Wembley Stadium, July 13, 1985. At exactly 18:41 Freddie Mercury jogged to the center of the stage. Seventy-two thousand spectators called out his name. The atmosphere became more festive when the superstar punched the air, and three other Queen personnel (Brian May, John Deacon, Roger Taylor) also entered the arena.
Freddie only wore a singlet shirt, jeans, and white Adidas shoes. His short hair was brushed to the back of his hair. Plus a thick mustache, the combination of this display became the mainstay of the vocalist’s costumes throughout the 1980s.
A few seconds later he sat on the piano. His fingers are lively playing the opening tone of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The audience became more hysterical, but also did not forget to sing together since the first verse: “Mama, just killed a man … Put a gun against his head … Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead …”
First it was humanity for Ethiopia, which has been hit by mass starvation since 1983. Residents in the north were the worst affected. The death toll reaches more than 400 thousand and counting. The situation was even more uncertain due to the prolonged civil war.
The tragedy moved the hearts of two musicians and activists from Ireland and Scotland, Bob Geldof and Midhe Ure. Initially they contributed through selling the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. Unexpectedly, his speech was quite warm, including from musicians from the United Kingdom.
Geldof and Ure see it as an opportunity to collect more donations. They agreed to hold a charity concert titled Live Aid. Besides at Wembley, the concert was also held at the John F. Kennedy Stadium, Philadelphia, United States, and attracted more than 100,000 spectators.
CNN Entertainment noted Live Aid managed to attract 1.9 billion viewers in 150 countries. Its main attraction is soloists and large band groups that are at the peak of popularity (and now considered a legend).
Besides Queen, for appearances at Wembley, Geldof, and Ure brought U2, David Bowie, Spendau Ballets, Sting, Phil Collins, to Elton John. At John F. Kennedy the audience was entertained by Madonna, Judas Priest, The Beach Boys, Crosby Still and Nash, Santana, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan.
Live Aid production manager Andy Zweck once shared a little story with Carl Wilkinson of the Guardian about how difficult it is to lobby artists.
He rejected the growing view that Live Aid’s reputation in the eyes of people now facilitated the work of the person in charge of Wembley, Harvey Goldsmith, and John F. Kennedy Stadium’s Bill Graham, Bill Graham.
Geldof approached Queen through Spike Edney, a former member of the band Geldof who was then a keyboardist of Queen while performing live, according to Gavin Edwards for the New York Times.
Queen did not immediately agree. Not because Brian, John and Roger were separating temporarily from Freddie. But because the group was exhausted after the 1985 spring tour in New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
Freddie and friends agreed to take part in the Live Aid concert after explaining the epic scale. To quote Geldof’s seduction to Freddie, “the whole stage was built for you.”
Queen was one of several bands that played at the beginning of the concert. They practiced seriously for three days — longer than their fellow artists. The result was a performance that according to the Channel 4 survey (via BBC News) in 2007 was the best rock concert of all time.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is only played up to Brian’s guitar solo parts. Next Queen rocked the audience with the song “Radio Gaga”. The tempo was slightly accelerated, and the most magical part was when the audience’s hands tapped twice in the air, following Freddie’s directions, along the chorus.
The audience was then invited by Freddie to follow his improvisation. Shouts of “Aaayy .. Ohh ..!” Made several times in a variety of different tones. Replies from the audience no less echoed. This session only lasted a few minutes, but became legendary because Freddie continued at the big concerts afterwards.
“Hammer to Fall” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” were then delivered by Queen in a rock and roll style. In two of the more popular numbers, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions”, the audience was again invited to clap, prancing, jiggling, and of course singing together.
Brian, John, and Roger presented a good performance. But the center of attention that night was Freddie. The energy is overflowing from beginning to end. Sweat soaked his body. He still produced the best vocal skills despite constantly running from one end of the stage to the other.
Queen had a break, then brought the last song at 21.48. Freddie and Brian chanted Is This the World We Created …? in the acoustic version. The lyrics are very representative of the situation in Ethiopia since the first verse: “Just look at all those hungry mouths we have to feed … Take a look at all the suffering we breed …”
The average music critic agreed that that night was one of Queen’s best performances. Freddie, too, was considered as an example of how a frontman should behave on stage.
But, for Jon Pareles of the New York Times, there was another factor that made Queen’s action on Live Aid very legendary.
Live Aid comes at the peak of celebrating idealism in rock music, Pareles said. Music is seen as more than just a means to achieve individual glory alone. He has the power to defend humanity in a better direction – like helping the people of Ethiopia who are starving.
Queen herself, continued Pareles, rejoiced at the opportunity to play on the grand agenda. Greatness has long been attached to the image of Queen. In an interview with the August 1999 edition of Mojo Magazine, Roger said that the key to his success in Live Aid was the regulation of the sound system.
Such ethos and intelligence make their hard work pay off. As Geldof commented, Queen was the best performing artist of the day. In line with Roger’s story, Geldof also considered that Queen presents the best sound system.
Brian explained that Queen is a band that prepares everything carefully. The double applause was indeed recommended by the producer to be included in the song. Personnel Queen agreed. This creation is in line with their vision: making songs that can make the audience participate when performed on stage.
But in the case of Live Aid, Brian was amazed by one important factor: the audience also came to watch bands other than Queen. They are not 100 percent Queen fans, but almost all of them applauded twice, according to Freddie’s direction, in the “Radio Gaga” reff section.
After 33 years, Rami Malek plays Freddie in the biopic film titled Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Despite getting a lot of negative ratings, Queen fans are guaranteed to remain entertained, especially at the end, when Rami and friends re-do the band’s performance at Live Aid 1985.
A concert that Pareles called momentum when Freddie made Wembley Stadium his world for 21 minutes.