The dramatic story of Duran Duran at Live Aid - commentary and clarifications in bold and italics by AW
*Updated 25th September 2023
24th November 1984: Band Aid recording of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, London
Simon: Bob [Geldof] called me first [to get involved in Band Aid]… We got lumped in with Thatcherism because people thought we were living the high life. This was an opportunity to do something that wasn’t about ‘me’. It made you feel you could do something useful. We made young people believe they had some kind of power and were able to do something that did have an effect… Paul Weller wasn’t very friendly. He was very political, and Duran Duran as a band had always stayed clear of politics. But Band Aid wasn’t about politics, it was about saving lives. People wanted to have an effect, and that really is the line that joins me to Paul Weller. He wanted to help feed some kid in Africa, same as I did. (2014)
Bono (interviewed post-show at Live Aid): Why wouldn’t we be here today? Why wouldn’t you be a part of it? If you’re not, the question has to be pointed to whoever. When we did Band Aid back in December, the thing that separated it from all other get together-type records, was the feeling of goodwill amongst the artists. People who don’t share the same music visions, let me put it that way. Simon le Bon bought me a drink, what can I say! We’re not Duran Duran, but they were real nice to us. A lot of groups you wouldn’t have expected to get on, just getting on.
24th May 1985: Power Station announce their summer American tour, including Live Aid on 13th July. This was one of the first signs that the show was going to happen.
John: Two weeks ago Bob said he was going to put together a massive concert for Ethiopia. If it happens, we are going to do Shea Stadium [the original venue for the American show].
John: Simon called me up and said we [Duran] would really like to do it. Duran had no plans to work in the summer. I said we [Power Station] can’t do Wembley, and we worked it out that we [Power Station and Duran] are going to do both.
Simon: We wanted to do London! But Bob Geldof said: “We need someone big to do the American show.” Just to help get people on board. (2015)
Michael des Barres: To be in a band with John and Andy Taylor, it was interesting to see these two young’uns at the peak of Duran’s fame almost tipping. It was a fascination to see it through their eyes. I could feel what they were feeling. It’s a very difficult thing to put into words. … It was people who were reflective, insecure, overly hyped.
Thursday 11th July: Duran Duran and The Power Station check-in at the Palace Hotel in Philadelphia (where most of the acts would stay). They then start two days of rehearsals.
Rolling Stone: Sitting in the Palace bar, Andy Taylor tried to introduce Nick Rhodes to Power Station drummer Tony Thompson and singer Michael Des Barres. Rhodes didn’t seem too interested; neither did his wife. Then somebody asked how Duran’s first rehearsal in six months had gone. “We’re not too bad for a bunch of fairies,” said Rhodes. (August 1985)
Simon: I remember it was really nice to see you guys [John and Andy] at rehearsals for Live Aid. I felt a real warmth from you both and there wasn’t any animosity. (2015)
Rolling Stone: Later that night the hotel gave an all-night pool party for the artists and their friends. A suite overlooking the pool was stocked with beer and liquor, and room service provided trays of fruits and salads. Mick Jagger spent most of his time chatting with Andy Taylor, whom he introduced to Daryl Hall.
John: Our relationships hadn’t got any better [since A View To A Kill video shoot in Paris in March] but at the rehearsals the tensions melted away (2012). I already knew the Power Station was at a dead end so I was quite happy to be in Duran Duran for a day. (2015)
Andy: The rehearsals were a disaster.
Saturday 13th July: Live Aid, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. The same day that A View To A Kill reaches number one in America.
The JFK Stadium hosted 89,484 people at Live Aid (above). The stadium was condemned exactly four years after Live Aid on 13th July 1989, and demolished in 1992.
John: Duran were clinging on for existence. We’d divided in two camps but it came together that day and I love Duran’s performance at Live Aid. It wasn’t intimidating as we had the No 1 in America that week. So there were these giants around us, but it was our moment.
Andy: We had to cancel a couple of gigs*, at a cost of $250,000, to do Live Aid.
