In retrospect, maybe the premise seems a little naïve. Maybe the song that started it all eight months prior (Do They Know It’s Christmas) seems a little pandering when viewed through the prism of three decades of history. But at the time, it seemed – to everyone – to be the right thing to do. And anyway, who cares about the politics of the event, let’s talk about the music.
Auto-tune was still four years away from being developed by Dr. Harold Hildebrand as a tool for seismologists to discern the difference between oil and rock (the geologist kind not the …& roll kind) – and twelve years away from forever changing what it meant to be a vocalist.
There was no Social Media or Youtube available to help the masses instantly dissect and tear apart every nuance of every performance ad naseum. In fact, depending on the artist, a raggedy performance was pretty much expected at a live show (I’m looking at you Led Zeppelin). We didn’t know any better so the rough edges were just an accepted part of life (and art). Heck, CDs hadn’t yet insinuated themselves into the market – the vinyl LP was still king of musical media.
Maybe the music was a little purer back then? Maybe it suffered from enormous suckage? Who knows? Who cares?
I had tickets to the Philly end of Live Aid but couldn’t go because of a last minute work thing. I watched as much as I could on my little (state-of-the-art) 22” CRT television I had ingeniously wired to my stereo and I reveled in the largest and most sincere musical event of my lifetime. By the way, the wiring of the TV to the stereo was a great idea until my not-quite-three-year old son turned the volume way up one night and completely fried my little JVC receiver and precious AR-18 bookshelves. Not his fault, but being a somewhat unrich young homo sapiens domesticus, it was several months before he got to listen to any music again (me too for that matter, but he eventually hipped me to Pandora and Spotify long before old people like me got on to it, so it all evened out).
Live Aid was the brain-child of mopey Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof with help from a horde of other industry insiders, but it was Geldof’s inspiration and drive that made it happen. MTV was at its absolute zenith, and with the help of the BBC in the UK and ABC in the US, Live Aid became a worldwide event airing in over sixty countries. It was estimated that 85% of all the televisions in the world were tuned in at one time or another, as well as 75% of all radios. But as a historical set piece, Live Aid is a tremendous window on the limits of the technology and the way music was presented and consumed. It’s also an interesting look at just how important – on a massive scale – popular music was in 1985. Divisions among genre, race, nationality and economic station were far more blurred than they are today – it was music first with everything else falling in line afterward. That’s not to say by any means that we should look back at the time and the event through some sort of Utopian Foster Grants – quite the contrary – but there is plenty of positive history for us to take away from the time and the event.
In retrospect, Live Aid was the last meaningful gasp of the Classic Rock Era, and we should embrace that. So, with all of that bloviating out of the way, here’s my choice for the Twenty Most Interesting Live Aid Performances.
See the full list here.