"It's twelve noon in London, seven a.m. in Philadelphia, and around the world it's time for: Live Aid." With this sentence, BBC presenter Richard Skinner opened the biggest, most ambitious, but - and more about that - unfortunately also the most ineffective charity event in the history of rock and pop music on July 13, 1985. Triggered by the famine in East African Ethiopia and inspired by the success of the charity single "Do They Know It's Chistmas?", Bob Geldof has launched a festival to shake the world up and generate as much money as possible. So the singer of the Boomtown Rats uses his contacts within the music world and has the rock promoters Harvey Goldsmith and Bill Graham organize two simultaneous concerts in London (Wembley Stadium) and Philadelphia (JFK Stadium), which - a real novelty - are broadcast worldwide on radio and television and flanked by events in South Africa, Germany, Japan and Australia. A global effort financed by multinational media conglomerates.
To occupy both festivals is not so easy, but a balancing act between the interests of record companies, managers and artists, who sometimes show Geldof the cold shoulder. So Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Tears For Fears, Deep Purple and Frank Zappa cancel because they doubt the relevance of the whole thing. "I didn't realize it was gonna be such a big deal," says the boss today. "In retrospect, I would have liked to have been there." In contrast, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder boycott Live Aid because not enough Afro-American artists are planned; Paul Simon and Huey Lewis don't want anything to do with Graham; Rod Stewart and Billy Joel find themselves unable to put together a band in view of the short lead time; requests from Marillion, Yes and Foreigner reject Geldof because he already has to "pull off acts like the Hooters and Adam Ant out of courtesy". "Who the fuck are the Hooters?" he says to the American Rolling Stone. He gets the answer in 2004 - when he is her tour support.
But apart from the scramble for the slots, the fact that a Cat Stevens is not taken into account, and the double appearance of Phil Collins, who was playing Concorde (estimated cost: 30.000 Euro) bridges the transatlantic distance to sing "In The Air Tonight" and "Against All Odds" in London and Philly, respectively, Live Aid is a musical success: Both shows reflect the multi-faceted music scene of the early eighties, cover a successful arc from pop to rock, soul to rap and shine through the right mix of young and old, aspiring and established. With a few highlights that go down in music history just as much as the event itself.