The pictures on the television were painful--children and families with no food, little water, and hollow and too often hopeless eyes. Many people and celebrities took up the cause of feeding the needy populations of Africa in the mid-1980's. This charity came to a head with the momentous 1985 concert event Live Aid.
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Live Aid was envisioned by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof. The two-day internationally broadcast event featured dozens of acts on stage in Philadelphia and London. I don't recall watching the concert (I was only eight years old) but I do vividly remember those television broadcasts of the children in Africa and the singles that came before and as a result of Geldof's project. In fact, when I was in second grade I recall learning the hit single We are the World as a class project. There is no doubt that Live Aid was much more than a mere pop concert--it was a massive and wonderful moment in human history.
It was Geldof himself who described the impact of Live Aid best:
Please remember this day all of your lives. It's important.
Remember the day you wanted to help.
Remember the bands and crews who did it. The professionals who made it an extraordinary technological feat.
Remember the dying who were allowed to live.
Remember the day you die, there is someone alive in Africa 'cos one day you watched a pop concert.
Remember your tears and your joy.
Remember the love.
Remember on that day for once in our bloody lives WE WON.
Remember the dying goes on and remember so that as time passes you can tell others 'it's possible, I know.'
What a day, what a lovely day.
The sincere dedication, love, and attention that went into the momentous July 13, 1985 concert event is apparent in both the packaging and quality of the newly released Live Aid DVD. The concert alone earned $80 for famine relief. Between January 1985 and November 2004 the Band Aid Trust and Live Aid Foundation spent over $144 million on the same cause in countries Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, and Sudan. The proceeds from the DVD are also to be used in continued support. Live Aid is a cause that has taken on a life of its own and become so much more than Geldof or any of the many contributors, performers, or trustees could have possibly dreamt.
This DVD collects approximately ten hours of performances in addition to news reports, music videos, documentaries, and various extras on four discs. There are too many wonderful things about this to mention. There are dozens of bands and performers including luminaries like U2, David Bowie, Elton Johns, The Cars, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, The Who, Queen, Dire Straits, Madonna, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Duran Duran. Live Aid translates beautifully to DVD despite the challenges of its creation. Ever wonder why you've never seen footage of the concert? It's because ABC and the BBC were asked to destroy all footage immediately after the original broadcast. ABC did just that, but the BBC dutifully archived their film. Though incomplete, it was a start. According to the insert, it came to light that MTV had a box of over 100 tapes unsorted and unedited detailing much of the US concert. Still, there are performances that are apparently not on tape--Pinball Wizard and My Generation from The Who are just a slight example.
What is particularly astounding is that many of the performances were never broadcast but are re-collected here: Judas Priest, Run DMS, Joan Baez, and Ashford and Simpson were all unearthed. This is truly a DVD of epic proportions that isn't just entertaining, but also acts as proof of the goodness of humanity. It's a must-own for any rock n' roll historian or buff.
The Live Aid DVD kicks off with a gut-wrenching October 23, 1984 BBC news broadcast that details the hunger and political strife of nations Eritae and Tigre which resulted in refugees to the town of Korem in northern Ethiopia. The worsening situation resulted (at the time) in 15,000 refugee children and one death every twenty minutes. The grief, pain, and hunger of the people in the story resonated across the world. There wasn't even enough food for half of the people in the settlement. Panic ensued among the 40,000 refugees with even the slightest rumor of a shipment. The resources were minimal and there was too little help (often too late) to go around.
It was this report that gained the attention of not just relief organization but also a group of musicians dubbed Band Aid by creators Geldof and Midge Ure. Sting, Boy George, Bono, Simon LeBon, George Michael, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and many others came together on November 25, 1984 to record Do They Know It's Christmas? in an effort to help out those starving in the Africa. The fantastic outpouring of human love in the studio is here in video form. Similarly, another group dubbed USA for Africa came into the studio on January 28, 1985 to record We Are the World. Luminaries including Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Perry, Huey Lewis and many others gave their time and energy to the project which too is included on the first disc. The outpouring of emotion is touching and it sets the stage for the fabulous charity event that would soon follow.
