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I remember July 13th 1985. I was in college at the time, and really into music. I had been looking forward to Live Aid since it was first announced months earlier. The greatest rock bands in the world were going to get together and play an all-day concert in order to raise funds for famine relief in Africa. Spearheaded by Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, Live Aid was a chance to show the world that Rock and Roll music could be a force for good. And it worked. Millions of dollars were raised and all of the money went to feed starving people in Africa. Every cent. (Bob Geldof even had to go on tour with his band in order to pay his five figure telephone bill rather than dip into the pot.)
As for myself, I bought a box of VHS tapes, at about $10 a piece (which was a huge expense in those days) and recorded the whole thing. I set the player to SP mode to get the best picture quality, and diligently changed the cassettes every two hours. How could I not make a copy? This was the music I grew up on. The Who, my favorite band of all time, had disbanded after their 'Farewell Tour' but were going to reunite for this event, as was Led Zeppelin. Queen, U2, Dire Straights, The Thompson Twin and Neil Young were all going to preform. I arose hours before I my usual time to get the Australian feed that MTV started the day with, and spent the rest of the day glued to the TV. The music was great.
My tapes disappeared years ago when I lent them to a coworker who abruptly quit without giving them back, and truth be told I had rarely played them. MTV's coverage was quite lousy. Sure, I was glad to be seeing it at all, but there were seemingly endless hours of VJs killing time between sets and then when an act did come on they were often interrupted by commercials. Who can forget when MTV cut to a commercial in the middle of Crosby, Stills, and Nash's set? I also remember cursing at the station when The Car's set was interrupted so that they could announce that Phil Collin's plane had landed at the airport. What a way to show a concert. (In MTV's defense, the money they received from the commercials they ran was donated to the charity, so some good came out of it.)
Now, nearly 20 years later, this music event is being released on DVD. Without commercial interruptions, and without long waits for set changes, this is much better than what I saw on TV all those years ago. As an added benefit, the profits from the sales of this set will be given to the Band Aid Trust to continue to help people in Africa.
The set itself is arranged very nicely. It starts off with a BBC story about the famine in Africa, giving some nice background information. They then have the two all-star music videos that were produced to raise money for the effort: Band Aid's Do They know It's Christmas? and USA for Africa's (rather insipid) We Are the World. Then they launch into ten hours worth of performances.
There was some truly great music played that day. While some of the bands gave less than stellar performances, most did an adequate job, and a few were fantastic. The Who's set was good. It was funny to hear Roger mess up the lyrics on Won't get Fooled Again, and John gets slighted once again as far as camera time goes, but that's to be expected. An outstanding performance though.
I was disappointed that they couldn't include the Boomtown Rats' third song, Rat Trap. Bob Geldof accidently pulled the cable out from his microphone and the vocals were lost. In any case they do include the afterward where the audience sings For He's a Jolly Good Fellow to Bob Geldof. I always thought that was a touching moment.
Highlights include U2's powerful Sunday Bloody Sunday/ Bad set which is just a great 20 minutes, and Dire Straights wonderful performance. I have always liked Elvis Costello coming on stage and asking the crowd to join him in singing an "Old northern English folk song." He then launches into All You Need is Love, with the crowd joining in. Queen had a great rocking set, the best of the day for my money, with the audience really getting into their performance. The whole crowd was clapping in unison and singing along with the songs. They were almost as loud as Freddie during We are the Champions.
Of course there's also Mick Jagger and Tina Turner's songs, which were broadcast live in the US on ABC. The way the two were gyrating and rubbing against each other must have caused heart palpitations among the network censors. They were followed by Bob Dylan, who was accompanied by Ron Wood and Keith Richards, all on acoustic guitars. While not the best moment musically that day, it was quite interesting.
When the song list for this set was initially released, a lot of people started complaining on various internet boards when they realized that many of the songs preformed that day were left off. The Led Zeppelin reunion in particular was frequently mentioned, and the most glaring omission. Unfortunately there's nothing that can be done about a lot of the missing footage. Led Zeppelin (who gave a particularly poor performance) refused to allow their segment to be used. Other acts had incomplete songs due to technical glitches. (A generator blew during The Who's set and two songs were incomplete for example.) Worst of all, a lot of the US performances simply don't exist anymore. Due to legal reasons, this concert wasn't supposed to be recorded or archived at all. Bob Geldof didn't want to worry about all the hassles with rights to songs and record company releases. He just told everyone to show up and play for 20 minutes. Both the US and BBC were instructed to destroy any tape they made of the event. Luckily, the BBC ignored this request and kept their tapes, but over the years some disappeared and their set was incomplete. In the US, the producers HAD destroyed their tapes, and masters didn't exist. A lot of the American concert footage included here was from a group of B-roll tapes (alternate and unused takes) that MTV had in their archives, others were on the BBC rolls, downloaded from satellite and converted to PAL. Originally this concert wasn't intended to be rebroadcast or released to home video, and it's only through luck that any of it exists.
