Looking back 25 years to Live Aid

One of the world's most important rock festivals all came about because a fading Irish rocker was sickened by a television report by the British Broadcasting Corp. on the drought conditions in Ethiopia. • Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, a band best known for 1979's I Don't Like Mondays, watched the BBC report delivered by reporter Michael Buerk and cameraman Mohamed Amin on Oct. 23 and 24, 1984. Punctuated by frame after frame of dying children and the wails of misery, Buerk called the situation "the biblical famine of the 20th century." • Geldof snapped into action. A month later, the charity single Do They Know It's Christmas was out. And on July 13, 1985, scores of the world's most-popular musicians gathered in London's Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium for a 16-hour fundraising concert dubbed Live Aid. • Twenty-five years later, here are some of the enduring memories and forgotten moments of that day.

An early start: The concert began at noon London time, or 7 a.m. here on the East Coast. Princess Diana and Prince Charles, accompanied by Geldof, took their seats to a horn fanfare. The first band to play: Status Quo, which started its set with Rockin' All Over the World. Other concerts were held that day around the world, including shows in Australia, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union.

Were you watching? Television coverage was a challenge, as was handling the sound mixing for the bands. Feedback was a constant problem. The BBC supplied the feed from Wembley. ABC broadcast only the final three hours of the Philadelphia concert, while MTV provided a simultaneous feed of the U.S. show. While the BBC version was commercial-free, the U.S. broadcasts included ads and interviews. As a result, several performances weren't seen on TV and aren't included on the DVD version.

The big winners: Phil Collins made headlines for playing both venues; he flew to Philly on the Concorde after his set finished in London. U2's set had only two songs — Sunday Bloody Sunday and a 14-minute long version of Bad. But fans and critics raved, establishing the band as a must-see live act. British rockers Queen, likewise, energized the Wembley crowd with a medley of hits and used the momentum of Live Aid to mount a comeback tour afterward.

The big losers: Among those who declined to participate were Michael Jackson, Prince and Bruce Springsteen, who later said he "simply did not realize how big the whole thing was going to be." Bob Dylan did himself no favors by complaining on stage in Philadelphia that some of the proceeds should go to American farmers instead. His remark inspired the creation of the annual Farm Aid concerts.

Breakups and reunions: Duran Duran broke up after Live Aid; the band's original lineup wouldn't play again until 2003. The Who returned after "officially" disbanding in 1982. And a much-rumored Beatles reunion (with Julian Lennon subbing for dad John) never took place. Instead, Paul McCartney took the stage alone to sing Let It Be.

Take a bow: Each show ended with sing-a-long versions of the charity singles: Do They Know It's Christmas in London, and We Are the World in Philadelphia. In the aftermath of the concert, Geldof has had to defend himself against allegations that much of the estimated $100 million raised was used to pay for weapons for Africa's civil wars instead of grain. "It's possible that in one of the worst, longest-running conflicts on the continent, some money was mislaid," he told a reporter this year. Still, he continues to insist, without Live Aid, "far more than a million people would have died."

This report contains material from the Associated Press, Internet Movie Database, Irish Independent News, Guardian and Times of London. Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Looking back 25 years to Live Aid 07/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:56am]

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