Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Thoughts on Live Aid, 25 Years Later...

As we mentioned earlier this week, Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the Live Aid. If you are a music dork and you watched it that day, most likely you still have the grainy video tapes somewhere because you taped it, even if you no longer own a VHS player. Looking back, the event, which took place before any of the global connectivity we have today was in place, it's kind of amazing that it even happened. And somehow, organizer Bob Geldof put the thing together in just three weeks.

It's sad that the DVD that came out a few years back wasn't great quality. But I read somewhere that it was inadvertently Geldof's fault. Thank goodness the Brits ignored him!

As part of Geldof's insistence that it should be a one-off event, the TV companies responsible for the outside broadcasts in London and Philadelphia were under strict instructions to destroy all the recordings of the show. The BBC ignored this stipulation, kept its tapes and archived them but ABC dutifully destroyed its own material. This meant that when the Trust decided to release the concert on DVD, all the Wembley footage was available (including multi-tracked audio), but recordings of the Philadelphia sets had to be assembled from B-roll tapes, the BBC's own copies of the satellite-linked sections and material that had been archived by MTV. (Source)

I was 14 when it took place and discovered Geldof's band, the Boomtown Rats via early MTV previously (that video for Up All Night both freaked me out and made me kinda hot for Geldof ), so I really wanted to see them. I was also into The Jam by this point too, so I remember being pissed and unclear as to why MTV, which did the full broadcast in the States, couldn't have started things earlier so as to catch all of the UK set. As such, those of us in the States missed many of the early sets including the Status Quo, Style Council, the Boomtown Rats, Ultravox among others. Was that 988987987th showing of a Hall and Oates video from three years ago reaallly that necessary right then MTV??

(Status Quo)

(The Style Council)

(Boomtown Rats)


I was also really excited to see U2 (yes, obviously, I had (have) a thing for Irish male singers). I'd also discovered them about a year earlier and had been playing The Unforgettable Fire non-stop ever since. Theirs was one of the memorable aspects of the day, as Bono jumped down to get a girl out of the crowd whom he saw was getting crushed by the crowd, then slow-danced with her while the band played on. They were supposed to play three songs and only wound up playing two because of it, but no one really seemed to mind.

There were some other pretty amazing moments...Tina Turner's wardrobe malfunction thanks to Mick Jagger, (scandelous!); The Who reunion and that damn technical glitch during "My Generation;" Paul McCartney playing live for the first time in forever and having the sound go out on the mic..
Townshend and Bowie and Alison were all standing there waiting for the signal to go on. They didn't know Paul's power was down and couldn't understand why he kept playing verse and after and never got to the chorus. 'I didn't know it was this long,' muttered Townshend.(Source)

Two things I do distinctly recall are how much better the UK lineup seemed, and how much more the UK crowd seemed to be into it (to me anyway). Proof positive of this was when Queen did "Radio Gaga."

It's been said that many artists were a bit miffed that Queen was playing Live Aid because they'd played Sun City in South Africa, a venue many artists refused to play in the 80s because of apartheid. "It's interesting, they [Queen] were the most nervous backstage. They'd been arguing, they'd been falling out...They thought Queen didn't matter anymore," said Bernard Doherty, Press Office for Live Aid. Queen then went out and promptly stole the entire show, which given the amount of talent playing that day, was not an easy feat. Even if you don't like the band at all, it's undenyable that Queen's performance was, without question, the most amazing one of the day. I know no matter how many times I see this performance, it still makes me break out in goosebumps seeing an entire 85,000+ population all in complete synchonicity over a song...."Every single person in the place was clapping along to 'Radio Gaga' and singing along," said Tony Hadley of Spandeau Ballet, "I was thinking 'Damn, I wish we had a song like that.'"

I did tape the whole thing and, given that the formal release of the DVD a few years back left out a bunch of good stuff because of copyright issues, am I ever glad I did. In talking to a few like-minded music dorks I know about Live Aid recently, it's amazing how many of us reported the same two memories: those of us who lived with parents were repeatedly asked by them, "Are you going to sit and watch that tv all damn day??," and we all recorded it. And, not surprisingly, every one of us have kept the tapes all these years later for reasons we can't really explain. Maybe it's because we know we were witness to something really special though; sometimes that's just reason enough.

...even though I recently acquired the shows on DVD, there is still a stack of VHS tapes in my attic somewhere that contain most of the broadcast in all its grainy glory. They've been packed and unpacked, moved and temporarily heaped in the junkpile more than a dozen times as I've moved around the country. But they've never been tossed. I won't lie: I've never watched them, but for some reason I just can't let go. Maybe I thought I'd want to show them to my kids, or pop them in some day to remind myself of a time when, despite all the other turmoil around the globe, the world was made aware of injustice and rose up together to try and make a difference. (Source)

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