From here, the Live Aid DVD moves on to the actual internationally broadcast concert event on that day in July 1985. It was 7am in Philadelphia and noon in London when it all began according to the announcer. Prince Charles and Princess Diana are then introduced. A humbled Bob Geldof follows the couple into Wembley Stadium to receive the royal salute. Kicked off by Status Quo and songs Rockin' All Over the World and Caroline Live Aid makes a wonderful start. The DVD is cut into chapters by song which makes skipping ahead to your own personal favorite highlights a none-too-difficult process.
The Style Council also gives two songs Internationalists and more importantly the fabulous Walls Come Tumbling Down. A classic single in its own right, the while-clothed band performs with a feverish energy. Geldof is referred to as "the spark" as his own band the Boomtown Rats is introduced to the Wembley crowd. His response? "Thanks for coming out" and he later refers to it as the best day of his life. I Don't Like Mondays is a wonderful, quaint, evocative song. Drag Me Down is also included. I can feel his excitement, nervousness, and personal attachment to Live Aid.
The fact that each band performed only a few songs allows for such a huge amount of energy and an abbreviated set list and therefore only songs that most people are familiar with. I'm infinitely impressed with each contributor regardless of my familiarity level with the whole body of work. As the disc continues there are a variety of performers. My personal favorite moments come with Spandau Ballet's True, Elvis Costello's rendition of All You Need is Love, Sting and Phil Collins with Every Breath You Take, Bryan Adam on Summer of '69 and the pair of U2 offerings Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bad.
Alone on the stage, Elvis Costello elicits cheers and tears from the crowd. The song also turns me into a blubbering mess--it says everything about the concert. John Lennon's song is the perfect anthem for one of but a few perfect days in music. One man can make a difference. One dollar makes a difference. One song makes a difference. Sting and Phil Collins put together a simple, stark version of Every Breath You Take which also captures a similar message. Their similar vocals style works beautifully together. In addition, I can't help but stare and wonder at the immense talent together on one stage.
America is introduced to viewers by Jack Nicholson announcing Bryan Adams and Kids Wanna Rock. However it is classic rocker Summer of '69 that captures my imagination. On that hot day in July, Adams puts together a fabulous performance. Not yet timeless, not yet entirely proven, but full of politically-charged anthems and youthful vigor U2 wraps up disc one straight from Philadelphia. Bono breathes pain and anger--Sunday Bloody Sunday may originally be about Irish strife but it translates perfectly in the context of African strife. Bad was never a hit like Sunday Bloody Sunday but it is just as equally emotional. U2 is easily one of the high-points of the Live Aid DVD.
Disc 2 features some of the elder rockers at Live Aid. The Beach Boys kick things off with a somewhat aged along still talented and energetic set of three songs. Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, and Surfin' USA are about hope and joy. Though it is Wouldn't It Be Nice that best encompasses the day's importance. A return to London brings a pair of songs from Dire Straits--Money for Nothing and Sultans of Swing. The former is easily my favorite from the band so it's a treat to see it features so prominently on this DVD. Money for Nothing is a rockin' song and paired with Sting it is a classic performance.
However I do think the best performance of Disc 2 is easily from Queen. With six songs, the band provides the most tracks of any performer on this Live Aid opus. The consummate performer, rock star, and talented pianist, Freddie Mercury is painted in vivid colors for me to appreciate. I never understood Mercury in life, but he is so clearly portrayed here that I can't help but appreciate him. Queen as a band is easily one of the richest and most wonderful forces of their era. With an appreciation for the dramatic, their songs are classic. Here they give beautiful performances of six of their finest--Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Gaga, Hammer To Fall, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Will Rock You, and We Are the Champion. My Favorite is easily Crazy Little Thing Called Love. To see Mercury jump around stage proudly and energetically feels like a gift.
