It has been called a "concert of the century", but also megalomaniac delirium: thirty years later, the Live Aid of 1985 remains unquestionably one of the most significant events in the history of music. More than 70 artists scattered between two gigantic stadiums, one in London, the other in Philadelphia, a marathon show of 16 hours, magical moments and monstrous flops, it summarizes alone the eccentricity and decadence of years 80, obscuring a little in spite of himself the good cause he wanted to serve.
It was a Saturday, July 13, 1985. That day, the Vice President of the United States, a certain George H.W. Bush, grabbed the keys of the White House while the venerable Ronald Reagan passed on billiards. But that's not what the world will remember from this particular date.
I was 13 years old at the time, and I remember having waited for this Saturday blessed of firm foot, during several weeks. It must be said that then, it was almost all about this on all radio and TV. The concert of the century! Dozens of artists! Live duplex between London and Philadelphia! Caviar for the music-loving teen I was … And the culmination of several months of hard work for Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the instigators of this crazy project.
Everything starts at the end of December 1984. Ethiopia has been plagued for several months by a terrible famine, a disaster that is shaking public opinion around the world. In front of his TV, Bob Geldof, the leader of the new wave band The Boomtown Rats thought he would do something concrete to help those people in distress.
After a quick phone call with Midge Ure, frontman ofUltravox (another popular new wave band of the time), the two men conclude that it is time to take action and decide to see each other over a café to discuss together a plan of action. Soon, they agree on the most effective solution to easily raise funds: release a charity record.
A few phone calls later, Geldof and Ure gather a nice skewer of stars around the microphone, call the Band Aid combo and record Do They Know It's Christmas. The next day, friend Bob is on the BBC to introduce his baby, and ensure that every penny collected will be used to feed the hungry people. The title quickly becomes a tube (certified platinum in the UK, gold in the US), not without some aura of controversy…
We are the world
Already at the time of this "single for the good cause", well before the madness of the grandeurs of Live Aid, the ambitions of Bob Geldof and the artists who accompany him are unreliable. We mainly tax them to have a very western vision of the African problem, to be naïve and condescending, basically to do in the big stereotype that stains to satisfy above all their egos.
That does not prevent the title from climbing the ladder of the charts, and to provoke vocations. In the USA, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie successfully transpose the British experience, composing We Are The World and inviting all their friends to sing on it. Here too, the tube is instantaneous. And everyone wins: on the one hand, we help a good cause; on the other hand, one shines its crest of engaged artist and sells more records. Win-win.
So, Geldof and Ure say they probably should not not stop in such a good way, and under the impulse of Boy George who blows them the idea, decide to move up a gear: " if you have managed to get all the gratin of musical showbiz on one disc, explains the singer of Culture Club, you can probably do the same in a stadium. "Not to shoot them down, huh, but to sing all together hand in hand to save hungry little Africans.
The gods of the stadium
The project, called Live Aid (as a reminder in the name of the group), is ambitious, even completely disproportionate: to gather on two distant scenes of nearly 6000 terminals the greatest artists of the moment, for a gigantic 16-hour show, split between Wembley Stadium in London, England, and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, United States.
"The show will have to be as big as humanly possible. It does not make sense to have 5,000 fans coming to Wembley; We must connect Wembley to Madison Square Garden, and broadcast the entire show on all the TVs in the world. (…) In this way, we could put on stage many groups, and sales of TV rights, tickets and the rest could raise a large sum of money. This is not an impossible idea, and certainly an idea that deserves to be explored. (Bob Geldof, speaking in Melody Maker in January 1985)
A completely crazy organizational and logistic puzzle, always against the backdrop of harsh criticism from the opponents of this great debauchery of generosity that they consider hypocritical and misplaced.
Among these, two rather important names: Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, who not only formally refuse to participate in the event, but threaten in the wake to call for his boycott. Their grievance: the meager proportion of black artists in the ranks of the elected. And they are not really wrong. Going further, it is even surprising to note that for a concert that claims to put a spotlight on the unfortunate Africa, it is at least curious not to see any name of local artists in the poster.
