Queen at Live Aid, Wemberly 1985: A Setlist that Changed Music
The English musical rock icon Queen still performs live concerts today, even after the passing of their lead singer Freddie Mercury in 1991. However, they are not gaining any earth-shattering attention. Freddie Mercury’s final live performance with Queen was in 1986 in Knebworth Park, and even this gig does not turn many heads. The one definitive live concert that defines Queen was, is, and will forever be considered their 20-minute setlist at Live Aid in 1985.
What is Live Aid, 1985?
Live Aid, 1985, was a charity concert organized to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. The 1985 concert unfolded at two venues simultaneously; Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The two concerts were attended by an estimate of 72,000 and 89,484 people respectively. It is also estimated that around 1.9 billion people tuned into this concert live on television around the world–a staggering 40% of the world population at the time.
Nearly seven hours into the concert, only a disappointing £1.2 million has been raised off of donations. However, after Queen performed on stage, preceded by U2 and followed by David Bowie, the donation rate has soared to around £300 per second. There were nearly 300 phone lines activated to receive in donations over the phone. At the end of the concert, it is estimated that around £50 million has been raised off the concert.
Full List of Live Aid, 1985, Performers in Order
|Live Aid, Wemberly, UK||Live Aid, Philadelphia, USA|
|1. Status Quo||1. Bernard Watson|
|2. The Styl Council||2. Joan Baez|
|3. The Boomtown Rats||3. The Hooters|
|4. Adam Ant||4. Four Tops|
|5. Ultravox||5. Billy Ocean|
|6. Spandau Ballet||6. Black Sabbath|
|7. Elvis Costello||7. Run–D.M.C.|
|8. Nik Kershaw||8. Rick Springfield|
|9. Sade||9. REO Speedwagon|
|10. Sting & Phil Collins||10. Crosby, Stills and Nash|
|11. Howard Jones||11. Judas Priest|
|12. Bryan Ferry & David Gilmour||12. Bryan Adams|
|13. Paul Young||13. The Beach Boys|
|14. U2||14. George Thorogood and the Destroyers|
|15. Dire Straits||15. Simple Minds|
|16. Queen||16. Pretenders|
|17. David Bowie||17. Santana|
|18. The Who||18. Ashford & Simpson|
|19. Elton John||19. Madonna|
|20. Freddie Mercury & Brian May||20. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers|
|21. Paul McCartney & David Bowie, |
Bob Geldof, Alison Moyet, and Pete Townshend
|21. Kenny Loggins|
|22. The Cars|
|23. Neil Young|
|24. The Power Station|
|25. Thompson Twins|
|26. Eric Clapton|
|27. Phil Collins|
|28. Led Zeppelin|
|29. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young|
|30. Duran Duran|
|31. Patti LaBelle|
|32. Hall & Oates|
|33. Mick Jagger & Hall & Oates,|
Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin,
|34. Bob Dylan & Keith Richards,|
Complete Setlist of Queen at Live Aid, 1985
Queen performed a set of their greatest hits shown below in order of performance;
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- Radio Ga Ga
- Hammer to Fall
- Crazy Little Thing Called Love
- We Will Rock You
- We Are the Champions
Watch Queen’s Full Set at Live Aid, 1985 Live Concert
Review of the Setlist by Queen at Live Aid, Wemberly, 1985
Queen kicked off their iconic live performance with an abridged version of their biggest hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Of course, Queen could not perform the entire song, clocking a staggering 6 minutes, 1/3 of their entire allocated time. But of course, they could not omit it, as “Bohemian Rhapsody” has become synonymous with the name Queen and vice versa. So we see a beautiful, piano-lead performance of Queen’s and Rock music’s greatest ballads ever.
“Radio Ga Ga”
‘The Works’ album track is one of Queen’s biggest and best-selling and charting songs from their entire catalog. Freddie Mercury steps away from the piano and struts around the stage feeding new energy to the 72,000 crowd present.
“The note heard around the world”
After the second song on the setlist, Queen did something only Queen would do! Freddie Mercury held the mic in his hand firmly and screamed “aaayyyyy-oooh.” And much like he anticipated the 72,000 strong crowds followed him. More “ay-oh”s followed to which the crowd tried their best to keep up with Freddie’s vocal range. Freddie Mercury was a puppet master who had an entire stadium doing vocal improvisations! This bit is forever known as “the note heard around the world”.
