Live Aid

I spent last weekend watching the Live Aid DVD. I had been planning on going out and doing stuff (and indeed I did get a bit of stuff done on Sunday), but once I started watching it, I soon realised that I would have to watch all four discs. There was no other way.

I was 10 years old on 13 July, 1985 (which I suppose was 14 July here), when Live Aid happened. I remember watching it, but I don’t specifically remember much about it. The main memory I have of it is a bit from the studio stuff that linked the live performances – an American reporter talked about an Ethiopian woman who had to decide which of her twin babies would die, as there was only enough food to feed one.

Oh yeah, it was all in aid of the terrible famine that ravaged Ethiopia. The DVD has the BBC news item that showed the extent of the famine and lead to Bob Geldof organising Band Aid, and then Live Aid. Now, I don’t know too much about this, but my understanding is that three years of drought had mainly caused the famine, but the political situation in Ethiopia, and then lack of aid from other countries made the famine much worse. Over one million people died. Over US$245 million was raised through Live Aid.

But back to Live Aid. Rockin’ live via satellite around the world from Wembley Stadium in London and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, it was massive and the DVD manages to convey the massiveness of it all. Because of its massiveness, I’ve decided to just pick my favourite things from it.

Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays
Bob Geldof comes out looking all pale and skinny in tight, worn-out black jeans and a baggy chambray shirt. He sings “I don’t like Mondays” in overwrought rockstar style, but it’s ok because he organised the whole day, so he can do what he likes. After the song he says, “I’ve just realised that today is the best day of my life.” This acknowledges the massiveness of the event, but also the fact that he probably figured he’d never again get to perform in front of an audience that big. I would also like to add that this was one of my favourite songs when I was 5, except I thought it was “I don’t like money.”

Spandau Ballet – True
Like a few bands who played at Live Aid, Spandau Ballet never managed much further success, but here they were at their peak. Martin Kemp wears a long Matrix-style coat and looks much paler than his drama-thug persona on British TV today. The opening chords of “True” start and the audience cheers. Soon everyone’s singing along and has a lovely, blissed-out, summer afternoon good time.

U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
One thing I like about Live Aid is the pleasant realisation that a lot of the bands playing had not yet written their worst songs. U2’s “Rattle and Hum” era is but a distant twinkle in Bono’s then non-sunglassed eyes. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a fantastic political song that stirs my Irish blood. It’s even better when it’s done live and Bono gets the crowd chanting “No more!”

Nik Kershaw – Wouldn’t It Be Good
He’s introduce as “a young British artist who’s never had anything but hits.” I’m sure the DVD editors were having a bit of a laugh when they included this, because as we all know, he didn’t have any more hits. You don’t get pop stars like Nik Kershaw any more – he sang, wrote his own songs, played the guitar and was really cute. I imagine he was also having the best day of his life as he performed “Wouldn’t it be good.”

Madonna – Into The Groove
Introducing Madonna, Bette Midler describes her as “a woman whose name has been on everyone’s lips for the last six months.” This is the only performance that I remember from the first time around, which is probably because back in ’85 I was a huge Madonna fan. I remember being disappointed because she didn’t sound as good as the music video. And indeed, it’s a really rough performance, so raw and unslick. But even though she didn’t sound great, she had this energy and spunk that soon revealed itself to be a powerful driving force that got her en route to world domination.

The Cars – Just What I Needed
So I was sitting there on my couch and had skipped past Black Sabbath and Judas Priest performances and was almost ready to skip through the Cars when Benjamin Orr started singing the seven-year-old “Just What I Needed” and I had an eargasm. I’d only known the kind of boring chorus, but the rest of the song all fits together perfectly. The Cars are my new favourite band.

Neil Young – The Needle And The Damage Done
In a relatively quiet and sedate moment, Neil Young came out with his guitar and performed this simple yet powerful song. It’s hard to get an entire stadium rocking to a song about the ravages of heroin abuse, but on this day, Neil Young managed it.

Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight
Phil plays with Sting at Wembley, then jumps on Concorde, flies over to Philly and is the only person to perform at both Live Aid venues. Sitting at a Steinway, he plays a stripped-down version of “In the air tonight”. At the part where that big drum part would normally burst in, he turns to the audience who yell out “doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo” in its place.

A lot of the British performers have this particular hair style. It’s not a mullet – that description is too tame. It’s long at the back, shorter (but not short-short) at the sides, and long-ish on top. The hair on top is fluffed up high, the hair at the sides is feathered out, and the hair at the back either hangs down straight or a is luxuriant mane of curls. In fact, so common is this hair cut, that the only performer who stands out as not having it is the sleek-bunned Sade.

The sunglasses du jour were Rayban Wayfarers. The very hip had them with mirror lenses. Wayfarers have a certain style to them and have gone in and out of fashion over the years. It’s kind of painful thinking about them at the moment, because now is one of the out-of-fashion phases. I even had a pair of Wayfarers in 1990 I thought they were the shit, which they were five years earlier.

While the British tended to have big hair, many American performers had the big suits. The cornerstone of the big suit were the big, broad shoulders. From the shoulders flowed the suit, usually made of a light-coloured, boldly patterned fabric. Even Madonna was wearing a big suit, albeit with a cropped top under it.

Missing from the line-up were any of the sort of R&B singers that are everywhere today (yay?). There were no rappers as part of the main show, but Run DMC brilliantly performed “The King of Rock” as a warm up for the Philadelphia audience, and that’s included as a special feature on the DVD (yay!).

And yeah, it wasn’t all good music. Patti La Belle is guilty of a screechy performance the losing entrant in a drag queen talent show. But considering what it was in aid of, I’m happy for even Dire Straits to be on the bill. It was massive day for music, and, yeah, the world.

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