*The Power Station may have had to scrap two potential shows to do Live Aid, but it seems unlikely they had to cancel any. John was clear when announcing the tour on 24th May that Live Aid was scheduled for 13th July and that they would perform there.
Andy: Inside the limo [to the stadium] we sat in silence, as if we were going to a funeral.
Martha Quinn (MTV VJ): Duran Duran was kind of our One Direction. They were everything to us! We thought to be in Duran Duran must be the greatest thing ever! But now we know that they drove to JFK Stadium in total silence - angry, weird, uncomfortable silence.
Rolling Stone: By the late afternoon the number of superstars per square yard had escalated dramatically. Sharing one set of trailers were Madonna, the Power Station, Duran Duran and The Pretenders.
Michael: I was levitating. If you look at the tape now, you could clearly see me levitating. I was so excited. People were writing the words of their biggest songs on the palm of their hands with a magic marker. I was standing next to Madonna and she was shaking so much that she was going mad.
UK 22:14 EST 17:14
The Wembley show comes to an emotional conclusion after an unforgettable day. It is notable that the UK show had had (despite the highlights of Queen and U2) the feel of a pop event, while the US hosted a mostly rock concert. By 10pm UK time, the US show had featured Santana, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Rick Springfield and Bryan Adams. Granted, Madonna had done a good set, but next up were Tom Petty, Neil Young, and The Cars. Into that context, Le Bon, Rhodes and the three Taylors got ready to take the stage, while the majority of the UK turned off the TV and went to bed.
UK 23:06 EST 18:06
Neil Young is the act onstage before the Power Station. He plays Needle and the Damage Done, which, 10 years later, was one of two songs performed at Live Aid to be covered by Duran Duran (the other being Rebel Rebel).
UK 23:42 EST18:42
Don Johnson introduces Power Station on stage.
Michael: The first Power Station show was Live Aid*. Bono was there*. (2014)
*neither of these statements are correct
On the BBC, the transmission starts with the Power Station already on stage. Michael is waving and John and Andy are rocking out to Murderess. Michael dominates stage and camera. During Andy’s guitar solo, Michael wanders to be near the crowd and gets soaked in (hopefully) beer.
Get It On goes down really well. John is visibly relaxing and enjoying the show. Michael is a live wire. Crowd shots show a good reception, including decent audience interaction at the end of an exuberant performance. And then, only 12 minutes after they started, they are gone.
Andy: I was sober when we did it Power Station but quite drunk by the time we did it with Duran. (2023)
John: The performances were fraught with technical problems. Andy’s guitar went down before the Power Station set which meant we had to cut a number. It wasn’t easy! (2010) The sound was terrible. I was really pissed about that. I couldn't really enjoy it until we'd finished but when I look back, what a day! (August 1985)
Michael: I knew it was about raising money for starving kids, not whether I could remember the words or not. The perspective just hit me when we went on stage, and I just thought ‘I’m going to have the greatest afternoon of my life.’
John: My feet didn’t touch the ground for the whole 12 minutes. You were so caught up in the frenzy of how many million people were watching. By the time Duran went on, I’d kind of settled. (2015)
Smash Hits review: The Power Station feature horrid axe solos, feverish on stage struttings and boundless onstage determination.
UK (14th July) 01:10 EST 20:10
Led Zeppelin come on stage (featuring Power Station drummer Tony Thompson). Robert Plant, lest it be forgotten in the infamous storm about to break 45 minutes later, gave a consistently poor vocal performance and demanded the footage was never officially broadcast again.
John: I stood stage-side watching Led Zeppelin. I’d never been a Zeppelin fan* but they started off with Rock And Roll and I just thought, “Holy fuck!” Then, “Hang on, isn’t that Jack Nicholson?”
*10 years later, Duran Duran would record a cover of a Led Zeppelin song, and name an album after it.