But as for the single of December 84, despite the voices that rise to criticize the company, the Live Aid locomotive is runningand nothing else seems to stop it. The project packs, and before the big evening, the craziest ideas are launched : we are considering a moment to sing David Bowie and Mick Jagger duo, one to Wembley, the other to the US, before finally giving up before the technical impossibility of synchronizing their performance (let's not forget we are in 1985 and that Skype or broadband are still distant omens).
Despite everything, and even with the abandonment of this potential coup de brilliance technique, Live Aid remains an unprecedented logistics project. Not only upstream, to successfully book the desired artists (see in this regard the excellent list of "absentees"), but also during the concert, where you have to string together the mini-performances of 20 minutes each, without crashing.
The festivities begin at noon hour, Wembley time, and will last in all for 16 hours. A long day during which the organizers will alternate between the two distant scenes to ensure a continuous show. Not without some clashes, necessarily.
The most famous (except the performance of Led Zeppelin which we will speak in a few paragraphs) being undoubtedly the mic failure of the unfortunate Paul McCartneyduring the first two minutes of his piano rehearsal Let it be. A "quack" that will force Geldof, David Bowie, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend to drop their beers and go out behind the scenes to come and lend a hand, transforming a chaotic solitary performance into a nice moment of communion. In the end, a rather happy accident …
While Bob Dylan will grumble on the fact that we should perhaps take care of the US farmers first, which will have the gift of annoying Geldof, but overall everyone will play the game. Phil Collins, faithful to his reputation of egomaniac, chooses to participate in both concerts. And to get there, he will leave Wembley en Concorde, to join his friends in Philadelphia a few hours and a few tons of kerosene later. Yes, you read that right : in the midst of a charitable event, the singer of Genesis is paying a supersonic flight to grant himself the ubiquity. Take that in your teeth, the little Africans with your basic third world considerations.
Admit that today, with the ecological awareness acquired in recent decades (or even common sense, quite simply), something like that would not happen at all. Such a riot of money while we are in full collection for the poorestwe are beyond the blunder. Curiously, the karma will catch Phil a few minutes later, when he will participate in one of the most catastrophic performances of this great show: the eagerly awaited reformation of Led Zeppelin…
To say that we were waiting impatiently for this first return of the British band since the death of their drummer in 1980 would be far from the truth. It was a bit of Geldof's big move for this Live Aid, and all the promo gear upstream of the event had also largely insisted on it. Unfortunately for everyone, artists and public included, the long-awaited meeting quickly turned to the ordeal.
All from a big misunderstanding between Robert Plant, singer Led Zeppelin, and Phil Collins, when they meet a few months before Live Aid. The two men know each other well, Collins played drums on Led Zep's first two solo albums, and when Plant learns that his drummer is invited to Geldof's Mass, he asks him if he wants to use it to remake a little thing together. Collins agrees, without knowing that this "little trick" will turn into his back in big reunion of the mythical rock formation.
Barely arrived from his Concorde, Collins comes to the stage of JFK Stadium and understands quickly what is happening. Too late to back down! The sequel, we know it: between a Robert Plant with the exhausted voice, the detuned guitar of Jimmy Page, and a Phil Collins who struggles to avoid blemish (without success), the show is calamiteux, so much so that the group will ask that it never appear on any compilation of the event.
"Robert told me that Phil Collins wanted to play with us. I told him OK if he knows the songs. But in the end, he knew nothing. We played 'Whole Lotta Love', and he was just there pounding without really knowing what he was doing, grimacing. I thought it was a joke. (Jimmy Page in an interview with The Scotsman in July 2007).
