Live Aid 25th Anniversary: 10 Awesome Benefit Show Performances

Dave Hogan/Getty Images
Irish singer Bono performing with U2 at the Live Aid charity concert, Wembley Stadium, London, 13th July 1985. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

Twenty five years ago today (July 13), more than 50 artists across two continents united for the Live Aid benefit concerts, organized by UK musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to aid famine relief efforts in Ethiopia. The event touched the hearts (and wallets) of fans across the globe, as an estimated audience of two billion tuned in to their radios and televisions to witness performances by the era's biggest acts and rock out for a cause.

In honor of the Live Aid concerts, we look back at 10 of the most memorable benefit concert performances in history, ranging from star-making sets from U2, Bruce Springsteen and Jimi Hendrix, to poignant, once-in-a-lifetime turns from Paul McCartney, Sting and Pink Floyd.

U2, Live Aid

July 13, 1985

"We're an Irish band. We come from Dublin City, Ireland," Bono told the Live Aid audience at London's Wembley arena. But after U2's brilliant performance at the mother of all benefit concerts, the quartet would need no further introduction. U2's kinetic and captivating set became the stuff of legend when, during an emotional 14-minute performance of "Bad," Bono leapt from the stage to rescue a girl being crushed by the crowd and began dancing with her in front of the stage. U2 only had time to perform two songs that day, but the performance was enough to establish the band as one of rock's pre-eminent live groups.

next: Pink Floyd @ Live 8

Pink Floyd, Live 8

July 2, 2005

For the first time in 24 years, the four surviving members of Pink Floyd put aside their infamous differences and shared the stage for 2005's Live 8, a massive concert event that preceded that year's G8 summit and united 182 artists across the globe in an effort to cancel the debt of the world's poorer countries Floyd's 4-song set climaxed with a gripping performance of "Comfortably Numb," which ended with the words "Make Poverty History" scrawled across the screen. The G8 countries seemed to listen to the band's plea: five days after the concerts, world leaders pledged to double 2004 levels of aid to poor nations from by the year 2010, with half of the money going to Africa .

next: Bruce Springsteen @ No Nukes

Bruce Springsteen, No Nukes

September 22, 1979

Organized by Jackson Browne, John Hall, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt in response to the Three Mile Island crisis, the 1979 No Nukes concert series at New York 's Madison Square Garden revived a social consciousness in the musical community -- in this case, against the use of nuclear energy. The concert, which also featured the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor, is also significant for capturing the dynamic live show of Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band on video. The band's high-energy performance of hits like "Detroit Medley" and " Thunder Road " became not only one of the event's highlights, but also brought the Jersey crew to massive mainstream acclaim.

next: Madonna and Gogol Bordello @ Live Earth

Madonna & Gogol Bordello, Live Earth

July 7, 2007

The 2007 Live Earth concert series aimed to raise awareness of environmental issues throughout the world, with performers as diverse as Foo Fighters, Black Eyed Peas, and Metallica on the bill. At the London branch of the show, Madonna - who cut her benefit-concert chops at both 1985's Live Aid and 2005's Live 8 - brought out New York gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello for an unexpected collaboration. The group contributed energetic violin and guitar strumming to a vibrant rendition of Madge's '80s hit "La Isla Bonita," which wowed the crowd at London's Wembley Arena.

next: Sting @ Secret Policeman's Other Ball

Sting, Secret Policeman's Other Ball

September 9, 1981

In his first performance as a solo star, Sting took to the stage with stripped-down renditions of some of the Police's biggest hits. The benefit, organized by Amnesty International, also saw performances by Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Midge Ure and Bob Geldolf, who said that the Secret Policeman series prompted him to produce 1985's Live Aid concerts. However, it was Sting who stood out with his haunting performance bass-and-vocals performance.

next: George Harrison @ Concert For Bangledesh

George Harrison, Concert for Bangladesh

August 1, 1971

After turning to Hinduism in the '60s, ex-Beatle George Harrison collaborated with Indian musician Ravi Shankar to organize the quintessential benefit concert of the '70s, which supported Bangladeshi refugees of a cyclone and the Bangladesh Liberation War. Marking his first performance since leaving the Beatles, Harrison performed hits such as "My Sweet Lord," "It Don't Come Easy" with Ringo Starr, and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with Eric Clapton. Perhaps most moving was his performance of "Bangla Desh," a song which he recorded specifically for the cause.

next: Queen @ Live Aid

Queen, Live Aid

July 13, 1985

Esteemed as the "World's Greatest Live Gig" in a

Jimi Hendrix, Monterey Int'l Pop Festival

June 18, 1967

Cited by many as rock n' roll's first benefit concert, the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival in California brought together international musicians of various genres to support the MIPF Foundation. Iconic bands such as the Grateful Dead, The Byrds and The Who appeared on the three-day bill, but the most notable performance came from then up-and-coming guitarist named Jimi Hendrix, who dazzled the audience with his axe acrobatics before he lit his instrument on fire and then smashed it at the conclusion of his cover of "Wild Thing." The show marked one of America 's first encounters with the Jimi Hendirx Experience brought international acclaim to the group.

next: Paul McCartney @ Concert For New York City

Paul McCartney, Concert for New York City

October 20, 2001

Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center , Sir Paul McCartney organized the Concert for New York City to honor members of the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department who had lost their lives in the attacks and worked in the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts. Artists like David Bowie and Destiny's Child performed at the Madison Square Garden event, but it was Macca himself who turned in the night's most memorable set. Dressed in a NYFD shirt, Paul closed his eyes and delivered a passionate a capella version of the Beatles classic "Yesterday," whose words took on poignant new meaning in the wake of the tragedy.

next: Justin Timberlake and the Rolling Stones @ Sars Benefit

Justin Timberlake and The Rolling Stones,
The SARS Benefit Concert

July 30, 2003

In 2003, The Rolling Stones organized a concert to revive Toronto 's tourism industry, which had been crippled by the worldwide outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Justin Timberlake found himself on a bill that featured a host of rock acts like the Guess Who, Rush and AC/DC, but the pop star's set proved unwelcome by fans, who hurled water bottles, muffins and other debris onto the stage during his performance. Justin put on a brave face and even returned to the stage to perform "Miss You" with the Rolling Stones later in the show.

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