Thirty-three years ago, my first son was born just a couple of hours before the 7:00 AM (US Eastern Standard Time) start of the London portion of the two-cities-on-two-continents concert to end the famine in Africa, known as Live Aid. To this rock lover, nothing seem more appropriate at the time that my first child being born on the day of rock’s biggest event to this point in its relatively short history. Honestly, the concert had captured the imagination of the MTV generation, known as Generation X. Radio stations were hoping on the bandwagon since nothing since like this had captured the imagination of popular music lovers since Woodstock happened in 1969, and to most of us, that is more of a history lesson than something we experienced, even if we did so through a television.
And, quite honestly, Live Aid was the culmination of a six- or seven-month endeavor first dreamt by Bob Geldof, lead singer of the UK band Boomtown Rats. And, although the Rats had only tasted minor success in the States, his charity single whose proceeds were used to buy supplies for the starving individuals in Africa. The song, which he co-wrote with fellow New Wave impresario Midge Ure of Ultravox, was “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” This modern day Christmas standard got the ball rolling for several types of charity singles and events in its wake. The charity supergroup Band Aid, consisting of pop stars mainly from the UK.
Following Band Aid in the charity single by a supergroup sweepstakes was USA for Africa and “We Are the World,” which was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. This highly successful single was followed a few months later by that aforementioned concert Live Aid. But, at 7:00 AM, hardworking, blue collar boogie rockers Status Quo got the ball rolling on Live Aid by kicking the concert off with their cover of the John Fogerty song, “Rockin’ All Over the World.” And, the marathon was off on that very hot Saturday in Cincinnati, Ohio, as I visited with my newborn son and my beautiful yet exhausted wife.
Now, with thirty-three years of perspective, I have gained the following insights that have come in the wake of that very day.
1. Queen stole the day. What is now considered to be common knowledge, was totally unexpected back in 1985. You see, back in 1982, Queen released the most controversial album of their career, Hot Space. On that album, the band mostly experimented with dance rhythms in their rock songs, just as they had done on their worldwide hit “Another One Bites the Dust” just two short years earlier. Sure, the public could handle A song, but not a whole album of dance music. Sure, the band was simply trying to keep their sound youthful, like many of the new bands were doing on MTV. Unfortunately, America rejected the album, despite my protestations. So, when they took the stage at Live Aid, the band had nothing to lose. So, in typical Queen fashion, their prepared their set. And practice. And, totally made Wembley Stadium and living rooms throughout the world their own playground for the next 20 minutes. I am still blown away by that tight performance that only Queen could have done. And while a Led Zeppelin reunion went flat, and The Who reunion totally sucked, Queen saved the day for every classic rock artist performing that day and those that sat out the event.
2. U2 positioned themselves to take the mantle of the biggest band in the world. U2 was the greatest festival band of the Eighties. In 1983, the band stole the headlines from the likes of Van Halen’s million dollar payday, The Clash’s big, bad performance and the rise of heavy metal, when Bono climbed the scaffolding and sang “40” from atop the rails high above the stage. Once that move made the band a MTV name, the band then stole the hearts of a generation when, in the middle of the band’s performance of their song “Bad” had his roadies save a Middle Eastern-looking girl from being crushed along the wall in front of the stage and then slow danced with her briefly, signaling that their was going to be a new sheriff in town soon. After that day, rock slowly began to take on a browner appearance instead of the pasty white appearance of its heroes in the past. And, U2 was going to lead us into this new age of multiculturalism.
3. The charity single was here to stay. Cynics point to this phenomenon as being hollow since every one of these artists who participated in either of the first two charity single or performed at Live Aid all experienced spikes in there album sales, without really making a financial commitment to the plight of others. Oh, sure, some did make donations quietly, but many of these people got tax write-offs for their participation that outweighed their actual donations, while the fans were stuck paying the artists AND the charity. And, I am a big sucker for these charity singles, albums and concerts. I’m willing to admit it. This is evidence at how lazy I am when it comes to doing for others. But, at least I am willing to admit it. Look at all of the charity singles that followed in a short YEAR after Live Aid: Canada’s charity supergroup, Northern Lights released “Tears Are Not Enough”; Little Steven gathered punk, alternative, punk, rock, rap and jazz artists for a protest against South Africa’s apartheid policy under the guise of Artists United Against Apartheid to record “Sun City,” arguably the best protest/charity song ever (?); Hand Across Hand, the event, the song and the group, came out lame in an effort to raise awareness for the homeless; comedians banded together for the homeless as well under the Comic Relief banner for a series of annual shows; and Dionne Warwick gathered friends like Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John to record a cover version of Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager’s “That’s What Friends Are For” to raise money for AIDS research. Then, there was Farm Aid, Red Hot + Dance, and so many others that its difficult to list them all.