"It's the best day of my life! "
Fortunately, Live Aid is not just incidents and bad memories. On the contrary. If one is only interested in the artistic aspect of the show, the rich moments were legion. Come on, even if I'm not a fan of exercise, I think a little "top" will probably be the best way to introduce yourself my personal selection of essential of these 16 hours of live.
It's not so much the performance of the Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof's group, that we will remember, but especially the end of this I do not like Mondays where "Mister Live Aid" gives up a very honest " I just realized today's the best day of my life ("I just realized today was the best day of my life"). And we understand it! Seeing such a crazy project, against all odds (including the many critics) must have something highly enjoyable. An achievement unlocked moment, no doubt. And just that, he deserved to be in my rankings.
Bryan Ferry taking over Jealous Guy from Roxy Music, accompanied by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd on guitar, it's a moment we do not forget. Sober, posed, this impromptu duet was one of the many artistic encounters of Live Aid borrowed magic.
The performance of U2 at this Live Aid of 1985 is without a doubt the moment that has definitely propelled the group to the forefront of the international scene. It must be said that this 12-minute version of Bad to all the pageantry of a cult moment: a hypnotic and infernal bass riff of Adam Clayton, a descent into the audience of Bono, a huge egotrip where he saves a fan of asphyxiation to finish by dancing a slow with her , all elements are gathered to make this moment a turning point in the career of the group. And that will not miss! Even today, I have the goosebumps in seeing him again …
The swing sultans
Yes, I know, it's the same version of more than 10 minutes they play in ALL their lives, with this long crazy break in the middle. But this Live Aid edition has something more than the others do not have: the special aura of the event. Bonus Gift: Knopffler smiles (if so) and even lets himself go to a few small dance steps, which is rather of a rare occurrence. He can play the honky tonk like anything …
If there is one point that all the columnists of the event, yesterday and today, agree is that Queen has without a doubt stole the show at all his little comrades. A perfect show, a Freddie Mercury at the top of his art, all in an electric atmosphere amplified by the scope of this extraordinary concert. Personally, even being no fan finished the group, I would iron endlessly. We miss you, Freddie.
2016 has taken it away forever, but happily we will have this wonderful appearance of the wonderful David Bowie on the stage of Live Aid in 1985. A clean but effective performance of the late singer, ending on a Heroes big bill. He too will be missed.
Like a virgin
I'm no longer a big fan of the productions of mother Ciccone for a long time, I remember having pretty much stirred the popotin on his hits of the 80s. In 1985, at the time of Live Aid, Madonna was still as a young rising star, just haloed by two first successful albums. But she is already flooding the scene with her talent. And then, this absurd introduction of Bette Middler is worth its weight in peanuts too!
Eighties and decadence
Two continents, two stadiums, 16 hours of concert, more than 70 artists, 172,000 people on the spot, a broadcast in 150 countries, nearly two billion viewers, the event we call the "Global Jukebox" remains a key moment in the history of show business. For good and bad reasons, by the way.
The main controversy, initiated by Spin magazine in 1986, revolves around the management of funds raised. According to a BBC survey, some of the amounts raised by Live Aid would have been diverted by the Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam to finance his army. Not exactly what Geldof and his band had in mind. And even though the latter has strongly disputed the facts, the doubt still hangs today on the concrete results of this beautiful charitable flight which will still have raised a whopping 150 million pounds (about 175 million euros).
Any policy aside, the event remains unquestionably a relevant testimony of the bidding peculiar to the 80s. This decadent "uber concert" continues to excite, more than thirty years after the fact. I want as proof the ersatz who have tried to reproduce the experience since (like Live 8 or The Enfoirés chez nous), or the thousands of music lovers who still track the full recordings of the show today. The latest news would still be around 5%, and the task is arduous as Geldof ordered ABC, the US broadcast channel, to destroy his copies.
Fortunately, there is a big summary of 10 hours DVD, available at Amazon in zone 1, for those who would like to discover (or relive) this moment "over the top" of the history of music.
Trust me: you will not find a better trip in the heart of the eighties.
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