The Second Disc

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Reissue Theory: Live Aid on CD

with 14 comments

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

  1. Intro – Richard Skinner
  2. Rockin’ All Over the World – Status Quo
  3. I Don’t Like Mondays – Boomtown Rats
  4. True – Spandau Ballet
  5. All You Need is Love – Elvis Costello
  6. Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw
  7. Your Love is King – Sade
  8. Roxanne – Sting with Branford Marsalis and Phil Collins
  9. Bad – U2
  10. We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions – Queen
  11. Heroes – David Bowie
  12. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
  13. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me – Elton John and George Michael
  14. Let It Be – Paul McCartney
  15. Everybody Wants to Run the World – Tears for Fears

Disc 2: JFK Stadium, Philadelphia

  1. Amazing Grace – Joan Baez
  2. Paranoid – Black Sabbath
  3. King of Rock – Run-D.M.C.
  4. You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ – Judas Priest
  5. Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams
  6. Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
  7. Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley with George Thorogood and The Destroyers
  8. Holiday – Madonna
  9. American Girl – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
  10. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) – Phil Collins
  11. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  12. Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  13. State of Shock/It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It) – Mick Jagger and Tina Turner
  14. Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood
  15. 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.

14 Responses

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  1. I think two discs is too small. Maybe four? Then again, if this ever happens, there will probably be multiple versions. All for charity, of course.

    Jim Barg

    July 13, 2011 at 18:58

    • Right on, Jim! A two-disc and four-disc version would be perfect choices for the average fan. Seriously, how has this never happened before?

      Mike Duquette

      July 13, 2011 at 19:01

      • I seem to remember Geldof’s arm being twisted for the DVD set (my local library had a copy of it, and the liner notes gave that impression), but the legal clearances would be kind of a nightmare. Maybe for the 30th anniversary?

        Be nice if they included some A/V stuff as a separate DVD – the eight-hour 10th anniversary special that aired on VH1 and the BBC, for example. (Just pull out the interviews, for example.)

        Jim Barg

        July 13, 2011 at 19:09

  2. Isn’t it “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”?

    Eric Luecking

    July 13, 2011 at 19:04

    • Believe it or not, no. Curt Smith re-recorded one word for the single, released in support of the Sport Aid event (I think it might have been subtitled “The Race Against Time”). Contrary to most reports, it’s a remix, not a re-recording, but it is dramatically different, featuring a synth horn line and drum loop present on some 12″ mixes.

      If memory serves, TFF recorded it to appease Geldof for not appearing at Live Aid!

      Mike Duquette

      July 13, 2011 at 19:12

  3. Not to derail the topic, but it is also a mystery to me why the original 10-song “We Are The World” album, also from 1985, has been out of print for years now, especially in light of the documentary DVD that came out back in 2005. The issue may have to do with whether or not it is still possible for proceeds from the album to benefit African famine. It is my understanding that my favorite 80’s charity album, the anti-apartheid “Sun City,” is OOP for no better reason than South African apartheid came to an end in the early 1990’s, thus negating the need for anti-apartheid fundraising, but also driving the price for used copies of the CD over the $100 mark.


    July 13, 2011 at 21:17

  4. I think Jim’s right that the clearances will probably cause this to never happen…I’ve ripped audio from the DVDs to make my own little “Best of Live Aid” set. Unfortumately, it means incompete sets from a number of the artists I wanted (and, of course, no Led Zeppelin at all)… There’s also an stupid fade from U2’s set into the audio of Phil Collins’ plane (as he flew from London to Philly).

    The problem with a Reissue Theory like this is, of course, that all these acts are getting one song each and lots gets left out. I hate that. I realize there’s no way to release it all, but there’s some artists I’m not interested in (and everyone probably feels that way). Meanwhile, reducing Queen (who truly ruled that day) or U2 or The Who to just one song each seems criminal.

    Also, wishful thinking that Zeppelin will allow even song to be released.


    July 14, 2011 at 07:31

    • That’s what I get for typing so early in the morning, pre-coffee… Loads of typos. Sorry about that!


      July 15, 2011 at 00:13

  5. Actually, since this is a “what if” and the sky is the limit, this should be a massive box set with at least 4 (possibly 6) cds and 2 dvds.

    Bill B

    July 14, 2011 at 07:58

  6. ABC erased its Live Aid tapes at Bob Geldof’s request? With so much TV history already lost because of erased tapes, the proper response to Geldof’s request should have been, “Sorry, but no.” Also, the home video era was already here in 1985; what possible advantage could there be in promising artists that the performances were a one-off, never to be seen again? Just because St. Bob couldn’t stop himself from playing god doesn’t mean that ABC had to play along.

    J.A. Bartlett

    July 14, 2011 at 16:30

  7. No Powderfinger from Neil Young?

    Earl C.

    July 14, 2011 at 17:05

  8. Do the original tapes of the US Festival exist? Some of my favorite new wave bands played the US Festival, so I’d rather a dream-box of that than the Live Aid festival. But only if it was better quality than the many boots.


    July 14, 2011 at 18:21

    • An US Festival box is one of the many half-completed Reissue Theory ideas bouncing around my head. I think it’d be a capital idea!

      Mike Duquette

      July 14, 2011 at 18:31

  9. Hi
    good article. So many strange acts and strange song choices that infamous day, and the sound was appalling in places.

    Remember Bryan Ferry with 3 mikes in his hand at one stage? Adam Ant playing Vive le Rock which was an appalling choice of song given he could have had 70,000 people chanting #Prince Charming, Prince Charming, ridicule is nothing to be scared of#
    What truth the story that Sting and Adam Ant had the same management, and thats why he got a slot? Adam, not Sting.

    But why the hell haven’t you mentioned Midge Ure in all this? Didn’t he co-write and co-produce the single that started it all? Didn’t he co-organise the concerts?
    And then, as if to cap it all, you don’t even include an Ultravox song on the reissue theory hypothetical 2CD set.

    Apart from all the money raised for charity,what Live Aid managed to do was to keep dad-rock/AOR/MOR, whatever Phil Collins, Queen and Dire Straits are called, around for a few more years. Those guys made a fortune in album sales uplift

    What happened to Kershaw, Hojo,The Style Council, Spandau Ballet? They hardly had another hit between them in the UK. Im generalising a little.

    The American leg was largely unwatchable. The sound was atrocious, we didnt seem to recognise anyone who was singing, and the band we had tuned in to watch most of all, Simple Minds, decided to dress their lead singer in what can only be described as a golden sack.

    The sound on this clip has been tarted up quite a bit it seems. I cant remember anything except JK’s vocals and lots of transmission interruptions. But in retrospect, it’s the sound of a band becoming stadium fodder. Don’t watch the clips of I Travel re-write Ghostdancing or the rockification of Promised You A Miracle.



    July 17, 2011 at 12:41

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