canada, and their complete Live Aid performance, along with Freddie Mercury and Brian May performing "Is This The World We Created...?" from the UK Live Aid finale, all re-mixed in DTS 5.1 sound by Justin Shirley-Smith—this marked the first Live Aid material officially released in a high-definition/Blu-ray format. Also included is their Live Aid rehearsal, and an interview with the band, from earlier in the week.
On its release, the then British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, decided the VAT collected on sales of the Live Aid DVD would be given back to the charity, which would raise an extra £5 for every DVD sold.
Because the Live Aid broadcast was watched by 1.5 billion people, most of the footage was recorded on home consumer video recorders all around the world, in various qualities. Many of these recordings were in mono, because in the mid-1980s most home video machines could only record mono sound, and also because the European BBC TV broadcast was in mono. (As mentioned previously, the US MTV broadcast, the ABC Radio Network and BBC Radio 1 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 DVD release of Live Aid includes only partial footage of this event, unofficial distribution sources continue to be the one and only source of the most complete recordings of this important historical music event.
The official DVD is the only authorized video release in which proceeds go directly to famine relief, the cause that the concert was originally intended to help.
- 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia
- Harry Chapin
- Live 8, Geldof's 2005 series of concerts aimed at increasing poverty awareness
- Live Earth, a 2007 series of concerts aimed at increasing awareness of Global Warming.
- Farm Aid, a Live-Aid inspired relief event for American farms that was instigated by Bob Dylan at Live Aid.
- Self Aid, a 1986 Live-Aid inspired 14 hour concert highlighting severe unemployment in Ireland, promoted by Jim Aiken (concert promoter)
- Sport Aid, another famine relief event organised by Geldof
- YU Rock Misija (YU Rock Mission), Yugoslav contribution to Band Aid campaign
- The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, organised by George Harrison
- Hear 'n Aid, similar joint effort from the heavy metal scene of the 1980s
- Band Aid
- Chef Aid, a South Park parody of the benefit concert
- Wave Aid Concert held in Australia in 2005 to benefit victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami.
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