While I would have been happier if all of the available songs had been included (and for all I know, they might be.) Even with the gaps, this is still a wonderful set. The best acts are included, and there is some great stuff here. It would be an act of foolishness to avoid this concert just because Nik Kershaw's set is incomplete. You'll be missing out on all of the great music that is available.
The complete song list, along with the location of the performance is as follows:
BBC News report Including Michael Buerk's report from Korem in Ethiopia
Band Aid 'Do They know It's Christmas?' Video
USA for Africa 'We Are the World' Video
Coldstream Guards Royal Salute UK
Status Quo 'Rockin' All Over the World' UK
Status Quo 'Caroline' UK
Style Council 'Internationalists' UK
Style Council 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' UK
Boomtown Rats 'I Don't Like Mondays' UK
Boomtown Rats 'Drag Me Down' UK
Adam Ant 'Vive Le Rock' UK
Ultravox 'Dancing With Tears in My Eyes' UK
Ultravox 'Vienna' UK
Spandau Ballet 'Only When You Leave' UK
Spandau Ballet 'True' UK
Elvis Costello 'All You Need is Love' UK
Nik Kershaw 'Wouldn't it be Good' UK
Sade 'Your Love is King' UK
Sting 'Roxanne' UK
Phil Collins 'Against All Odds' UK
Sting & Phil Collins 'Every Breath You Take' UK
Howard Jones 'Hide & Seek' UK
Bryan Ferry 'Slave to Love' UK
Bryan Ferry 'Jealous Guy' UK
Paul Young 'Do They know It's Christmas?' UK
Paul Young 'Come Back and Stay' UK
Paul Young & Alison Moyet 'That's the Way Love is' UK
Paul Young 'Every Time You Go Away' UK
Bob Geldof welcomes Philadelphia UK
Bryan Adams 'Kids Wanna Rock' US
Bryan Adams 'Summer of 69' US
U2 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' UK
U2 'Bad' UK
Interview with Phil Collins & Concorde take off
Beach Boys 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' US
Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations' US
Beach Boys 'Surfin USA' US
Dire Straits & Sting 'Money For Nothing' UKDire Straits 'Sultans of Swing' UK
George Thorogood & The Destroyers 'Madison Blues' US
Queen 'Bohemian Rhapsody' UK
Queen 'Radio Gaga' UK
Queen 'Hammer to Fall' UK
Queen 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' UK
Queen 'We Will Rock You' UK
Queen 'We Are the Champions' UK
Simple Minds 'Ghost Dancing' US
Simple Minds 'Don't You Forget About Me' US
David Bowie 'TVC15' UK
David Bowie 'Rebel Rebel' UK
David Bowie 'Modern Love 'UK
David Bowie 'Heroes' UK
CBC footage 'Drive' by The Cars VIDEO
Joan Baez 'Amazing Grace' US
The Pretenders 'Stop Your Sobbing' US
The Pretenders 'Chain Gang 'US
The Pretenders 'Middle of The Road' US
The Who 'Love Reign O'er Me' UK
The Who 'Won't Get Fooled Again'UK
Kenny Loggins 'Footloose' US
Billy Connolly link to Elton in vision UK
Elton John 'Bennie & The Jets' UK
Elton John 'Rocket Man' UK
Elton John & Kiki Dee 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' UK
Elton John & George Michael 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me' UK
Concorde mid-flight conversation with Phil Collins UK
Madonna 'Holiday' US
Madonna 'Into The Groove''US
Freddie Mercury & Brian May 'Is This The World We Created?' UK
Paul McCartney 'Let It Be' UK
Band Aid Finale 'Do They know It's Christmas?' UK
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 'American Girl' US
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 'Refugee' US
Black Sabbath featuring Ozzy Osbourne 'Paranoid'US
REO Speedwagon 'Can't Fight This Feeling' US
REO Speedwagon 'Roll With The Changes' US
Crosby Stills & Nash 'Teach Your Children' US
Judas Priest 'Living After Midnight' US
Judas Priest 'Green Manalishi' US
The Cars 'Just What I Needed' US
The Cars 'Heartbreak City' US
Neil Young 'The Needle &The Damage Done' US
Neil Young 'God's Perfect Plan' US
Thompson Twins, Steve Stevens, Nile Rodgers & Madonna 'Revolution' US
Eric Clapton 'White Room' US
Eric Clapton 'She's Waiting' US
Eric Clapton 'Layla' US
Phil Collins (in Philadelphia) 'In The Air Tonight' US
Duran Duran 'Union Of The Snake' US
Duran Duran 'Save A Prayer' US
Duran Duran 'The Reflex' US
Patti Labelle 'Imagine' US
Patti Labelle 'Forever Young' US
Hall & Oates 'Maneater' US
Hall & Oates + Eddie Kendricks/David Ruffin 'Get Ready (Cos Here I Come)' US
Hall & Oates + Eddie Kendricks/David Ruffin 'Ain't Too Proud to Beg' US
Hall & Oates + Eddie Kendricks/David Ruffin 'My Girl' US
Mick Jagger 'Just Another Night' US
Mick Jagger 'Miss You' US
Mick Jagger & Tina Turner 'State of Shock' US
Mick Jagger & Tina Turner 'It's Only Rock n Roll' US
Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood 'Blowing in the Wind' US
USA for Africa Finale 'We Are the World' US
The four discs that make up this set come in a fold-out jacket enclosed in a slip case. There is a 24-page booklet included too.
