Queen had a pretty tough task when they took the stage at Live Aid in July of 1985. This was arguably the biggest concert in rock history, featuring reunions of Led Zeppelin, the Who, Black Sabbath and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in addition to performances from pretty much every big name in rock. How could they possibly stand out? Freddie Mercury insisted to the press that the show wasn’t any kind of competition, yet they slyly requested to go onstage at Wembley Stadium at 6:00 p.m., knowing viewership in England was likely to begin peaking around then.
They had their work cut out for them. “Money for Nothing” was the song of the summer, and Dire Straits had just played it with Sting before wrapping up with “Sultans of Swing.” Their set was preceded by U2, who absolutely destroyed the place with a two-song set that culminated with a 12-minute version of “Bad.” Queen also knew they were to be immediately followed by David Bowie, the first Who performance in three years and Elton John with special guest Wham!
Given 20 minutes, Mercury’s band did everything possible to cram a full concert into it. They opened with an abbreviated “Bohemian Rhapsody” that went right into “Radio Ga Ga.” Their newest single, “Hammer to Fall,” came next, followed by “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the finale of “We Will Rock You” into “We Are the Champions.” Many bands were swallowed up by the enormous Wembley stage (on loan from Bruce Springsteen‘s Born in the USA tour), but Mercury worked it like an absolute pro.
Their task was made easier by the simple fact that the big reunions (Zeppelin, The Who, Sabbath, CSNY) fell completely flat. Those bands were woefully under-rehearsed and, in the case of Led Zeppelin, out of tune. Queen never sounded better and many critics said they stole the show, even though U2 put up a very good fight. Buoyed by the goodwill, Queen booked a stadium tour for 1986. It was another triumph, but sadly, it was to be their final outing with Mercury.