Queen’s Iconic Live Aid Performance Changed Music History

Queen’s performance at the Live Aid benefit concert at Wembley Stadium has been referred to as the ‘greatest live performance of all time’. In an attempt to raise funds to offset the Ethiopian famine, the dual-venue concert was held partially in London, and at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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The lineup between the two venues was stacked with the most popular artists of the time. Acts such as Madonna, U2, The Who, Elton John, George Michael, Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Dire Straits, Sting all gave live aid performances. An estimated 1.9 billion watched the televised performances from over 100 countries. Wembley stadium alone housed 72,000 people. To this day, the 17 minute Queen set is the stand out performance from the benefit.

Queen almost didn’t perform at the Live Aid benefit. They were admittedly in a slump, having settled into their lives as musicians over a successful career. When Bob Geldof and Midge Ure extended the invite to the band to play the benefit, they thought it might be just another performance. They also would have to play in the daytime which really wasn’t their thing. Nevertheless, they excepting the invitation and practiced for a week straight to perfect their set. Little did they know that their performance would blow not only the minds of the crowd but theirs too.

On that evening of July 13, 1985, Queen was set to follow an introduction by Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith. Dressed as police officers, the two introduced the band as “Her Majesty… Queen”. Brian May, John Deacon, Roger Taylor, and Freddie Mercury took the stage beneath the “Feed The World” banner. Freddie Mercury donned in those tight white jeans and white tank top topped their six-song setlist with a quick piano transposition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The ‘Radio Ga Ga’ performance up next was electric as the entire crowd joined in the frontman in his vocal improvisation. The last note of the song is often referred to as the note heard around the world.

The band continues down their setlist of greatest hits with ‘Hammer to Fall,’ written by guitarist Brian May. The song was dedicated to all the “beautiful people” who came out to the show that night. ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ preluded a shortened (first verse and chorus) ‘We Will Rock You’ before their big finale. Queen’s performance of ‘We Are The Champions’ was the most electric performance that translated in person and across media, solidifying queen as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Some Redditors recall having seen it on the television, many of them weren’t fancy, having “so so reception” and they were still stunned by the performance. One commenter said that after watching the performance he and his friend were “more goosebumps than man.” That’s saying something.

After the show, it was clear that Queen had created a moment that would go down in history. Elton John went to Freddie Mercury’s trailer after the show and proclaimed “You bastards, you stole the show”! Boomtown Rats musician Bob Geldof, who had organized the event said, “Queen were absolutely the best band of the day… They played the best, had the best sound, used their time to the full. They understood the idea exactly, that it was a global jukebox. They just went and smashed one hit after another. It was the perfect stage for Freddie: the whole world.”

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 1, 2019.

Watch: ‘Love of My Life’: Why Freddy Mercury and Mary Austin’s Love Story is More Than a Song

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