It’s been said that the
road to hell is paved with good intentions. There is no better example of
this than the agonizingly sixteen-hour-long Live Aid broadcast on July 13,
1985 (now available on DVD).
The official excuse for the concert was to raise money to feed the starving
people of Ethiopia, but the let’s-get-real reason was to witness Western
civilization’s most celebrated rock and pop stars perform because they care.
They care deeply.
The event, held simultaneously in two stadiums on two continents, was a
strange hit parade – musical acts whose careers literally faded as the sun
set that evening.
Here’s how the magic happened: opportunist Bob Geldof (of the
begging-to-be-beloved Boomtown Rats) was emotionally moved by a BBC
documentary exposing the heart-wrenching horror and tearful tragedy of the
victims of the African famine. The sorrowful images of suffering children
and mournful, helpless pawns of a wicked political game immediately brought
to mind haircut bands.
Geldof then mobilizes the English pop stars with the highest hair to record
a novelty song called “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (in which the lyrics
“feed the world” sound like “feed the squirrels”). The British concern for
unfed squirrels rocket sales of the single into the millions, and yet
somehow the proceeds are directed not toward the furry critters but toward
funding relief efforts for the Ethiopian famine victims.
Not to be outdone, America’s oldest child, Michael Jackson, and
former-Leslie-Gore-producer Quincy Jones form a band called USA For Africa.
Together, and with the help of some show-biz friends, they churn out a
best-selling anthem called, with great arrogance and presumption, “We Are
its famous recording session, a sign is posted at the entrance to the studio
warning all contributors to “Check Your Egos At The Door” (this means YOU,
Both records, on both sides of the pond, are accompanied by music videos
depicting the planet’s most beloved singing stars (and Dan Aykroyd) getting
along in the name of charity. As well, these cats and kittens are rocking
out (in priority order) without their cumbersome egos getting in the way of
the urgent message.
You have your Bruce Springsteens dueting with your Stevie Wonders, and your
Huey Lewises patiently waiting for your Cyndi
Laupers to finish their well…well…well…wells, and your Bob Dylans awkwardly attempting to
be team players. When Lionel Richie at last gave the “thumbs up” sign, the
world knew that USA for Africa – as well as the world – was going to be all
Despite its success, USA For Africa broke up almost immediately after the
release of their first single, never to be heard from again.
However, to make sure that the check for the meal was covered (including
tip), Geldof organized the Live Aid concert, to be held at both Wembley
Stadium in London (highbrow) and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia (lowbrow).
The extravaganza, beamed by satellite and recorded with clunky, land-lubbin’
twentieth-century cameras, was most likely the tenth-best day of Bob
Geldof’s life, and the most exposure The Boomtown Rats would ever hope to
receive before or since.
this date, unofficially entitled “The Day the Music Changed
the World,” each
stadium is filled to capacity with the kids, tattoo-less and grunge-free and
well scrubbed. Girls, desperately trying to be adorable, sit on their
boyfriends’ shoulders and wave their arms. To fend off the July sun and
discourage horniness, the crowds are hydrated with giant fire hoses (even
though the British don’t sweat). The appearance by the Prince and Princess
of Wales (Chuck and Di to you, thank you very much) officially signal to the
world that the Africans really must be starving – this isn’t just
The festivities are initiated by Style Council and Status Quo (that’s right:
“who?”), and then Adam Ant, doing his trademarked high kicks in tight
leather as if he made a wrong turn off Christopher Street. Spandau Ballet
sings “True” while their moussed hair bakes in the sun, and Sting sings a
duet, first with his ego and then with Phil Collins.
Collins makes musical and jet-flight record books by being the only
performer in history to play London and then Philadelphia within four hours,
and to be the only performer in history to even think of heading to Philly
after London. If this isn’t proof enough that the 80s were an age of wonder,
witness the Band Aid finale, in which Adam Ant gets more microphone time
than Elton John.
Paul Young is inexplicably given the green light to sing three songs,
complete with black back-up singers (usually an indication that either the
white lead singer has soul or that the white lead singer has no soul). In
addition, Alison Moyet blows Young away in a duet while doing the Belinda
Carlisle Go-Go’s dance.
Meanwhile, the American crowds are delighted by semi-host Jack Nicholson,
who shows his cool detachment by chewing gum and wearing sunglasses. There’s
a jeff cap for the Beach Boys' Al Jardine and a headband for Mark Knopfler. The entire
stadium heads to the restroom during REO Speedwagon’s set. And who invited
There are cringe-inducing moments aplenty. Most
unbearable of these is when Joan Baez announces “THIS IS YOUR
WOODSTOCK.” Madonna sings history’s Top Two All-Time
Worst songs (“Holiday”
and “Into the Groove”). And what cringe-inducing moment
would be complete without yet another tiresome rendition of John Lennon’s
unhackable “Imagine,” this time oversung by Patti Labelle. To take cringe
inducement into the homestretch, feel your toes curl when you witness the
entire crowd sing along with every word to Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” complete
with the 80s Arm Wave.
The concert’s high points are arguable. Some say the highlight is that Huey
Lewis and the News were not invited. Others insist that it’s the appearance
of U2, in the intense mullet phase of their fledgling career. Bono wears
boots that are made for walkin’, and he symbolically brings his own Courtney
Cox out of the crowd and dances with her (where is that girl today, besides
seventy pounds heavier?). He also sings “Ruby Tuesday,” most likely in honor
of the restaurant chain (food, get it?).
course, the most memorable moment of Live Aid is when Mick Jagger asks,
“Where’s Tina?” and he ain’t talking about Tina Louise. He and Tina Turner
do a proto-type wardrobe-malfunction jig as Jagger not only rips off black
culture in general but rips off Tina’s leather
Nicholson introduces “the transcendent Bob Dylan,” and the inevitable finale
involves a mega-version of “We Are The World,” which includes a formerly
It’s fifteen minutes of fame stretched over four disks and ten hours. A lot
is missing, due to legal hassles and destroyed tapes (this explains Rick
Springfield’s absent performance - or does it ?).
Warning: 80s Overload can kill. Small doses are prescribed. However, sales
of this DVD continue to fund the fight against world hunger, so:
FRANKIE SAY: FEED THE WORLD!
All rights reserved.
June 1, 2005.