Reflections on Live Aid – 25 years later

It was one of the coolest days of my life.  It was a Saturday in the summer; no work and no school.  I knew it was going to be a big deal.  MTV had been hyping it for weeks.  But, here it was, July 13, 1985…Live Aid.  I camped out in front of the TV the entire day.  I was such a freak that I actually got up at 4am just to watch the start of things from Australia with INXS. I had my Beta machine rolling the entire day (I still have those tapes and they still look pretty good).  I pulled my speakers in from my bedroom to either side of the couch and there I sat while the greatest musicians on earth put on the greatest event in rock n’ roll history. Yeah yeah, I’ve heard lots of praise given to other events, most notably Woodstock.  But, line them up, band vs. band, and Live Aid has the much more impressive lineup.  Plus, Woodstock was a happening; it really didn’t DO anything (except maybe let people run around naked).  Live Aid actually FED PEOPLE.  And, it was broadcast on my favorite channel, MTV.  This world-changing event was being hosted by Martha Quinn and the rest of the crew.  It was also simulcast on my cool local rock station, so I had stereo sound cranking in the living room.

We were watching history, in so many ways.  Never before had this many people tuned in to an event (I believe it’s still the largest non-sporting related show in history).  Never before had so many famous musicians come together for such a worthy cause.  I also remember being awed by the technology, as MTV would switch back and forth between the concerts going on in London and Philadelphia simultaneously.  There was Phil Collins, who played with Sting at Wembley, got on a plane, and, although visibly haggard, played Philadelphia that night with Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin.

One of my first impressions was seeing Ozzy Osbourne reunited with Black Sabbath,  and thinking “geez, he’s fat.” Artist after artist rolled out.  Legendary, one of a kind performances were happening right before my eyes.  Sting performed on Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” Kiki Dee joined Elton John for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”  Led Zeppelin reunited.  So did Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the Who.

Some of my favorite bands at the time performed: the Cars, the Pretenders, and the Who, who of course, we only saw part of because a fuse blew and they lost the feed from Wembley.  I remember being blown away by how this little band from Ireland, U2, stole the show. How Bono, against security’s wishes, jumped down into the immense crowd and danced with one lucky girl.   Queen was unbelievable.  I hadn’t heard from them in years.  Yet, here they were, mesmerizing the crowd.  I still remember all those hands in the air, clapping in time to “Radio Ga Ga.”  It gave me chills.

Of course, they saved some of the best for last.  When Led Zeppelin hit the stage, I could feel the energy.   Sure, they were not very good (apparently, they didn’t think so either, and have prevented their footage from being included on the DVD).  But, at the time, it didn’t matter.  It was an emotional reunion that only happened that night.  Hall and Oates jammed with the Temptations, and Mick Jagger & Tina Turner put on a smokin,’sex-charged performance.

Sure, check your listing for Woodstock. Here’s only a partial one for Live Aid: Led Zeppelin, the Who, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Santana, Tom Petty, CSN&Y, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Hall & Oates, Madonna, Pretenders, Cars, Dire Straits, Sting, Duran Duran, U2, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Queen, Elton John, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Bryan Adams, Beach Boys, INXS, and Run DMC.

Live Aid was one of the greatest moments in music history.  Yet, here it is, 25 years later and where’s the publicity?  Where’s the specials on TV?  One of the reasons is that Live Aid was never intended to be released as a movie or soundtrack.  So, up until five years ago, no one had seen any footage of this show (unlike Woodstock, which is readily available on DVD).  Now, there is a four-disc set that covers most of (but not all of) the highlights of that remarkable day.  Do yourself a favor, and check it out.

It’s still inexcusable that at least one station doesn’t devote some of their programming to that remarkable day.  But, when’s the last time MTV actually played a video?