The under appreciated Simple Minds also puts together a great performance with songs Ghost Dancing and (Don't You) Forget About Me. David Bowie is every bit the genius I expected him to be. He performs four songs, but Rebel Rebel and Heroes are the songs I most enjoy. Heroes is particularly moving considering the gravity of the day--he dedicates it to all the children of the world.
In the middle of everything, there is another moving film produced by the CBC. It is about the children--they are after all the future. A young boy--no more than four or five years old, tries to walk. He cannot. The hunger has attacked his stomach and limbs. Distended with hunger, screaming from the pain, limbs and skulls bony, it hurts to see the faces of the children that despite their youth have given up all hope. These faces put everything in reality and bring tears to my eyes. The film finishes with what I presume is a mother laying her child to rest.
The Pretenders are another high point of this collection--in particular I'm pleased with the inclusion of classic Chain Gang. Always brilliant, always wonderful, always perfect The Who also put in a great performance. Despite the fact that two of their performances are lost I'm still impressed with Love Reign O'er Me and Won't Get Fooled Again. As day turns to dusk, Daltrey intensely sings to the crowd at Wembley. Won't Get Fooled Again is easily one of their most famous songs and it proves to be one of the hardest rocking moments of the day.
This disc wraps up with four Elton John tracks. The best however is his collaboration with George Michael--Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me. By the light of the stage and the moon, the duo put together one of the most moving songs of the day. It's simple and emotional and once again captures the feeling of Live Aid.
Bette Midler introduces the third disc and the next act. A young sensation by the name of Madonna had just hit the scene. Oddly enough, she's the only of the sort collected for Live Aid. The brown-haired, loudly dressed singer sings two of her early hits. It's actually pretty cool to see her in action so young on both Holiday and Get in the Groove. While it's not an album highlight, I still can't help but enjoy her performance.
Returning to London, Freddie Mercury and Brian May light up the darkened stage with Is This the World We Created? The original song features May's acoustic guitar and a particularly evocative performance from Mercury. The duo injected so much heart and soul into the song that I can't help but be impressed. The Wembley show is capped off by a fitting performance from Paul McCartney. Let It Be is another DVD highlight--there is nothing more perfect that the talented songwriter at his piano with one of his most perfect songs. Geldof and dozens of performers then flood the stage. He says "This might be a big cock-up, but if you're gonna cock it up you may as well do it with two billion people watching." The group then takes off with a rousing rendition of the song that began the movement--Do They Know It's Christmas?. It's astounding to see the crowd of thousands clapping and jumping in unison to the uplifting song. At that moment it seems that all of the world was thinking and doing the same thing. There are few things more uplifting than this moment of this DVD.
Returning to Philadelphia, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers put together tight performances of American Girl and Refugee. The Black Sabbath performance was something as a surprise. Ozzy Osbourne was well on his way to a successful solo career, but he rejoined with his original band for one of their earliest and most furious hits. It's impossible to do wrong with this classic. REO Speedwagon, Crosby Stills & Nash, and Judas Priest also make appearances each for a song or two. I'm particularly impressed by the Crosby Stills & Nash song Teach Your Children. The luminous folk track is rich and beautiful and the perfect message on that momentous day.
On completely another wavelength, I can't help but adore The Cars and their performances of Just What I Needed and Heartbeat City. I'm also infinitely impressed by Neil Young's classic The Needle and the Damage Done. Alone on the stage, mutton chops at full-length, and strumming his precious guitar the talented folk-rocker proves his worth. Possibly the strangest but most heart-felt performance comes from the Thompson Twins, Steve Stevens, Nile Rodgers, and Madonna with an interpretation of Revolution.
