Live Aid 1985: The Day the World Rocked

Page 2 of 7

Rights fees for the broadcast ranged from a few thousand dollars to millions. U.S. networks forked over the most — the undisclosed figure is said to be well into the millions — but one official of Worldwide noted that "on a cost-per-viewer basis, countries like Australia, New Zealand and even Canada made the United States look like cheapies."

Although MTV had agreed early on to broadcast the entire show, it was not easy for Mitchell to sell the package to the major networks. According to Geldof, both CBS and NBC flatly turned it down. "So when Mike Mitchell went to ABC," Geldof said, "he had to bluff them by saying CBS and NBC were interested, in order to drive up the price."

Once involved, the corporate bigwigs at both MTV and ABC apparently got more into the spirit of the Old West than of the Global Village. According to various reports, they decided that the United States wasn't big enough for the two of them. "MTV didn't want ABC, and ABC didn't want MTV," said a disgusted Harvey Goldsmith. Added Mike Mitchell: "Our people had to say, 'Look, this show is bigger than the both of you. We've got to share and find areas of compromise.'" (An MTV spokesperson denied the charge: "We said from the very beginning, 'We are there. We want to cover the entire thing. If other people come in and want it, fine.'")

ABC did manage to extract some compromises from a third, ad hoc network of 105 television stations across the country cobbled together expressly for the Live Aid event. This domestic syndicate agreed to air only the first eleven hours of the program, until six p.m. Eastern Daylight-Saving Time. Two hours later, at eight p.m., ABC would kick in with its coverage, hosted by Dick Clark and featuring the remaining nine live acts. ABC also asked for, and got, the right to block several acts — including David Bowie, Elton John and Wembley show closer Paul McCartney — from appearing live on the domestic syndicate during the day.

Bob's Business

In the weeks before the concerts the normally manic Geldof became even more frenzied. Camped out in Phonogram's London office, he tried to keep up with the telephone calls that were pouring in endlessly from all over the world. The latest was from a West German television producer. Unfortunately, he told Geldof, his network would not be able to carry a telethon.

Geldof offered a few suggestions. Band Aid, he said calmly, would be happy to set up a separate bank account in Germany to comply with local laws and calm any fears about the distribution of Live Aid income. And, he added, he'd be glad to speak with government officials about the importance of the telethon.

The producer wasn't convinced, so Geldof tried again. "What's wrong with you guys?" he screamed. "I can't understand it. There are only two or three countries not doing telethons, like Yugoslavia and Switzerland. Even France, which is one of the cheapest countries in Europe in terms of charitable contributions, is doing one. Why not Germany?"

In fact, at that point, France had not agreed to a telethon, but Geldof wasn't about to let the facts get in his way. Earlier in the day he had pulled the same stunt on a French television producer, claiming Germany was in the bag. Still, it wasn't working.

Finally, Geldof resorted to blackmail, threatening to take the broadcast away from the Germans unless they fell in line. A roguish smile slowly began to play on Geldof's face as he listened intently. Then he signaled thumbs up. The telethon would run in Germany.

Meeting The Press

On june 10th, at press conferences in London and New York, the Live Aid concerts were officially announced. Geldof called it "a global jukebox." The most luminous rock and pop stars in the world would perform. A list of names was rattled off that sounded like the top half of the Billboard pop charts. Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, the Who, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Tears for Fears, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Huey Lewis and the News, Robert Plant, Boy George, Phil Collins, Elton John, Wham!, U2, Paul McCartney, Waylon Jennings and on and on. That wasn't all: Geldof said that Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie might participate as well.

It all sounded quite unbelievable. As it turned out, some of it was. Stevie Wonder, for instance, had not agreed to play. Others, including Waylon Jennings, Mick Jagger, Tears for Fears, Paul Simon and Huey Lewis, hadn't yet made up their minds. "Mick was a bit surprised," said Tony King, one of Jagger's business associates. "But he wasn't annoyed. He thought, 'Okay, now I've actually got to do something.'"

Stevie Wonder was annoyed. "Stevie was never committed to do that show," said Ira Tucker, Wonder's publicist. "It was declined, and nothing else was said about it until we saw it on television that he was going to be there."

Geldof seemed to be confusing desire with reality. "Bob put his soul into this thing," Graham said later. "We all sometimes want things to work out so badly that there are no nos. The worst that can be said is that honest mistakes were made."

The Black Issue

Why, reporters at that June 10th press conference wondered, were so few black acts on the bill? Of the nearly fifty acts announced at that time, only four were black — Wonder, Billy Ocean, Sade and two former members of the Temptations, who were to perform with Hall and Oates. "If they are not on the list, you can draw your own conclusion," responded Geldof.

A day later another press conference was held, this time at city hall in Philadelphia. Bill Graham, Larry Magid and Mayor W. Wilson Goode fielded questions. Georgie Woods, a WDAS-AM radio personality and concert promoter, was furious about Geldof's comment the previous day. Demanded Woods, "Are you saying black artists won't perform?"

Restraining his notoriously volatile temper, Graham explained that every major black artist who had participated in the "We Are the World" recording session, as well as "every major black artist on the Billboard Top 200 chart and R&B chart," had been approached.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Hungry Like the Wolf”

Duran Duran | 1982

This indulgent New Romantic group generated their first U.S. hit with the help of what was at the time new technology. "Simon [Le Bon] and I, I think, had been out the night before and had this terrible hangover," said keyboardist Nick Rhodes. "For some reason we were feeling guilty about it and decided to go and do some work." Rhodes started playing with his Jupiter-8 synth, and then "Simon had an idea for a lyric, and by lunchtime when everyone else turned up, we pretty much had the song." The Simmons drumbeat was equally important to the sound of "Hungry Like the Wolf," as Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor stated it "kind of defined the drum sound for the Eighties."

More Song Stories entries »