All we heard was Radio GaGa...

Jul 12, 2014, 07:40 IST | Lindsay Pereira

29 years ago, on July 13, the Live Aid concert shook the world. Where were you when it happened?

This may be hard to explain to a generation weaned on Facebook timelines, Tumblr posts and Twitter updates. For those who were around at the time (and, more importantly, in love with popular music), it’s hard to think of an act as massive taking place since — an event put together, publicised and enjoyed worldwide without access to social media platforms.

A file photo from July 13, 1985 in London of Wembley stadium at the beginning of the Live Aid concert. The 16-hour music marathon organised by Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof raised money to help the starving in Africa. PICS/AFP

Sing for Africa
On July 13, 29 years ago, some of the world’s most famous musicians managed to come together in the United Kingdom and United States to draw attention to famine in Ethiopia. They did it free of cost, raising awareness and money. However, unlike events before and since, Live Aid was made purely by television, and for television. The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 was massive too, but didn't generate half as much publicity.

To understand just how long ago this was, consider that the Domain Name System, an essential component of Internet functionality, was created in January that year. A blood test for AIDS was finally approved. Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, and WrestleMania made its debut in America.

Bob Geldof was the brain behind Live Aid

Live Aid didn’t just draw the world’s attention to Africa. It also brought together people from 150 nations via multiple satellite link-ups and live broadcasts. When juxtaposed against our time of shorter attention spans, it is hard to believe that these musicians managed to hold the attention of a reported 1.9 billion people for nearly 24 hours.

Those of us watching from India might remember it for another reason — a Parsi musician called Freddie Mercury who was ushered into our collective consciousness by convincing 1,00,000 people to raise their hands in time to Radio GaGa.

Music events are now streamed online, with musicians tweeting set lists and fans sharing footage on applications like Vine in real time. It's all far removed from those performances in 1985 that eventually raised 150 million pounds for famine relief.

Mick Jagger accidentally ripped off part of Tina Turner’s dress during their duet

The other tune
Not everything that came from Live Aid was good. It made some of the most awful haircuts popular for a while. Look at YouTube footage of Bono or George Michael Young for proof. There were reports of misappropriated funds and botched rehabilitation attempts. It also spawned copycat charity Rock events.

It prompted some stars to turn into quasi politicians, and encouraged others to use these events as quick tickets
to stardom.

There have been failed attempts to replicate its success. Maybe the world is too jaded. It may be impossible to get 150 countries as excited, for as long, in an age like ours. It happened once upon a time, though. And, three decades on, millions still remember.

Fun facts
>> Phil Collins flew between the US and UK on a Concorde, managing to perform at both venues.

>> A number of critics, artistes and industry professionals have listed Queen's performance at Live Aid as the greatest in the history of Rock.

>> Bob Geldof, who brought the event to life, was hoisted on to the shoulders of Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney at the end of the UK leg of the concert.

>> Bob Dylan broke a guitar string during his performance, prompting Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones to give him his own guitar. Wood then stood on stage without an instrument and played air guitar until a replacement was found.

Go to top