4. Run-D.M.C. brought rap and Black Sabbath reunited to bring metal to the mainstream. In the mid-Eighties, both rap and metal were minor players in the sales markets. But, after these two token artists of their respective genres played Live Aid, those genres saved the music industry in the Nineties.
5. Phil Collins was literally everywhere. Phil was a surprise superstar during the Eighties. His great work as the drummer and singer for Genesis had recently been eclipsed by his success as a solo artist. With that in mind, Phil decided he was needed on both continents during Live Aid. I am not sure who told him that he was needed, but, apparently he was. So, he performed in mistake-filled piano version of his solo hit song “Against All Odds”. Then, he did a lame duet with Sting while Sting played guitar (Someone told Sting that we wanted to hear him play guitar instead of bass. Who kept telling these guys these things?!?!) on “Every Breath You Take.” And, that was bad too. So, Phil hopped on a helicopter to get to Heathrow Airport, so the balding wonder could jump on the Concord for a faster-than-the-speed-of-sound flight to Philly for the USA version of Live Aid. And, he got there just in time to help Chic/Power Station drummer Tony Thompson anchor Led Zeppelin with a second drummer for a out-of-tune version of “Stairway to Heaven,” which had probably been played by Philadelphia radio stations six times while the fans waited to get into the stadium. So, these people NEEDED to hear that damn song AGAIN by a group of musicians who either hated each other, was hired to be there if Phil Collins couldn’t get there in time and a jet-lagged Phil Collins himself. And, still, Phil became even more popular in the aftermath of Live Aid. Go figure, poor geezer!
5. Other Winners and Losers After Live Aid.
a. Bob Geldof – It’s a draw for Sir Bob. Sure, he’s been knighted for this whole Live Aid-thing and he’s continued commitment to fight hunger in Africa, which got him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. But, neither he nor his Boomtown Rats ever became more than middling rock stars in the U.K. and just footnotes in the U.S.
b. Led Zeppelin – It took them 20 years to shake off the bad taste of Live Aid, when they made was may be their final appearance in 2007 that has been immortalized on the CD and DVD titled Celebration Day.
c. The Who – They have reunited and broken up so many times that you tend to forget how bad they were during Live Aid. But, unfortunately, my eidetic memory won’t let me forget.
d. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Even though they played during the daylight, they were their usual awesome selves. And, they continued to borrow themselves into our collective consciousnesses that day.
e. Daryl Hall & John Oates – They were HUGE winners that day, as the Philadelphia natives got the big time late night spotlight. And, they grabbed the moment as only this gifted veteran duo could. How could we have known that the two of them looked at Live Aid as their crowning moment and not another step toward immortality. Plus, how could they have ever topped their performance of “Out of Time”? By, hooking up with former Temptations Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffian, and slaying us all with a medley of Temptation hits, that’s how.
f. George Michael – Michael walked away from Live Aid ready to become the next big pop star on the planet after he pushed Elton John back into greatness during their rendition of Elton’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
g. Madonna – Madge walked in a fresh-faced pop star and walked out of Live Aid a bonafide star, plain and simple.
h. Nile Rodgers – Rodgers out-Phil Collins himself by adding his brilliant guitar to not only Madonna’s set, but Duran Duran’s AND the Thompson Twins’ sets. As a matter of fact, Rogers may have been the sole bright spot in the latter’s set.
i. Thompson Twins – Speaking the non-genetic relative Twins, what ever happened to them after Live Aid. Buh-Bye!
j. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Who thought it was a good idea to dust these guys off and put them on stage with all of these MTV-ready artists? Fire that guy! At least CSN had Woodstock.
Bonus Winners: Mick Jagger and Tina Turner were big winners, even though their post-concert sales continued to drop in the aftermath. After all, they put on the best show with their duet on “State of Shock,” the song Mick had recorded with the Jacksons that was a fairly big hit during the summer of 1984. At least, this performance made us forget Jagger and David Bowie’s video for their remake of “Dancing in the Streets”. Talk about a comeback!
Sure, the cynics have much to ridicule about Band Aid, USA for Africa, Live Aid and all of the other charity songs and concerts that have arisen in the aftermath. Still, at the time, we were all a little innocent, and it’s that innocence that I’d like to remember. Plus, there were so many missing artists from that time period, that it was no wonder there were so many lame performances, even those by the younger artists. I mean, where was Springsteen, Michael, Talking Heads, R.E.M., The Smiths, Bananarama, The Cure, Quiet Riot, ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, Metallica, The Jacksons, Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, John Mellencamp, Def Leppard, New Edition or Prince. Oh, wait! Prince would NOT have been there! That’s right! Okay, but what about the others? And, those artists who were M.I.A. that day could be a longer list, but those names were off the top of my head.