There are other moments on the third disc that prove pretty darned amazing. Always fabulous, Eric Clapton impresses with White Room, She's Waiting, and Layla. Phil Collins pops up stateside in Philadelphia (he played both sides of the ocean) with his hit In the Air Tonight. However, I'm particularly impressed by the trio of songs from Duran Duran. Union of the Snake and Save a Prayer are entertaining offerings though it is the nighttime performance of The Reflex that is most exciting.
One last performance comes as a pleasant surprise on disc 3. Imagine from John Lennon nearly brings Patti LaBelle to tears. I'm not so lucky. It touches me in its simplicity and appropriateness given the situation. Imagine is just one of those songs that is so gorgeous and touching it hurts. Patti LaBelle's voice does it immense justice.
By the opening of the fourth disc, Philadelphia is entirely shrouded in darkness. Hall & Oates takes the stage with their hit Maneater though the three songs that follow are even more impressive. Get Ready (Cos Here I Come), Ain't Too Proud to Beg and My Girl also feature the vocals of Eddie Kendricks (the Temptations). This blast from the past is easily one of the biggest surprises. Hall & Oates were a good due, but their interpretation of three classic R&B songs. The latter two songs also feature David Ruffin. The melodies are fabulous. If these songs don't get you out of your seat and dancing then nothing will.
Mick Jagger doesn't pop up until the middle of the last disc. He performs Just Another Night and Miss You solo and is joined by Tina Turner for State of Shock and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll. It's that last song that I enjoy most. Tina Turner struts in typical faction astride the sauntering and shirtless Mick Jagger. It's one of the most exciting performances of the entire show. The tempo doesn't stay fast-paced for long. Two additional parts of the Rolling Stones (Keith Richards and Ron Wood) join Bob Dylan on stage for Blowing in the Wind. Jack Nicholson refers to him as "transcendent" in the introduction. That word definitely works for the man, the song, and the performance. Three guitars on stage and one outstanding voice, it speaks to the heart of the matter. There are answers to be gotten and a little of it has to do with luck and a little with dedication.
As with the Band Aid finale, USA for Africa brings all the contributors on stage for a live rendition of We Are the World. As on the single, Lionel Richie opens the song. He is joined by Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Dionne Warwick, Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and many many others. It's a chaotic, messy sort of thing. It feels almost as if it were thrown together at the last minute. Nobody quite knows what's going on but the performance is completely full of heart and purpose. These are people happy to be doing what they can to help other people. There are smiles all around. Particularly refreshing are the kids on stage with the stars . Patti LaBelle steals the show with her powerhouse vocals.
At the end of the fourth disc there are a host of extras. Performers kicked off the day with their own concerts, wanted their performances included, and in the case of Run DMC ran pre-show sound checks. INXS is here with What You Need ("our new single" according to Michael Hutchence) and Don't Change. B.B. King wanted his songs included to lend a little pre-rock n' roll legitimacy. Coolest is probably the inclusion of Run DMC. Rap wasn't big yet and they apparently weren't cool enough to be part of the real show, but they did perform King of Rock prior to the actual start of the Philadelphia concert. The cameras are shaky and unintentional and it is unclear what they will do on stage until mic stands are tossed out of view and until they break into a familiar classic rap.
Other interesting bonuses are the other overseas contributors and shows including Austria for Afrika, Band Aid Germany, Japan, USSR, Yu Rock Mission Yugoslavia, and All Of Us Norway. The final really wonderful extra is the Food and Trucks and Rock 'n' Roll documentary that begins Eritrea and highlights the horrible consequences of famine across Africa. It follows the story of Band Aid and Live Aid and how it all happened and how all of rock and roll was taken by the strife. Geldof's trip to the region he was so dedicated to helping is also documented. He related his experience to being taken through the various levels of hell. Band Aid trust was set up to enable the group to spend the money in the way the people and governments in Africa most needed. They bought a cargo vessel, goods, offered space to other relief agencies, and shipped the goods to Africa. On the backs of camels and in Jeeps, bags of grain and donated goods marked with "Love from Band Aid" were given to the hungry and sick people of Africa. Children across Britain helped with the effort--children in the United States helped out in similar ways. With governments unwilling to help, Geldof set out to make even more in donations with the biggest concert(s) ever. Live Aid provided those in need with clothing, blankets, food, grain, seeds, utensils, a hoe, and other needed supplies. It was a huge undertaking, but the people were grateful and lives were indeed saved. All because people still care.
