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Remembering Live Aid (1985)

By: Lazlo

On July 13, 1985, one of the most amazing concerts ever occurred, and became one of the defining moment of those of us who grew up in the 1980s. It was called Live Aid, and it was the culmination of an effort by the musical community in the mid '80s to bring attention to the victims of a devastating African famine. While the cause was good, it also served the purpose of bringing together an incredible collection of musicians for one incredible day of music.


On of the prime inspirations of the effort was Bob Geldof, a musician with the group the Boomtown Rats. In the winter of 1984, Geldof was moved to do something to help starving people in Africa, which was beset by a crippling famine. Geldof helped to organize a group of his fellow European musicians to come together to create a charity recording. The proceeds from that record's profits would go to buy food to feed the hungry of Ethiopia.

The group of musician who came together called themselves Band Aid, and they represented a wide variety of different styles and genres. The song they recorded together was a Christmas mixture of hope and protest named "Do They Know Its Christmas ?" The song itself was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure.

Shortly thereafter, in January 1985, a group of American musicians followed suit and produced their own charity record to benefit the starving of Africa. The group they put together was also very diverse. They called themselves USA for Africa. The song they recorded was written by two of the most popular American musicians of the 1980s: Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and was entitled "We Are The World."

More musical charity efforts followed. In February 1985, a group of diverse Canadian musicians calling themselves Northern Lights recorded and put out their single to aid African famine victims, called “Tears Are Not Enough.” Also in February of 1985, a group of reggae and ska musicians recorded a version of an old reggae song, entitled "Starvation," also to donate proceeds to aid the starving in Ethiopia. The flip side of this reggae record featured a recording by a number of Africa musicians and was called "Tam Tam Pour L'Ethiope."

These famine relief efforts culminated in the live concert extravaganza known as Live Aid. Live Aid occurred at two locations simultaneously: at JFK stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States, and in Wembley Stadium in London, in the UK. But even more impressively, it was broadcast worldwide through various media, and the era of MTV brought forth a worldwide concert that drew an enormous audience. The concert featured many remarkable performances from a great variety of musicians. 

Here's the schedule of musicians who participated in Live Aid:

In London's Wembley Stadium:

7 am: Bob Geldof opens Live Aid; Status Quo; Style Council; Boomtown Rats with Adam Ant.
8 am: Adam Ant; Ultravox; Spandau Ballet.
9 am: Elvis Costello; Nik Kershaw with Billy Conally; Sade.
10 am: Phil Collins with Julian Lennon; Sting with Howard Jones.
11 am: Bryan Ferry; Paul Young with Alison Moyet. 
12:30 pm: U2.
1 pm: Dire Straits; Queen.
2 pm: David Bowie.
3 pm: The Who; Elton John.
4 pm: Wham! ; Paul McCartney.

In Philadelphia's JFK stadium:

9 am: Joan Baez; The Hooters; The Four Tops; Billy Ocean.
10 am: Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne; Run-DMC; Rick Springfield; REO Speedwagon.
11 am: Crosby, Stills, Nash; Judas Priest.
12 pm: Bryan Adams; The Beach Boys.
1 pm: George Thorogood; Queens Performance from London.
2 pm: Music video featuring David Bowie and Mick Jagger; Simple Minds; The Pretenders.
3 pm: Santana with Pat Metheny; Ashford and Simpson with Teddy Pendergrass.
4:30 pm: Madonna; Rod Stewart. 5 pm: Tom Petty; Kenny Loggins; The Cars.
6 pm: Neil Young; Power Station. 7 pm: Thompson Twins; Eric Clapton.
8 pm: Phil Collins with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page; Duran Duran.
9 pm: Patti LaBelle; Daryll Hall and John Oats with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin.
10 pm: Mick Jagger; Jagger with Tina Turner; Bob Dylan.


The musical African famine relief efforts of 1984-85 inspired a series of other efforts to aid people in need. These included concerts such as Farm Aid to help the struggling farmers in the United States. It also included a series of other recordings aimed at a number of causes.

For example, in 1986, a group of heavy metal musicians recorded their own effort to help the starving in Africa. The group called itself Hear 'N Aid, and their song was called “Stars.” Also in 1986, artist Dionne Warwick organized a small group of artists to record a song entitled "That's What Friends Are For," whose proceeds went to the effort to fight AIDS. 

Trivia: The Live Aid Concerts were held on July 13, 1985, in London and Philadelphia. Phil Collins was able to play both. He played London in the morning, and then took the Concorde to Philadelphia to play the evening there.

Trivia: In London, a traffic light was set up just offstage to keep the performers within their allotted time. The traffic light would signal green when the performer had just just five minutes left to play, then yellow when two minutes were left, and red when it was time to leave. The performers kept to their time limits so well that the concert was often running as much as 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

This article by the writer of Retro-Awesomeness (An 80s Blog).

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jkatz Posted on Apr 26, 2017 at 06:30 AM

Huh, I always thought (assumed) that Toto's "Africa" was written specifically for this event. It'd be interesting if this sort of widespread collaboration were to happen with today's top artists

Hoju Koolander Posted on Apr 24, 2017 at 09:02 PM

While I was not quite old enough to experience these events in real time, their influence was felt in so many parodies on my favorite sitcoms like The Simpsons with "Sending Our Love Down The Well" and an episode of Married...With Children featuring "washed up" musicians singing "We Are The Old" to name a few.

Lazlo Posted on Apr 23, 2017 at 05:53 PM

Vaporman87- I remember I spent a large part of that day listening to the concert over the radio, until the television networks started coverage during the evening. To me, it was an important event for our generation. A very memorable '80s event.

Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 23, 2017 at 04:34 AM

I can think of no other musical concert that was so popular and watched by as many people. It was all anyone talked about, at least as it pertained to music or musicians.

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