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Live 8 invokes fond memories of Live Aid

Hastily-put-together benefit delivered memorable performances, large donations
/ Source: The Associated Press

Twenty years later, it is still considered one of the greatest rock 'n' roll concerts of all time. During Live Aid, top musicians played simultaneous shows in London and Philadelphia, fans watched on televisions around the world and millions of dollars were raised for famine victims in sub-Saharan Africa.

It may be hard for next month's Live 8 follow-up concert, also organized by Bob Geldof, to be as historic, heartwarming or flukey as the 1985 Live Aid show.

At a time when few people owned computers, when cell phones and e-mail didn't exist for most, the all-day multi-artist concerts were broadcast live to the world.

Pop music and celebrities were used to put Africa on top of the political agenda, especially in the world's wealthiest countries, and the TV audience was estimated at 1.5 billion.

Afterward, organizers said they had opened the hearts of a cynical, me-first generation, persuading many people to donate money "until it hurt" and raising about $80 million.

At the time, Geldof said: "To die of want in a world of surplus is not only intellectually absurd, it is morally repulsive."

Setting stage for future benefit concerts
In some ways, the burst of humanism set off by the concert seems similar to the outpouring of donations that followed this year's tsunami disaster in Asia and Africa.

Live Aid remains famous for its logo, the neck of a guitar with the outline of Africa as its base, and for two group theme songs: "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid and "We Are The World" by USA For Africa.

Watching a four-set DVD of the Live Aid concerts at London's Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium, some of the highlights are striking.

The London audience included Prince Charles and Princess Diana, whose marriage was just beginning to fall apart. Formally dressed, the royal couple was photographed in the stands alongside Geldof, the long-haired leader of the Boomtown Rats.

Phil Collins made headlines by first playing at Wembley, then flying to Philadelphia on a Concorde to perform there, too.

"We found it was possible. I'm a lunatic, aren't I?" he said.

In Philadelphia, stars such as Jack Nicholson, Bette Midler and Chevy Chase appeared on stage to introduce many of the acts, and joined everyone else by making comments to the crowd promoting aid to Africa.

Memorable performancesSome of the acts at the hastily arranged show seemed disorganized and poorly rehearsed. But Queen, whose lead singer, Freddie Mercury, would later die of AIDS, gave a magnificent performance, with highlights from six hits: "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Radio Gaga," "Hammer to Fall," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions."

Paul McCartney and U2 also brought the house down.

Fans of today's TV star Ozzy Osbourne would probably laugh to see the overweight singer of the heavy metal group Black Sabbath strut the stage in a glittery outfit.

As she took the stage, a young Madonna was described as a vibrant, up-and-coming singer.

And Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, then estranged, performed in separate acts at Live Aid, Jagger with Tina Turner and Richards with Bob Dylan.

The concerts brought three acts from the legendary 1969 Woodstock music festival back to the stage: Joan Baez; the Who; and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Neil Young, who had left from the group, used the concert to play with the band again.

Both concerts lasted all day and into the night. They took place in jam-packed open-air stadiums in weather so hot that many men removed their T-shirts, including Jagger.

Live Aid was so quickly organized on July 13, 1985, as a once-only live broadcast, that the CDs and DVDs of it were only made after "grade B" tapes of the shows were found and upgraded.

Some performances were lost that day because of satellite or power failures. When a generator blew up during the Who's performance, only two of its four songs were broadcast.

Today's DVDs don't include the hit "Rat Trap" by Geldof's Boomtown Rats because in his excitement he wrenched the microphone cable from its socket and his vocals were lost.

On July 2, the Live 8 concerts in London, Philadelphia, Paris, Berlin and Rome are likely to be better organized when they are held in smaller venues such as Philadelphia's Museum of Art.

Live Aid stars back for Live 8Seven of the Live Aid stars will be back: Elton John, Madonna, McCartney, Sting, U2, Geldolf and Duran Duran. All of them except Duran Duran will perform at the show in London's Hyde Park, which also will include Coldplay, Dido, Robbie Williams, R.E.M. and Mariah Carey.

Live 8 is being held just before a summit by the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Scotland with the express purpose of trying to get the leaders to increase aid to Africa, which remains very poor.

Geldof is famous for speaking bluntly to world leaders about the help the continent needs, and for criticizing corruption in some African countries that has been an obstacle to fundraising. He also has acknowledged that even people who donate money to Africa and sympathize with its needs can suffer compassion fatigue.

But Geldof hopes that the Live 8 concerts, protests expected during the G-8 summit, and calls for more aid to Africa by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U2 singer Bono can once again make fundraising for Africa a worldwide priority.