Thanks to Chris Rooney for contributing this chronological remembrance of the new wave acts that performed at Live Aid, the supersized charity concert that took place in Philadelphia and London on July 13, 1985.
Seven months after Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure had convened Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief, the duo staged the largest globally televised charity concert of its time — a feat they managed to pull off in 10 short weeks. No sooner had Boy George proposed the idea to Geldof did he and Ure set to work planning the dueling shows at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, along with smaller related gigs in Australia, Japan, Austria, Holland, Yugoslavia, Russia, West Germany and Norway. It is estimated that over a billion viewers in 110 nations watched or listened to the concert event that day. In the end, it raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa.
Numerous new wave acts were on the bill that day, from the organizers’ own bands to Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant, and more. Equally as interesting is the list of acts that didn’t perform that day; Tears For Fears, for example, were a no-show in Philadelphia after they, Boy George and Culture Club, and other well-known acts were included in the initial promotional material for the Philadelphia concert. To make it up, Tears For Fears later did a re-recording of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” as “Everybody Wants To Run The World” for Geldof’s Sport Aid charity event in 1986. Other bands such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Talking Heads and The Smiths were among many to turn down requests to appear. Depeche Mode wasn’t even invited and band member Alan Wilder said at the time: “I doubt very much that we would have accepted the invitation, had we been asked. My personal view is that giving to ‘chariddy’ should be a totally private gesture, out of which no personal gain should be made. Inevitably, nearly all the artists who took part in Live Aid achieved a considerable rise in record sales and being the cynic I am, I wonder just how much of the profit gained from those sales actually ended up going to Ethiopia.”
With Prince Charles and Princess Diana in attendance at Wembley Stadium, the music festivities kicked off at noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Sixteen hours later in Philadelphia, Live Aid had drawn to a close. Here are just some of the highlights from new wave acts that played that day along with their set lists from the day’s fully-loaded, breakneck schedule.
Live from Wembley Stadium in London…
12:19pm – 12:35pm GMT: The Style Council performed “You’re The Best Thing”, “Big Boss Groove”, “Internationalists” and “Walls Come Tumbling Down”
Paul Weller’s Style Council lyrics were becoming more overtly political than his earlier work with The Jam namely attacking Thatcherite principles prevalent in the 1980s. About this time, he and Billy Bragg formed Red Wedge, a collective of like-minded musicians interested in engaging young people with politics in general, and the policies of the Labour Party. The Red Wedge collective would go on to do several concerts in 1986.
12:44pm – 12:59pm GMT: The Boomtown Rats performed “I Don’t Like Mondays”, “Drag Me Down”, “Rat Trap” and “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”
Co-organizer Bob Geldof and his bandmates all performed on the Band Aid charity single and here again before splitting up for good the following year.
1:01pm – 1:05pm GMT: Adam Ant performed “Vive Le Rock”
Ant was the only person that day to play new material, everyone else played their most well-known crowd pleasers. He later criticized the event and expressed regrets about playing it, saying: “Doing that show was the biggest fucking mistake in the world. Knighthoods were made, Bono got it made, and it was a waste of fucking time. It was the end of rock ‘n’ roll.”
1:17pm – 1:34pm GMT: Ultravox performed “Reap the Wild Wind,” “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” “One Small Day,” and “Vienna”
Co-organizer Midge Ure and Ultravox performed together one more time before drummer Warren Cann was sacked from the band. Ure’s good fortune continued later in the year as he scored a #1 solo hit with “If I Was.”
1:46pm – 2:03pm GMT: Spandau Ballet performed “Only When You Leave”, “Virgin”, “True” and “Gold”
Ever the style mavens, the guys from Spandau dressed to the hilt while on stage even if that meant a leather overcoat on Tony Hadley. At least they didn’t have to suffer through the summertime heat that Philadelphia experienced that day. When Madonna took to the stage at JFK Stadium, despite the 95 °F (35 °C) temperature, she proclaimed “I’m not taking shit off today!” referring to the recent release of early nude photos of her in Playboy and Penthouse magazines.