Andy: They put Duran on after Led Zeppelin! I looked at this [bill and see] Led Zeppelin – Duran Duran. I’m like they’re having a laugh! Led Zeppelin was [a] disaster [laughs]! I was sitting on the side, right up the back, watching Zeppelin [and] going ‘This is great because they’re not doing very well. So, it’s not gonna be too bad for us!" I had popcorn, you know those big popcorn buckets, they were filled with ice and white wine. I’m watching [them] and going ‘Wow, that’s growing up. It’s not going to be too…’ You know, they weren’t doing well.’ (2023)
UK 01:38 EST 20:38
Dick James, live on ABC, announces, "Coming up next on Live Aid we've got the number one song in the country this week - don't go away."
Simon: We were backstage and came on after Crosby, Stills and Nash*. We were setting up behind the curtain, and we were doing a line check. John was playing his bass, and Stephen Stills pulled back the curtain and yelled, ‘will you guys shut the fuck up!’ (2015)
*Actually Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
UK 01:45 EST 20:45
The ABC show sees Crosby Stills, Nash and Young wave to crowd at the end of their set, and the on-stage announcer says, 'We’ve got something real special coming up!' The camera pans around the crowd and we hear someone shout, ‘Simon!”
There’s a very quick turnaround of only a minute. Chevy Chase (!) comes on stage.
“Are you ready?” he asks – to be answered by screams. “Here they are – Duran Duran!”
The huge curtain covering the stage dramatically parts, and there they are. “Good evening!” says Simon, and the intro to A View To A Kill stab out.
It is Duran Duran's first live concert performance for 15 months. They are performing to a festival crowd on a surreally long day, to a stated billion people* on TV, and in front of their peers backstage. They are not getting on as a group. And it’s the first time Simon has sung A View To A Kill.
*See below for more information about this particular well-worn stat.
In the UK, the BBC cut straight to the band already playing.
Simon: I was so nervous for the entire time we were onstage.
This statement is honest, and evident. In this context (and possibly because of his nerves), he makes a poor decision to be very active and throws a lot of shapes throughout the song. He sounds breathy at first, though seems to have settled down vocally by the first chorus. However, by the end he comes close to fluffing ‘broken dreams’ - and then IT happens.
Simon: At the time I was mortified, absolutely mortified. We’d been rehearsing all day for two days and I’d given myself a bit of a sore throat because I’d just hammered it. My voice was shot to pieces by the Saturday. Then I hit the worst bum note I’ve ever hit in front of the most people I’ve ever sung in front of. But now, I don’t give a fuck, to be honest. It’s a bum note. People hit them. The reason it happened is that it was in a very high key. And so, “The fatal kiss is all we neeeeeeed …” I’m not embarrassed about it.
John: That note has cast a shadow over the whole performance, which is unfair.
Andy: It’s possible his voice wasn’t fully trained because he’d been off the road for so long.
Martha Quinn: Honestly, Simon wasn’t even that bad. It’s now become famous because they have talked about it a lot, but if they had just zipped their mouths about that, I don’t think anybody would have ever noticed.
Martha is at least partly right. In the context of the whole song and performance, it’s not that bad (though Andy appears to wince). In fact, it is not mentioned in the immediate editions of Smash Hits or Rolling Stone, or in the blanket coverage afforded to Arcadia in September and October 1985.
After this, Simon gives a couple of strange (nervous) between song chats to the audience, one of which seems to be him talking to himself / the band: “Tonight we are here to celebrate, something that has worked so far.” Union of the Snake follows, which is unremarkably adequate.
UK 01:54 EST 20:54
As Union of the Snake concludes, Dick Clark cuts in and says, "coming up next, David Bowie from Wembley, don't go away." He comes back after the ad break with Save A Prayer just audible behind him. Four minutes later he is back with Duran playing The Reflex behind him. He ignores them to show Paul McCartney earlier at Wembley.
