Throwback Thursday: The Five Things We Remember Most About Live-Aid!


If you were old enough and had a TV or radio back on July 13, 1985, then it's very likely that either, if not both, were cranking out the Live-Aid concert that was taking place in Philadelphia AND London.  I was 19 at the time so I and everyone I knew had been looking forward to the event for some time.  From the sound of it, every band on the planet was gonna be there.

Thinking about it now, the fact that we were able to watch at all is a miracle when you consider that the video and audio feeds were taking entirely separate paths, each crossing an entire ocean and being fed into the necessary format converters to make it watchable by both US and UK audiences.  For this reason, UK viewers were reportedly subjected to a three-second lag between the audio and video portion of The Who's set, rendering it virtually unwatchable.

Meanwhile, back in the good ol' USA, MTV was bringing us day-long coverage of the event, complete with annoying artist interviews and, worse yet, commercials.  Lots and lots of commercials.  As a result, we viewers didn't get to see any band's set in its entirety.  Of course, I don't recall being that bummed about it.  After all, how many chances did you get to watch transatlantic rock & roll history being made from the comfort of your couch?

Let's face it, we kids were in heaven.

The Five Things I remember most from the concert:



1. Phil Collins Plays Both Shows!
MTV's wall-to-wall hyping of the fact that Phil Collins would be going above and beyond the call of duty to bring "Against all Odds" to both the UK and US venues, bravely hopping a Concord immediately after his Wembley show, flying to Philadelphia, and playing the same darn songs for the JFK Stadium crowd.



We crazy kids worried that Phil might get stuck in a long line at the airport and miss the flight, now I can't help presume that the Live-Aid folks chartered a freakin' Concord jet for Mr. Phil Collins and how if any one of us were able to brag about such a thing being done on our behalf, we would get so much action.  Quite honestly, I'm amazed by the man's restraint.  I mean, the guy looks like a poorly-dressed accountant (redundant, I know), but can you imagine being able to turn to the lovely gal next to you in any bar on the planet and say, "You know, they chartered the Concord for me so that I could play both Live-Aid concerts."?



2. Tom Petty's Sideburns and "Planet Jacket"!

TP and the Heartbreakers, probably the one US band I'd been looking forward to the most, left me kinda cold.  But, hey, it musta been hard to follow dreamy Don Johnson's rah-rah intro. This was 1985, after all. Don Johnson was THE SHIT.  So Petty strolls out in this jacket with freakin' planets all over it, long ginger sideburns, and these Roger McGuinn glasses that made him look like this huge flaming dork.  I'm convinced the rest of the band is determined to not meet eyes with Petty for fear of cracking up.  I could be wrong. The band stuck to the hits for their set, but the performance seemed a little uninspired.  Truth be told, I don't know how any band pulls off a festival performance considering the assembly line process of getting the last band off and the next band on, staring at an endless sea of humanity in front of you as you listen to the word you just sang a second ago finally reach those in the cheap seats.



3. "Who the @$#% Are The Hooters?!"

While nobody else cared, I was enough of a music dork to know that local Philly phenoms the Hooters, whose debut Columbia album Nervous Night had only been out a few months, would be opening the Philadelphia portion of Live-Aid.  Even back then, I remember thinking "What kinda juice must their manager have to have pulled that off?"  I knew that they had sold over 100,000 copies of their first album (the indie-released Amore)but, even so, that kinda thing never happens without somebody calling in a HUGE favor.  I read later that when Geldof found out about the band being added to the Philly bill, he responded, "Who the fuck are the Hooters?!" or something like that.  Just makes me love him more, truth be told.



4. Freddie Mercury Owned Wembley!
Being that this was 1985, nobody in the U.S. was paying any attention to Queen after the dreadful Hot Space album, most notable for introducing Freddie's Village People mustache to the world.  Their most recent album, The Works, had casually grazed the Top 40, but the band's last hit had been '81's "Under Pressure".  As a result, we American kids saw their upcoming Live-Aid set as a minor nuisance.  We could not have been more wrong.

To this day, every time I re-watch the band's set (which is usually a few times each year), I am transfixed by the ease with which Freddie Mercury has every person in Wembley Stadium - and the world - in the palm of his hand.  Never mind that the band hadn't played the U.S. in years, had caught considerable flack in the UK for playing South Africa during apartheid, and, in this new MTV age, were considered a relic of the '70s.

If you ask me, Mercury's performance should be mandatory viewing before any singer or band decides they're good enough to hit a public stage.  He not only effortlessly sings the shit out of songs that you know he's sung a zillion times, but he just as effortlessly connects with every person in that stadium.  Microphone or not, do you know how hard that must be to do?  For every Kanye West and Jay-Z and Beyonce and Maroon 5 that can't hit the stage without their vocoders and video effects, there is one Freddie Mercury who just needs a microphone and a piano to be...mesmerizing.



5.  Bono And U2 Stole The Show!

As admirable as Queen's performance had been, the truth of the matter was that the day had already belonged to U2.  To anyone already familiar with U2, Bono wasn't just a singer, he was a FEARLESS singer.  I still get wobbly anytime I watch Live At Red Rocks, or the band's US Festival set, when Bono goes into "showman" mode, climbs some rickety rope ladder, and sings from the very tip top of the staging assembly, high above the gathered masses.

At Live-Aid, though, Bono just grabbed a gal from the audience and danced with her.  It was a touching moment of pre-planned spontaneity that paid off because, well, it was still real.  Bono was still just a kid and the way he did everything back then was always full-throttle.  But Live-Aid is where he first learned the art of speaking loudly with just an embrace, a stroke of a stranger's hair, a solitary moment taking place in a huge stadium and broadcast around the world.  I've never read anything about who that young woman was, but I can only imagine how surreal it must have been for her.

It wasn't that Bono was a rock God yet because he wasn't, but during that set, he became one.  The minute their set was over, I remember picking up the phone and calling my manager at the record store where I worked and telling him to ORDER MORE FUCKING U2.  He scoffed at the idea, of course, but by the end of the day, anything in that store that had had "U2" on it was gone.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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