The length of this review reflects the epic scale of this DVD release. There is no question that Live Aid changed the face of the world and as such this DVD augments my own perception of the event. It oozes with heart and soul--there were dozens of performers who took time out of their schedules and performed out of the kindness of their hearts to raise money for the neediest people. If like me you were too young to do anything at the time of Live Aid, you've been given another opportunity. Pick up this DVD and do your part.
Coldstream Guards - Royal Salute
Status Quo - Rockin' All Over the World, Caroline
The Style Council - Internationalists, Walls Come Tumbling Down
The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays, Drag Me Down
Adam Ant - Vive Le Rock
Ultravox - Dancing With Tears in My Eyes, Vienna
Spandau Ballet - Only When You Leave, True
Elvis Costello - All You Need Is Love
Nik Kershaw - Wouldn't It Be Good
Sade - Your Love is King
Sting - Roxanne
Phil Collins - Against All Odds
Sting & Phil Collins - Every Breath You Take
Howard Jones - Hide and Seek
Bryan Ferry - Slave to Love, Jealous Guy
Paul Young - Do They Know It's Christmas?, Come Back and Stay, Every Time You Go Away
Paul Young & Alison Moyet - That's The Way Love Is
Bryan Adams - Kids Wanna Rock, Summer of '69
U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bad
The Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, Surfin' USA
Dire Straits & Sting - Money for Nothing
Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing
George Thorogood & The Destroyers - Madison Blues
Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Gaga, Hammer to Fall, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions
Simple Minds - Ghost Dancing, (Don't You) Forgets About Me
David Bowie - TVC15, Rebel Rebel, Modern Love, Heroes
Joan Baez - Amazing Grace
Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing, Chain Gang, Middle of the Road
The Who - Love Reign O'er Me, Won't Get Fooled Again
Kenny Loggins - Footloose
Elton John - Bennie and the Jets, Rocket Man
Elton John & Kiki Dee - Don't Go Breaking My Heart
Elton John & George Michael - Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me
Madonna - Holiday, Get Into the Groove
Freddie Mercury & Brian May - Is This The World We Created
Paul McCartney - Let It Be
Band Aid Finale - Do They Know It's Christmas?
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - American Girl, Refugee
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight This Feeling, Roll With the Changes
Crosby Stills & Nash - Teach Your Children
Judas Priest - Living After Midnight, Green Manalishi
The Cars - Just What I Needed, Heartbeat City
Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done, Nothing is Perfect (In God's Perfect Plan)
Thomson Twins, Steve Stevens, Nile Rodgers & Madonna - Revolution
Eric Clapton - White Room, She's Waiting, Layla
Phil Collins - In the Air Tonight
Duran Duran - Union of the Snake, Save a Prayer, The Reflex
Patti LaBelle - Imagine, Forever Young
Hall & Oates - Maneater
Hall & Oates with Eddie Kendricks - Get Ready (Cos here I Come)
Hall & Oates with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin - Ain't Too Proud to Beg, My Girl
Mick Jagger - Just Another Night, Miss You
Mick Jagger & Tina Turner - State of Shock, It's Only Rock and Roll
Bob Dylan with Keith Richards and Ron Wood - Blowing in the Wind
USA for Africa Finale - We Are the World
INXS - What You Need, Don't Change
BB King - Why I Sing the Blues, Don't Answer the Door, Rock Me Baby
Ashford & Simpson with Teddy Pendergrass - Reach Out and Touch
Run DMC - King of Rock
Cliff Richard - A World of Difference
David Bowie & Mick Jagger - Dancing in the Streets
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