If a song had the power to make 1980s music fans feel like they could help “feed the world,” it wasn’t because they perceived themselves as colonialists, but rather as activists, says Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who was 8 years old when Live Aid aired on the BBC in the summer of 1985. “I remember it,” Martin says. “It made my generation feel like caring for the world was part of the remit. Rock and roll doesn't have to be detached from society.” After Band Aid and Live Aid transformed the purchase of records and concert tickets into meaningful charitable contributions, music became the advocacy tool of choice. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” inspired other records such as USA for Africa's "We Are the World” for famine relief; Steven Van Zandt’s “Sun City” in protest of South African apartheid; and a Dionne Warwick remake of the Burt Bacharach ballad, “That’s What Friends Are For” for AIDS research.
At Live Aid, regular songs became anthems as they assumed the gravitas of the day. Howard Jones’s “Hide and Seek;” U2’s 12-minute version of “Bad;” and the gospel overtones of Teddy Pendergrass singing, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” added to the show's groundswell. “It was like dropping a pebble in a pond, and the ripples were huge,” says the co-organizer, Ure. “The average guy on the street felt connected to making a difference. Live Aid wasn’t [the artists’ baby], it belonged to the fans. They created the momentum by putting their hands in their pockets, buying the record, and by being at the concerts."
Elizabeth McLaughlin was 23 when she attended the London show and stood within feet of the stage. She remembers the moment the sun fell below the rim of Wembley Stadium and the audience clapped in unison to Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga.” “People were crying a lot,” she says. “The combination of the images on the screens and the messages coming from the artists reminded us why we were there. We knew we had to do more.” McLaughlin credits Live Aid for influencing her to leave a career as stockbroker and later become a country director for CARE. “Whatever came out of Live Aid—millions of pounds and dollars, that’s great. But what really happened at the concert is that a new generation was born, a generation meant to be aware of what’s going on around us.”
Live 8, a Live Aid sequel, was staged in 2005 before the G8 summit and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has been re-recorded three times, including in 1989, 2004, and last year, when a version was made to benefit Ebola relief in West Africa. Thanks in part to young fans of the band One Direction, which participated in 2014’s “Band Aid 30” recording, the song went to number one on the U.K. charts, even if its message didn't fly with Millennials.
Ironically, Live Aid may have been to blame for the backlash: Today’s viral videos, online charity ads, and point-of-purchase donations are direct descendants of the marketing tactics used in the promotion of the original Band Aid record and the Live Aid concerts. Since 1985, joining causes has become as important as donating to them, and Millennials like to do both. In a 2014 report by the Case Foundation, 87 percent of Millennials who participated in a charitable-giving and corporate-volunteering survey contributed to charity the previous year, but 97 percent responded that they prefer to use their individual skills to help a cause.