Bad Hair, Check. Bad Fashion, Check. Bad Music…Not So Fast. Ok, Check. At Least the 1980s had Globally Aware Entertainers

live aid concert poster Dennis Rodman’s recent “goodwill mission” to North Korea sparked quite a bit of anger from Americans. Rodman, of course, organized an exhibition basketball game between a North Korean team and former NBA players for that country’s dictator, Kim Jung Un. After listening to a local radio talk show host complain how celebrities today have entertained for dictators, I thought of the good old 1980s. Bono, Sting and Bruce wouldn’t have been caught in their tight, acid washed jeans entertaining a dictator. They toppled those guys with hair spray and synthesizers.

Recently in class, while playing a video commemorating Mandela, I saw a clip of several iconic bands performing to force his release in 1988. Of course, there was also the Live Aid concerts of 1985. This post will highlight these efforts and some of my favorite music played those historic days.

First there was Live Aid in 1985 where 1.9 billion people via satellite feeds (the largest tv audience up to that point) along with 70,000 people at Wembley Stadium and 100,000 people at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia watched sixteen hours of amazing bands. I remember watching it with my older brothers, not as aware of all the bands as they were, but just as excited. This video of Queen performing at Wembley is incredible. $140 million dollars was raised for hunger relief in Ethiopia and Sudan. This quote below from an attendee shows how different of an era it was in terms of technology and how we experienced events.

“Probably the most important difference is then, there were no mobiles, no texts, no camera phones. We were locked inside Wembley incommunicado with the outside world, not knowing how massive was the event we had become part of.”


In 1988, another huge group of music artists banded together to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday with a concert to force his release and call for an end to Apartheid in South Africa. A collaborative song in 1986 by dozens of well-known artists of that time was called “Sun City” (video below). I did not understand this song and remember thinking as a kid, why is Bruce Springsteen and everyone else so angry in the video? Sun City was a whites-only resort in South Africa that typically booked major music talent for its guests. The chorus of this song, “We ain’t gonna play Sun City”, served as a rebuke to that resort, the empowered whites, their corrupt government and system of Apartheid.

Other collaborative entertainment efforts in the 1980s to help change the world for the better was “USA for Africa” and “Band Aid.” What was it about that decade that fostered such great collaboration among artists? Are there contemporary examples?


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