Twenty-six years ago today, on two different continents, the music world came together for a worthy cause: to raise awareness of famine in Ethiopia. Live Aid, a pair of concerts organized by Bob Geldof in London and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985 and broadcasted live on the BBC, ABC and MTV, was seen in person by some 172,000 people and on television by nearly 2 billion across the globe.
And, if you can believe it, none of it has ever been released on LP or CD.
Granted, it’s not entirely unsurprising. Geldof promised artists that the performances were very much a one-off, never to be seen past the initial broadcast. (That of course turned out to be untrue, with the release of a four-disc DVD set in 2004.) But you have to wonder, given not only the fiercely charitable nature of the organization as well as the capitalistic nature of the music industry, why a commemorative album was never put out to raise even more money for charities.
But if they did, this is how it might go down.
As simple and horribly straightforward as it is to say, by the time Live Aid was organized in the summer of 1985, using pop music for charitable causes was already in fashion. A BBC report on the ongoing Ethiopian famine affected Bob Geldof, then the leader of The Boomtown Rats, to essentially put his music career on the back burner in the name of campaigning to raise money and awareness for humanitarian causes. This of course culminated in the first Band Aid project, featuring some of the U.K.’s brightest pop stars, and the Christmas No. 1 single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. The next spring, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s “We Are the World,” as recorded by a clutch of mostly American musicians calling themselves USA for Africa, was a domestic smash.
The stage was set for a live follow-up with modest expectations; Geldof allegedly only expected to raise a million pounds for aid. The final count was 150 times that amount. And the acts were appropriately memorable, too. Queen appropriately setting the crowd ablaze. Bono jumping into the crowd to make room for a fan during U2’s set. Paul McCartney working through microphone problems to deliver a powerful rendition of “Let It Be.” Phil Collins getting on board a Concorde and playing on both stages. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner strutting across the Philly stage. Reunions of both Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne and three of the four Led Zeppelin members (and, ultimately, one unofficial breakup of the original lineup of Duran Duran).
It’s a monumental event in pop music (and pop-cultural history), and it would certainly be a heck of a thing to chronicle on any CD. (It was certainly a tall order on DVD, the performances of which were sourced from tapes in the BBC and MTV archives; ABC erased their tapes at Geldof’s request, and backup copies, allegedly in the Smithsonian, were not located.) To that end, this post attempts to make as logical an album as possible. We’ve made a disc of highlights from each show, and opted for the best performances either in terms of technical excellence or historical significance. (Led Zeppelin would likely veto their self-proclaimed “substandard” performance, as they did on the original DVD, but it’s too significant to omit from our theoretical track list.)
We also included one studio bonus track for each disc. The Philadelphia disc would naturally include “We Are the World,” but for the London disc we included one ultra-rare track: a remix of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears commissioned for Geldof’s Sport Aid event the following year.
Various Artists, Live Aid: The Album
Disc 1: Wembley Stadium, London
- Intro – Richard Skinner
- Rockin’ All Over the World – Status Quo
- I Don’t Like Mondays – Boomtown Rats
- True – Spandau Ballet
- All You Need is Love – Elvis Costello
- Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw
- Your Love is King – Sade
- Roxanne – Sting with Branford Marsalis and Phil Collins
- Bad – U2
- We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions – Queen
- Heroes – David Bowie
- Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
- Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me – Elton John and George Michael
- Let It Be – Paul McCartney
- Everybody Wants to Run the World – Tears for Fears
Disc 2: JFK Stadium, Philadelphia
- Amazing Grace – Joan Baez
- Paranoid – Black Sabbath
- King of Rock – Run-D.M.C.
- You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ – Judas Priest
- Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams
- Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
- Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley with George Thorogood and The Destroyers
- Holiday – Madonna
- American Girl – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
- Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) – Phil Collins
- Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
- Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
- State of Shock/It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It) – Mick Jagger and Tina Turner
- Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood
- We Are the World – USA for Africa
Disc 1, Track 15 released on Mercury 7″ RACE 1 (U.K.), 1986
Were you at the shows? What tracks would you include? Sound off below.