Save A Prayer suits Simon much better with its deeper register (you can see him sharing smiles with John, below). The Reflex is a blast and should have been the set opener, allowing Simon to start with something familiar and less demanding on his voice. If he was "absolutely mortified" at the time, he covered it up well during the rest of the set.
As for everyone else, we see little of Roger; Nick looks imperious; John warms up as it goes along; while Andy does his own thing and appears to avoid a mic-share moment with Simon during The Reflex.
Overall it’s a spirited, competent performance, albeit underwhelming and communally disjointed - which the chaotic official pictures capture.
Andy: We did it okay anyway, we did it okay… (2023)
UK 02:08 EST 21:08
Duran exit after a 22 minute set, one of the longest of the day. You can see them say goodbye and leave on You Tube, but the BBC (who did at least show all four songs live) quickly cut away straight to a studio with no comment, and move on to a song by Cliff Richard.
Above, blink-and-you'll-miss-it screen shot (6:09) of the Fab Five on stage for the last time for 18 years.
Michael: I thought they were great. (Reply to Cherry Lipstick on Twitter, 9th July 2023)
Nick: I thought it went pretty well, considering. It was difficult for all acts, but we have a lot of technology, and we didn’t have in-ear monitoring, so I was almost rigid with fear. I couldn’t hear anything at all of the sound, and I was turning round looking at Roger to see where we were. (2015)
Roger: Afterwards, there was just a sense of relief that we’d got through it and come out the other end. (2015)
Smash Hits review: Duran give a pretty reluctant and unconvincing performance. The reaction of the stadium’s 90,000 is luke-warm at best*.
*There are very few shots of the crowd during the performance, as it is now pitch-black at the stadium. The crowd noise in terms of reaction seems fine on TV.
Andy: When [Duran] came off stage there were no congratulatory hugs or friendly smiles. It was like we were completely foreign to each other… the following day I gave up drinking.
UK: 03:55 EST: 22:55
The group finale of Live Aid. Power Station / Duran line up at the front of the stage. Half way through, a large group of children are brought on who stand / sit in front of them.
L-R: John, (?), Simon, (?), Andy
L-R: Andy, Michael, Roger, Nick
Michael: The greatest rock'n’roll experience that anybody ever had was at the hotel! All the people you’ve mentioned were at the hotel. We just played a gig for almost two billion people. You could make a movie of that night back in the hotel, it would be equally as interesting as the concert itself. But if you did make that movie we’d all be arrested! It was a crazy night!
Roger: I remember being at a party with Tina Turner in Mick [Jagger]’s room until the early hours.
Nick: Mick introduced me to Bob Dylan who said ‘hello’, turned around, walked into a wall and cut his nose. He wasn’t trying to get away, but I felt really bad.
Martha Quinn: My contention is Live Aid 1985 was probably the pinnacle of rock ’n’ roll.
John: When I think back on Live Aid, I am almost overwhelmed by the glory of it all. Pop culture would never be the same
Midge Ure (co-writer of Do They Know It’s Christmas): A little girl who used to live next door to me a few years ago told me recently that she had learned about us in history. She said she had been reading about it all and my name had come up. That's just weird. I think the legacy of Live Aid is not just the fact that there are people alive today who wouldn't have been alive, but I think young people's perspective of charity has changed. Twenty years ago, charity was something the Women's Institute did. All of a sudden their heroes are up there saying, 'I'm involved.' (2004)
John, Power Station interviews, You Tube, May and June 1985
Smash Hits, July 1985
Rolling Stone, The Day The World Rocked, 16th August 1985
Andy quotes from Wild Boy (autobiography, 2009)
Rolling Stone, The Making Of Band Aid: Secrets and Stories from the Legendary Session, 25th November 2014
Simon ‘interview’ (quotes taken from other sources), Daily Mail, July 2015
Duran Duran interview, The Guardian, 10th September 2015
Simon on Jimmy Kimmel (You Tube), 27 October 2022
AND NOW... How many people actually watched Duran Duran at Live Aid?