The set is very easy to navigate. You can search each disc by artist, play only the Wembley concert or the one in Philadelphia. Each song is book marked, making it easy to skip past a tune you don't like.
This disc offers the choice of hearing the concert in Stereo, DD 5.1 or DTS. There are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese. Only the introductions are subtitled though, the lyrics of the songs themselves don't have subtitles with them.
As for the sound quality, it varies a bit but is generally very good. The set has obviously been remastered and sounds better than I remember. Hiss and tape noise are not present for the most part, (there is a light hum during Duran Duran's set though) and dropout or other audio defects are likewise absent. Of course the audio is limited to what was recorded during the concert, and there are some minor problems associated with that. The piano intro to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, for example, sounded tinny and thin, but Freddie Mercury's voice was strong and full.
I was a little worried about the multichannel tracks, but they were very good. They sounded full and engulfing without altering the songs. The rear channels were used for audience noises and occasional background vocals.
My first impression when I popped a disc in was that this looked significantly better than I thought it would. The full frame image had bright vivid colors and there was a good amount of detail. You could see the sweat on Bono's brow and the stubble on Sting's cheeks. Very cool looking.
Unfortunately as I started to watch the concert, I noticed that they used a lot of digital techniques to clean up the video, with the resulting artifacts. These aren't distracting, and you have to look for them, but they are there. The average viewer probably won't notice these and it's not anything to really worry about. One defect that is easy to pick out is the microphony, horizontal bands that run across the screen, in a few of the sets. This was due to the noise coming off the stage vibrating the pickups in the camera and resulting in an unwanted artifact. Fortunately this error is present during only a few acts. One last problem on the video side is that there is a good amount of edge enhancement, more in some segments than others, but it is there.
Even with the digital artifacts that are present, this is a good-looking concert. It looks simply amazing for something that shouldn't exist at all.
The extras are all included on the fourth disc. There are some songs from other countries that put on concerts that day. There is also a documentary that was made a year after the concert at Bob Geldof's request. Food & Trucks & Rock 'n' Roll shows how the money that Live Aid generated was spent and the people that it helped. A very good set of extras.
Disc Four Extras:
INXS - from Australia 'What You Need' Oz
INXS - from Australia 'Don't Change' Oz
B.B. King from North Sea Jazz Festival 'Why I Sing the Blues' Holland
B.B. King from North Sea Jazz Festival 'Don't Answer the Door' Holland
B.B. King from North Sea Jazz Festival 'Rock me Baby' Holland
Ashford & Simpson + Teddy Pendergrass 'Reach Out and Touch' US
Cliff Richard from London 'A World of Difference' UK
Overseas contributors: Austria, Germany, Japan, former USSR, former Yugoslavia, Norway Edited highlights sequence various
Bowie/Jagger Dancing in the Streets video
Food & Trucks & Rock 'n' Roll
How often can you buy a DVD and know that your helping people? Buying these DVDs will help save lives in Africa and give you a great set of music. A win-win proposition. Not only that, but the set is a must buy for fans of 80's music. The good-looking video and clean audio make this a very enjoyable set. This was an amazing event, which has never been duplicated. Having a record of it on DVD is a treat. Highly recommended.