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10 Iconic Live Aid Performances

“It’s twelve noon in London, seven AM in Philadelphia, and around the world it’s time for: Live Aid ….”

30 years ago, those coveted words announced by famed overseas broadcaster Richard Skinner not only had the whole entire world putting on their Sony Walkman headphones as one, but they also kicked off Live Aid, a monumental global music event organized by music producers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine.

Dubbed as a “global jukebox,” the epic music spectacle was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England,  and the now defunct John F. Kennedy Stadium right here in PhiladelphiaThe concert rocked on for just over 16 hours, but since many artists’ performances were conducted simultaneously in both Wembley and JFK, the total concert’s length was much longer.

A music buffet of 70 acts in all performed during those infamous 16 hours of music, viewed by 15 billion people in 110 countries. Live Aid was also 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 legendary broadcast. 

While there’s no doubt that we could all go back in time and revel in each star-studded music moment that took place at Live Aid, it was these 10 iconic performances from both Philly and London that set the tone for what a memorable music moment time Live Aid was–and most certainly still is–even 30 years later. 

1.Usa for Africa/”We Are the World”

A rare live performance of one of the most iconic songs of all time took right place right here in Philly that really needs no explanation. A classic music moment in that not only represented what Live Aid was all about, but it also represented the whole entire world at the time. While the “We Are the World” performance served as the grand finale for the concert, this song always comes first to mind whenever we think of Live Aid. 

2.U2/London

Back in 1985, U2 were still considered an under-the-radar music group, but when they hit the Wembley stage-the whole entire whole world would know their name.

“They always had ambitions to be the biggest band in the world,” says Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis about U2’s mind-blowing Live Aid set, “and Bono, in particular, understood what a performance in front of an audience of that size could mean.”

He most certainly did.

3.Queen/London

If there was any question back then that Queen wasn’t already one of the greatest live acts of all time, their Live Aid performance certainly secured the music deal. Squeezing in six songs in a nineteen-minute set that included trademark smashes, “Radio Gaga,” “We Are The Champions,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen blew the entire music globe away with their iconic Live Aid performance.

The rousing routine would also become highly regarded for the earth-shattering a capella high-note that Queen frontman Freddie Mercury belted out that went on to become known as “The Note Heard Around the World,” further cementing his status as a true music icon. 

4.Duran Duran/Philly

Speaking of music notes heard around the world, Duran Duran front Simon Le Bon also had a memorable vocal moment during Live Aid, but for all the wrong reasons. While Mercury’s note was deemed perfection, Le Bon unfortunately hit a weak, off-key falsetto note during DD’s performance of “A View to a Kill, ” with some media outlets dubbing the sour music moment as “The Bum Note Heard Round The World.” In fact, Mr. Le Bon has gone on record to say that it was one of the worst moments of his career.

5.Madonna/Philly

While she was already dubbed the Material Girl by 1985, much of the public still wasn’t buying Madonna’s act after nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse and Playboy a few months before the concert. But, like the true diva she is, Madonna marched on stage in the 100 degree heat and exclaimed, “I’m not taking shit off today,” during a high-energy set consisting of “Holiday,” “Love Makes the World Go Round,” and a new little dance ditty she had just released to radio called, “Into the Groove.” Later on in the Philly set, she further proved her superstar status when she joined Nile Rodgers, Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens to back the Thompson Twins (!)on a cover of The Beatles‘ “Revolution.” 

“Even though she was a huge star at the time, she wasn’t taken very seriously,” says Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis, “and her performance at Live Aid proved that she should play with the big boys.”

And just wait until you see who introduced her……

6.Teddy Pendergrass/Ashford & Simpson/Philly 

Not only is Ashford and Simpson‘s performance iconic for the rousing rendition they put on of their classic soul hit, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” but it’s also memorable because the duo were joined on stage by legendary crooner Teddy Pendergrass, who made his first public outing since being paralyzed from a car accident five years prior. And like the true music soldier he was, Mr. Pendergrass certainly proved he still had it.

7.Phil Collins/London/Philly

Phil Collins was one hell of a busy guy during Live Aid. Not only did he play with Sting and deliver a set of his own hits in London, but he also hopped on a plane and somehow made it to Philly to perform:also stepping in (badly) to play drums for Led Zeppelin. If this explosive rendition of “In the Air Tonight,” is any indication, Mr. Collins’ jet lag certainly wore off by the time he got to Philly, where he stated,”I was in England this afternoon. Funny old world, innit?” 

8.Mick Jagger/David Bowie/”Dancing in the Street”/London

Mick Jagger/Tina Turner/Philly

Originally a hit for Martha & the Vandellas in 1964, Bowie and Jagger recreated the summery tune for the Live Aid charity at the insistence of Geldof. While Bowie and Jagger’s performance of “Dancing” was in pre-recorded video due to the impossibility of having both acts sing live since Jagger was to perform in Philly, “Dancing” candidly ushered in Mr. Bowie’s rousing performance, as well as going on to become a big smash for both artists. And how can we ever forget its accompnaying video? We can’t.  

Mick Jagger and Tina Turner‘s performance was absolutely flawless….until Mr. Jagger got all kinds of excited and mistakenly ripped off part Ms. Tina’s costume;leaving her to perform the rest of the set in the leotard she had on underneath. Really, there’s nothing like a pre-Janet ’80s wardrobe malfunction. But, in the end, both divas ended up handling the situation well. 

9.Led Zeppelin/Philly

The only set during Live Aid that will most be remembered for….how bad it was. A performance that was supposed to put the band back on the map after they appeared on stage together after drummer John Bonham‘s death, quickly fell apart due to Robert Plant‘s hoarse voice, Jimmy Page‘s struggle with an out-of-tune guitar, noticeable lack of rehearsal, and drummer drama as the group brought in both Phil Collins and Tony Thompson to take Bonham’s place.

Later on down the road, Plant described the performance as “a fucking atrocity for us… it made us look like loonies.”

Indeed it did, as the Live Aid set badly damaged Led Zeppelin’s reputation that wouldn’t be repaired until over a decade later. 

10.Patti Labelle/Philly

Go on, Ms. Patti…..

 

 

 

 

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