It’s a cheap jibe – Simon sang a bum note in front of billion people. But did he? Wikipedia states that there was “an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, in 150 nations, nearly 40% of the world population.” Checking the citations merely repeats the 1.9 billion figure (CNN) rather than prove it. Elsewhere, the viewing figures are reduced by 25% to 1.5 billion
Another site states, “You could watch Live Aid on 95% of the TV sets of the world.” This certainly gives a very wide reach. But does not mean people were watching any of it, or all of it, or the exact moment when Simon slipped up for that second during A View To A Kill.
It seems likely that over 1.5 billion people watched it at some point during the day. The peak time (which may or may not have been a billion+ viewers) was the 5pm - 7pm UK time range (from noon EST / 1am Toyko), at the time U2, Dire Straits and Queen played.
One thing that certainly happened is that by mid-afternoon at Wembley, the scale of the show had overtaken everyone in a most unexpected way. Princess Diana had shown up, helicopters were flying people in, there was chaos backstage (for the bands and the BBC), and the sun was shining. We actually were saving the world. It became clear that this was a major worldwide event - and then someone said a billion people were watching. Maybe they were - but no one was actually counting, But it sounded suitably amazing, and was a lovely round number.
In the UK, TV viewing records show Live Aid had 24.5 million viewers, making it the fourth most watched TV show ever excluding news and sport. That's a lot - but most (along with a sleepy Europe) weren’t watching at 2am when Duran were on stage.
In the US, Live Aid had shown in full on the (then) minority channel, MTV. The ABC network syndicated it for 11 hours, but ran adverts. ABC went live with their own feed (which you can see here), with host Dick Clark, at about 20:00 EST (who said two billion people were watching), and showed a selection of highlights before going live with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Duran Duran hit the stage at US prime time (well done to the Berrows). Duran therefore undoubtedly had a big audience (for the 9 minutes they were live, see above). But was it really a billion?
[For the record, Wikipedia does not show Live Aid as featuring in the top 30 US TV events i.e. not making at least 90 million viewers.]
It seems clear - Simon did NOT sing a bum note in front of a billion people, but if you had noticed it, you did not see it again for a long time. ABC, at Geldof’s request, erased their tapes. The ABC syndicated feed has been lost. MTV lost lots of its tapes. In the aftermath, Live Aid had been such a big deal, and Queen had been so good, that there was more to focus on that Simon's 'blink and you'll miss it' late-night moment.
Then, in November 2004, at the 10th anniversary of the Band Aid recording, a 4-disc DVD of the show was released. And it was from here, dear friends, that the bum note properly travelled around the world. A View To A Kill was not included on the disc, which only emphasised its status. In July 2005 the moment was given more legs by 10-year anniversary Live Aid nostalgia shows which featured talking-heads who all turned it into a ha-ha moment. Duran then appeared at Live 8, giving more 'do you remember when?' commentary, from people who almost certainly did not, but had just been shown a clip to chat about. And finally, thanks to social media, everyone can hear the snippet - or just share a cheap jibe. It has become the story of a stressful day in the life of Duran Duran. It wasn't a big deal at the time - and we know Simon epitomises how Duran Duran are the great survivors. (AW)
READ MORE ABOUT DURAN DURAN'S AMAZING HISTORY THROUGH THE EXTENSIVE RESEARCH AND WRITING IN CHERRY LIPSTICK!
Select extracts above taken from two Cherry Lipstick sources:
1. The Power Station: In Their Own Words 1981-1997
The whole story, from conception to the second album. Print issue from November 2022 available here
2. Around the World in 40 Shows 1979-2019
40 songs that defined Duran’s career, with the story behind each of them. From a Birmingham club to NASA, via solo shows and South America.
Cherry Lipstick issues January 2021 - available for digital download
PLUS: If you enjoyed this, you will like our fanzine Early Duran 1972-1980: In Their Own Words
The whole story told in order for the first time. First published in 2019. Includes two exclusive Cherry Lipstick articles.