“Hammer to Fall”
After Freddie Mercury had revved up the crowd with that singalong segment, Queen went on to perform another massive hit “Hammer to Fall.” Freddie’s energy on stage, running around, dancing, hitting every pitch and note perfectly, was a feat to be remembered. This segment also reserved some space for an amazing guitar work by Brian May.
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
Freddie Mercury dedicated their love anthem to all the people present at the Live Aid, 1985 concert; “This next song is only dedicated to beautiful people here tonight, which means all of you. Thank you for coming along, you are making this a great occasion.” Then Freddie went on to his usual energetic live routine while playing the electric guitar.
“We Will Rock You”
After an energy-consuming 17 minutes of performance, if there is any song that could re-energize the crowd, it would be “We Will Rock You.” The song was intended for “crowd participation,” and it certainly did that at Live Aid concert in 1985. This was further evidenced by the fact that Freddie Mercury let the crowd sing the hook of the song.
“We Are the Champions”
Freddie Mercury goes back to the keyboard to kick off the final song of Queen’s song list at Live Aid, 1985. The solemn start of the song builds up to the power-ballad the song is. Freddie is on his feet again, and the 72,000 attendees are swaying back-and-forth in unison!
Freddie Mercury blows a kiss to the crowd, bows down a few times and departs.
However, Freddie Mercury and Brian May returned to stage again to perform “Is This the World We Created…?” to mark the start of the end of the concert.
“You b*stards, you stole the show”
Elton John rushed into Queen’s trailer after their performance. Elton John muttered “You b*stards, you stole the show” jokingly to Queen.
What makes Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance so iconic?
There is verbal proof by Elton John himself. “Queen smoked ’em. They just took everybody. They walked away being the greatest band you’d ever seen in your life, and it was unbelievable,” said Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.
The Live Aid, 1985 organizer Bob Geldof summarized Queen’s performance the best; “Queen were absolutely the best band of the day,” he remembered. “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. And he could ponce about on stage doing We Are The Champions. How perfect could it get?”
Other people’s remarks apart, what made this concert so special for Queen band?
Freddie Mercury spoke about his motive to perform at Live Aid; “Iʼm not doing it out of guilt. Even if I didnʼt do it, the poverty would still be there. Itʼs something that will always be there, to be honest, when you think about it. All we can do to help is wonderful things. Iʼm doing it out of pride, pride that Iʼve been asked as well as that I can actually do something like that. And so basically Iʼm doing it out of feeling that one way all the hard work that Iʼve actually done over the years has paid off, because theyʼre actually asking me to do something to be proud of.”
“I’d never seen anything like that in my life and it wasn’t calculated, either… it was the greatest day of our lives,” said Brian May after their performance.
According to the biopic movie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ based on the life of Freddie Mercury, Freddie was suffering from HIV AIDS at the time of Live Aid, 1985. Freddie Mercury could have contracted HIV AIDS as early as 1984, although the news was only publicized in 1987. So this legendary performance of Freddie Mercury comes from a man who is terminally ill and who has his days numbered.
According to the movie, Queen had broken up in 1984 due to the band’s internal struggles mainly stemming from Freddie’s erratic behavior. During this time Freddie had tried to pursue a solo career, quite unsuccessfully. They get back together, lead by an apology from Freddie Mercury, just weeks before Live Aid. However, it is factual that Queen practiced for a week non-stop to get in shape for the concert. And it shows!
On top of all this, Freddie Mercury aced the vocals. The setlist they performed at Live Aid, 1985 is by no means an ‘easy’ task. Freddie was most likely sick with HIV AIDS and he hit every pitch and note to the perfection. He ran around, jumped around and fed new energy to 72,000 people watching him at the arena and billions watching on television. All the time, when his energy was fading away.
All these stories, songs, Freddie’s crowd control, ups and downs, perfections and imperfections make Queen’s Live aid, 1985 concert one of their greatest ever. It has and forever will go down as one of the greatest live performances in music history.
What do you think about Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert? Let us know in the comments below.
Watch this rare footage of Queen members behind the scene just before their gig on stage. You can see the energy of Freddie Mercury even backstage.