Live Aid 1985: The Day the World Rocked

An expression of rock's concern for the starving of Ethiopia, Live Aid was the biggest rock concert ever

August 15, 1985
Sting John Taylor Ric Rcasek Pete Townshend Bryan Adams Mark Knopfler Tina Turner Bob Geldof David Bowie Paul McCartney Eric Clapton Robert Plant Phil COllins Chrissie Hynde Bob Dylan Madonna Bryan Ferry Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger and various musicians on the cover of Rolling Stone
Brian Aris/Outline; Eric Noman; William Coupon; Davies and Starr; Deborah Feingold/Outline; Simon Fowler; Greg Gorman; Linda McCartney; David Montgomery; Ilpo Musto; Aaron Rapoport; Ken Regan/Camera 5; Lothar Schmid; Albert Watson.

It was superstar heaven. Keith Richards was laughing and talking with Jimmy Page. A bodyguard handed Bob Dylan a beer. Across the room Jack Nicholson and Neil Young chatted. Andy Taylor, guitarist for Duran Duran and the Power Station, took a hit off a joint and screamed out, "Don," then gave 'Miami Vice' star Don Johnson a hug. "We gonna get high!"

At one a.m. the party inside the second-floor suite of the the Palace Hotel in Philadelphia was still going strong. Live Aid — the concert that was being called the Eighties Woodstock — was now history. More than 1.5 billion people from all around the world had watched on television as over sixty pop stars performed on stages in London and Philadelphia. As much as $40 million had been raised for the starving people in drought-stricken Africa. Now it was time to cool out.

Yet the communal spirit that had been in evidence at Wembley Stadium, in London, and John F. Kennedy Stadium, in Philadelphia, was alive at this low-key party for the stars. There was a warm feeling of camaraderie as celebrities sat next to each other on a sofa, shared a chair, enjoyed a good laugh. The biggest names in rock — some known for their arrogance, others for their egotism — had at least for this day (and the following night and morning) cut the pretentiousness and one-upmanship.

Gathered together at one end of the room - drinking, chatting, carrying on - were Dylan, Richards, Page, Ron Wood, Stephen Stills and former Temptations Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. Dylan wore black leather pants and, over his bare chest, a black leather vest; an earring hung from his left ear, and a woman wearing a blond wig hung on to his right arm. "Fun? No, we couldn't hear anything," Dylan said of his performance with Wood and Richards. Still, it was easy to see that he was enjoying himself. "We had fun rehearsing."

Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes and his wife, sheathed in black leather, surveyed the scene. Over by the bar someone said to Andy Taylor, "Andy, having a good time?"

"He's drunk," said Taylor's wife.

Keith Richards stepped out onto the patio, where he was asked what it was like playing with Dylan. "Well, it's not the first time," he said.

"It is the first time you've played together in public, though."

"Yeah, first time before a paying audience. Course we didn't get paid." He laughed, then added, obviously joking, "Would have been better if we'd gotten paid."

At 3:44 a.m., following dinner with Tina Turner and Chevy Chase in Tina's suite, Mick Jagger came downstairs and made his entrance. Why did he choose to perform? "To raise a lot of money," said Jagger. "That was the main thing — draw attention to the hunger in the world. Down the line, people can appreciate what can be done by an event of this magnitude. It was really a relatively nice, well-meaning event." Then he walked, with jerky steps, across the patio, taking a seat next to Nick Rhodes. The old guard and the new, having some fun together.

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Mick Jagger

Geldof's Dream

Nothing's impossible."

Those two words were all Bob Geldof — the leader of the Boomtown Rats and the man responsible for the all-star British benefit single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" — needed to hear. Harvey Goldsmith, the top promoter in England, was willing to help make his dream come true.

"Bob said this should be the definitive statement for the music business," said the thirty-nine-year-old Goldsmith, recalling his March meeting with Geldof. "He said we ought to do a show in England and one in America as well. The idea was to do a worldwide television hookup and raise money with a telethon. We just talked about it, and he asked, 'Is it possible?'" Goldsmith paused a moment, then added with British understatement, "And that's when the nightmare started."

Goldsmith quickly secured Wembley Stadium — a 72,000-capacity outdoor sports arena seven miles from the center of London — for July 13th, 1985. Meanwhile, Bill Graham, whom Geldof had enlisted as the American promoter, landed JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

As it happened, the City of Brotherly Love was in need of a better image, after the bombing of the MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia had left 11 people dead and 250 homeless. "We did have that unfortunate incident," said Larry Magid, a Philadelphia-based promoter who, along with partner Allen Spivak, helped Graham over the next few weeks. "And if this can help ease things up, great."

The Global Jukebox

Michael C. Mitchell had a goal without precedent: a televised, intercontinental extravaganza, with a worldwide viewership of over 1.5 billion people — almost twice the audience of the 1984 Summer Olympics. And he had a deadline without precedent: in ten weeks he had to produce a broadcast that would normally take two years to organize.

Mitchell, the head of Worldwide Sports and Entertainment, not only produced the U.S. Live Aid concert but also set up the international telethon, sold broadcast rights around the world and oversaw all finances. Like Goldsmith and Graham and most of the other top Live Aid personnel, Mitchell, 39, donated his services.

Geldof and Mitchell got together in New York in early May and "talked concept" for about an hour and a half. Without waiting a day, Mitchell began knocking on doors. "I kept thinking of the old phrase 'It's not television that we're producing but vision,'" said Mitchell, who was in charge of planning and finance for the 1984 Olympics. "This is a show to try to provide vision, but you couldn't have made it any more complex, involved any more of the world or gotten it any bigger."

His first chore was to line up countries to broadcast Live Aid. He figured that only about ninety nations — representing about 500 million of the world's 600 million television sets — were capable of broadcasting the show live, so he tackled those countries first. They included most of the biggies: the United States, the United Kingdom, West Germany, France, Australia, Japan and the Eastern Bloc nations.

Essentially, Mitchell went after money — getting these countries to pay for the right to broadcast Live Aid, or to agree to carry a telethon in which viewers would be encouraged to pledge money during breaks in the show, or to do both. Britain and Japan joined the cause within a few days; other countries were slower to commit. Still, by the day of the show, over 100 countries had agreed to carry the broadcast; at least 22 of those also agreed to broadcast telethons.

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