Live Aid—the massive benefit concert staged at London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium 30 years ago today—featured a number of performances that quickly became the stuff of legends. U2 became stars, Queen flexed their virtuosic chops, and Led Zeppelin botched their reunion so horribly that they didn’t play together again for more than two decades. But dozens of artists big and small performed at the event, many of whom were well-received but obscured by the true highlights. Read on for some of Live Aid’s best performances off the beaten path:
Despite kinetic drummer Keith Moon’s death by drug overdose seven years earlier,The Who retained much of their early energy in their performance at the London branch of Live Aid—their first since their “farewell” tour in 1982. Technical problems interrupted the broadcast stateside, but the band’s raw, raucous performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” harkened back to their ’70s prime.
New acts like U2 and Madonna stole the show at Live Aid, while many legacy acts tanked. Not so with Neil Young, who brought his typically stellar live performance to the Philadelphia stage and upstaged the limp Woodstock revival of his former bandmates Crosby, Stills, and Nash in the process. Young’s whiskers may have grayed in the three decades since, but his signature guitar stomp hasn’t.
Black Sabbath at 10 a.m.? Only at Live Aid. Reuniting for the first time in seven years, the proto-metal rockers shredded like the good old days in Philadelphia. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne may have appeared stiff, but hey, can you really expect more from a rockstar that long before lunch? Sabbath’s guitar acrobatics jumpstarted the classic day of music to come.
When it comes to pianists with absurd vocal chops at Live Aid, Freddie Mercury gets all the attention—but that might just be because by 1985 so much of the world took Elton John for granted. Heartfelt in a way that no gigantic stadium show has business being, John underscored his elegant keyboard work with an array of horns and some totally ’80s lead guitar.
The Bard came armed with two phenomenal guitarists: Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. All equipped with acoustic guitars, the trio strummed away on some of Dylan’s classic tunes. The performance was ragtag and Dylan’s remarks onstage—about reallocating some of the funds raised to American farmers—entirely missed the point of Live Aid. But renditions of cuts like “When the Ship Comes In” are musically and emotionally spectacular.