Wembley Stadium, July 7 1985. Midday in London, 7am in Philadelphia. Please welcome the Prince and Princess of Wales, and Bob Geldof.
Status Quo’s Rockin’ All Over the World (catalogue) followed the Coldstream Guards playing the opening bars of the National Anthem (catalogue). Then came The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet and Elvis Costello with a lovely version of the alternative national anthem: All You Need Is Love (catalogue).
Nik Kershaw played four songs, but not When a Heart Beats, which featured on NOW 6. Sade managed three, then came the two titanic popstars of 1985. Sting played Roxanne, Message in a Bottle and Driven to Tears; Phil Collins, who would hop on a Concorde – which I initially spelt Conchord, as in Flight of the – and sell millions of records while also engaged in a stunt for starving Ethiopians, did Against All Odds and In The Air Tonight, because millions had tuned in to hear them. Phil Collins’ contribution to NOW 6 was catalogue: a duet with Marilyn Martin on the Stephen Bishop ballad Separate Lives.
Then Sting and the bloke from Genesis duetted on Long Long Way to Go and Every Breath You Take and Phil flew to Philadelphia. Howard Jones played Hide and Seek. Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music had four songs, including another John Lennon composition, Jealous Guy. Lennon would have surely been at Live Aid, perhaps even playing with his mate Paul, who closed the evening with Let It Be. Due to technical issues he sang the first few bars unamplified. Smash Hits magazine called him Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft, a name which has stuck…
Paul Young had to play, since he had sung the first line of Do They Know It’s Christmas, which he reprised at Live Aid. Since two million people had bought the Band Aid single, it was prudently absent from NOW compilations in 1985. NOW 6 was the Christmas 1985 set, and had to feature Queen, of whom more shortly. It did not feature one of the headliners of Live Aid – The Who played four of the hits, including My Generation and Pinball Wizard – but did have Nikita.
Elton John didn’t play that one, but he did play six others, including Rocket Man, I’m Still Standing and Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, which featured George and Andrew from Wham!
Elton was familiar with Wembley Stadium, as he had sold out the venue back in the 1970s on his own, ushering in the new era of singer-songwriters that led eventually to Billy Joel playing at Yankee Stadium and Ed Sheeran headlining Wembley with a loop pedal in 2016. Also absent from NOW 6 is David Bowie, who played “Heroes”, Rebel Rebel, Modern Love and TVC 15. The compilation does contain Fine Young Cannibals (Blue), Midge Ure (If I Was) and The Communards (You Are My World). Forgotten songs include Single Life by Cameo and Body Rock by Maria Vidal. Jaki Graham appears with David Grant at the very end of the compilation with Mated.
The American leg of Live Aid, meanwhile, began at 9am. Philly hosted Joan Baez, the Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath (Paranoid! Iron Man!), Run DMC, Rick Springfield (but no Jessie’s Girl!), REO Speedwagon, Crosby Stills & Nash (who would later reunite with Neil Young on two songs), British metal band Judas Priest, Bryan Adams doing Summer of ’69 and, at 12.30pm, The Beach Boys. They did the hits.
Simple Minds were in the States at the time, so showed up to sing three songs including their US number one Don’t You (Forget About Me), from the John Hughes teen drama The Breakfast Club. Well done to the song’s writers Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, who never had to work again. Billy Idol, who had worked with Keith, turned the song down. Muppet. It still sounds brilliant, thanks to Scottish singer Jim Kerr’s vocal, as does the still mighty anthem Alive and Kicking, later used by Sky Sports on their Premier League launch in 1992 and present on NOW 6 in all its glory.
The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, a lady called Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Kenny Loggins doing Footlose followed, before The Cars sung the unofficial anthem of the day. Drive was backed by a gut-wrenching footage of a starving child; in London, David Bowie exhorted the crowd to watch the film, which must have increased donations from those on the sofa at home a thousandfold. By 8pm in the States Neil Young, The Power Station and Thompson Twins had played, while Eric Clapton played the hard rock version of Layla. He would reinvent it for MTV Unplugged a few years later.
At 8pm on the dot, Phil Collins showed up, opening for Led Zeppelin, whose performance was not well received but not half as badly as that of an under-rehearsed Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Simon LeBon missed a note on A View to a Kill, the first of their four songs, while Patti LaBelle sang six (but not Lady Marmalade, which was probably not appropriate for a fundraiser for starving kids who probably did not have a bed on which to ‘coucher avec moi ce soir’).
Providing some Philly soul in their home city were Hall & Oates as well as Eddie and David from the Temptations. After Out of Touch and Maneater, the quartet played four songs with the duo, including the magical Smokey Robinson songs Get Ready, The Way You Do The Things You Do and My Girl. Then Mick Jagger came on to shimmy a bit (he had recorded Dancing in the Street with David Bowie to promote Live Aid), and sang his hit Miss You. He then introduced Tina Turner.
Tina is on NOW 6 with her number one from Mad Max: Thunderdome. We Don’t Need Another Hero was co-written by Graham Lyle of Gallagher & Lyle and Terry Britten, and the song took the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically, a very coveted songwriting prize in the UK. The pair also wrote What’s Love Got to Do With It, while Britten wrote the mighty Devil Woman for Cliff Richard, who himself is on NOW 6 with She’s So Beautiful.
Tina Turner’s song sits between Level 42’s Something About You and UB40’s Don’t Break My Heart. Other massive songs from 1985 include A Good Heart by Feargal Sharkey and the Baltimora song Tarzan Boy, which is a lot of fun but sounds like 1985. In catalogue, I Got You Babe gave UB40 – they’re on NOW 6 twice! – and Chrissie Hynde a hit, and kudos to the person who thought that song needed a reggae tinge.
Brilliant and original pop came from Eurythmics, with bonus Stevie Wonder on the harmonica, on There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart), and Running Up That Hill, the Kate Bush song used in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. I wanted to put one of those into the playlist but I hope you understand that One Vision had to go in. Nobody has yet made Wuthering Heights or Sweet Dreams, turning either of their catalogues into long-running West End smashes.
And so to Queen, who provided the ‘water cooler’ moment that dominated discussion (I presume, because I was not born) of Live Aid at work on July 9 1985. Think of how much money must have been donated during Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Ga Ga, Hammer to Fall, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Will Rock You, the Harry Belafonte bit (‘daaaaaaaaaaaay-oh’) and We Are the Champions…
Queen, along with Abba and Fab Four, have a claim to be the best ever pop group. They had a mercurial (ha!) frontman who hid his homosexuality and died of AIDS-related causes; their guitarist abandoned a PhD in dust clouds and astrophysics, which he eventually finished, and built his own guitar; their drummer thwacked the drums hard; and then John Deacon provided reliable basslines, one of which gave Vanilla Ice a career. Since 1992, the Queen brand lives on through the tireless efforts of Roger Taylor and Professor Brian May, as well as that musical which ran in London for over a decade.
We Will Rock You is the most successful jukebox musical ever, stringing together over 20 Queen tunes then asking at the end: ‘Do you want to hear Bohemian Rhapsody?’ (More of which later…) Adam Lambert has the role he was born to play, as a Freddie Mercury tribute singer playing with Queen on tour. Their ballads are as good as their uptempo tunes, but One Vision may be their best, even though it bizarrely mentions ‘FRIED CHICKEN!’ The riff is electric, and the vocal is so impassioned. Freddie is harmonising and doing his own backing vocals, while the chorus (‘ONE! FLESH!’ etc) is awesome. Try not to be moved by the human spirit here. It is a worthy playlist entrant, and a fitting tribute to the Zanzibar-born Freddie Bulsara.