2:22pm – 2:40pm GMT: Nik Kershaw performed “Wide Boy,” “Don Quixote,” “The Riddle,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Good”
Kershaw was at the peak of his popularity while performing four of his then-recent tunes.
3:49pm – 3:54pm GMT: Howard Jones performed “Hide and Seek”
Just HoJo on a grand piano. Simple, elegant and unpretentious.
4:08pm – 4:26pm GMT: Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd on guitar performed “Sensation,” “Boys And Girls,” “Slave To Love,” and “Jealous Guy” Since Roxy Music had disbanded in 1983, Ferry took the stage as a solo artist, performing both Roxy material and new stuff like the title track of his album, Boys & Girls.
5:19pm -5:39pm GMT: U2 performed “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Bad” (with snippets of “Satellite of Love”, “Ruby Tuesday”, “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Walk on the Wild Side”)
Probably only second to Queen in terms of stealing the show that day in London, U2 finally graduated to full-fledged arena rockers. The band had to scrap playing “Pride (In the Name of Love)” due to their 14-minute rendition of “Bad” and Bono’s impulsive decision to pull a female concertgoer out of the crowd to dance with. After Live Aid, Bono would continue with his activism, organizing and playing in several benefit concerts and was named Time Person of the Year in 2005 for his humanitarian work.
<7:23pm – 7:41pm GMT: David Bowie with Thomas Dolby on keyboards performed “TVC 15,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Modern Love,” and “Heroes”
Unable to fill the spot that was reserved for him at the Band Aid recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” — Paul Young filled in for him — Bowie made up for it with a mix of older material and new.
9:57pm – 10:02pm GMT: An all-star chorus of performers sang “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the London finale
Seven months after the song was recorded and debuted, it capped the night in London with an all-star line-up on stage that included David Bowie, Bob Geldof, George Michael, Midge Ure, Bono, Freddie Mercury, Sting and Paul Weller.
Meanwhile at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia…
2:10pm – 2:21pm GMT: The Hooters performed “And We Danced” and “All You Zombies”
Bob Geldof has publicly stated that he didn’t see the little-known local band, The Hooters, as a high-profile band suitable for Live Aid, but that they were forced on him by Bill Graham, the legendary American concert promoter for the Philly venue.
7:05pm – 7:21pm GMT: Simple Minds performed “Ghost Dancing”, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “Promised You a Miracle”
Simple Minds were the first band to be approached by Bob Geldof to play the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid.
7:41pm – 7:56pm GMT: The Pretenders performed “Time The Avenger”, “Message Of Love,” “Stop Your Sobbing,” “Back On The Chain Gang” and “Middle Of The Road”
Chrissie Hynde and her band followed right after her then-husband Jim Kerr and his band, Simple Minds. They had married just the year before.
10:39pm – 10:56pm GMT: The Cars performed “You Might Think”, “Drive”, “Just What I Needed” and “Heartbeat City”
Their performance came on the heels of their most successful album, Heartbeat City, in 1984. Three of the songs they played that day were off that record.
11:42pm – 11:52pm GMT: The Power Station performed “Murderess” and “Get It On”
Working on other solo projects and not seeing the need to tour with just one album, Robert Palmer opted out of Live Aid and was replaced with Michael des Barres.
12:21am – 12:33am GMT: Thompson Twins performed “Hold Me Now” and “Revolution”
Covering The Beatles’ “Revolution,” they got a little help from their friends Madonna, Nile Rodgers and Steve Stevens.
1:46am – 2:08am GMT: Duran Duran performed “A View To A Kill”, “Union of the Snake”, “Save a Prayer” and “The Reflex”
Duran Duran held the top spot on the American charts that week with their theme to the newest James Bond film. Simon Le Bon described the bum falsetto note that he hit singing “A View to a Kill” (2:51 in the video) as the most humiliating moment of his career. Live Aid would be the original line-up’s last live performance together until 2003.