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Remembering Live Aid 25 years later

By Todd Leopold, CNN
  • Live Aid took place 25 years ago Tuesday
  • Former MTV VJ Mark Goodman was among those at the show
  • Performers included Madonna, U2, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin -- but no Bruce Springsteen
  • Show had its flaws, but "we felt like we were making a difference," says Goodman

(CNN) -- In front of a packed house at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Joan Baez expressed the spirit of the day: "Good morning, children of the '80s," she said to the crowd gathered for the marathon charity concert Live Aid. "This is your Woodstock, and it's long overdue."

Skeptics might disagree with Baez -- and many did at the time -- but the heart of the July 13, 1985, show was in the right place, says former MTV VJ Mark Goodman.

"I wind up feeling like I speak in clichés when I talk about this day -- and I lived through the '60s -- but it was a day when we felt like we were making a difference," said Goodman, now 58, who was there with the rest of his MTV colleagues. "And I believe that we did."

Live Aid grew out of concern for the victims of famine in Ethiopia. The crisis sparked "Do They Know It's Christmas," a UK single sung by an all-star cast put together by the Boomtown Rats' Bob Geldof and Ultravox's Midge Ure, and then "We Are the World," an American single spearheaded by Harry Belafonte and manager Ken Kragen. With both songs having hit No. 1 in their respective countries, a movement began for a live show to raise money for the cause.

The concert, which took place 25 years ago Tuesday, ran live in both the UK and the U.S.: at London's Wembley Stadium and the now-defunct JFK. The lineup included Sting, Elton John, a young U2, Run-DMC, the Pretenders, Madonna, Bob Dylan and -- on both sides of the Atlantic, thanks to a timely Concorde flight -- Phil Collins.

Though Live Aid was far from the first charity show, its success gave birth to other fund-raisers, including Farm Aid and Live 8. It also led to a knighthood for Geldof, today better known for his charity work than his music.

Goodman, now a VH1 Classic personality and a DJ for Sirius XM, talked to about his memories of the show, its outstanding performances, the crazy rumors and his old employer. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: What was it like to actually be there?

Mark Goodman: The way the weather has been in the Northeast, that's how it was that day. We got onto the site at 6 in the morning, and it was hot and humid. And that really informed everything that happened, because everybody was running around working really hard. It was just incredibly hot, and they were hosing people in the front rows.

CNN: There had been fund-raising shows before -- the Concert for Bangladesh, the one for Kampuchea -- but the level of this was completely different.

Goodman: Sure, it wasn't the first time it had happened. But it was gargantuan compared to any of those. The scope of it really was incomprehensible for [the MTV VJs]. We saw the crowd there at JFK, 100,000 people or so, and we knew we were carried in all these places that were sending us feeds, but the real concept of it -- of how many were actually watching -- you really couldn't get your head around it that day. It wasn't until years later that I started to understand how many did actually see it.

CNN: What were some of the rumors? I remember hearing that the Beatles were going to reform, that Paul was going to play and George and Ringo would come out, say with John's son Julian.

Goodman: I don't recall that particular rumor, but what I do remember -- and this kind of stuff was floating up to us -- was that we were all kind of surprised that Bruce [Springsteen] wasn't there. And so there were some rumors somehow that got started somewhere that, "It was Bruce's lighting rig up there, Bruce's lighting rig." How can you tell one lighting rig from another?

CNN: What were some of your favorite performances?

Goodman: The big one of the day was the Led Zeppelin reunion. I was so shocked in days hence, when I'd speak to friends or family who watched it on TV, [they] thought they sounded awful, and apparently the band thought they sounded awful. I thought they sounded amazing on stage, which is where we were watching. ... Madonna was really amazing that day, I thought, and it was right around the time [her] nude pictures came out, and she made some sort of comment that "I ain't taking s*** off today." And even at the end, we were all up there singing "We Are the World," and there were people there who I think didn't wind up getting to perform who were part of that finale.

CNN: Do you think shows like this make a difference? There's always the question about, does this money get to the proper place? [The BBC reported in March that millions of dollars went to rebels to buy weapons; Geldof disputed much of the BBC's report.]

Goodman: I don't know the inner workings -- I know, like you, what I read in the newsmagazines -- [but] I have to believe that some of the money gets there. Geldof, I know, gets irate -- and he's no dummy -- he gets irate at the thought that people think that he's stiffing people and that the majority of the money isn't getting to the people who should be getting it. [But] we raised a lot of money and we also raised a lot of awareness, and I think both are equally valuable. I think the awareness continues today, and so does the money, from what I understand.

At the end of the day ... it was everything the '60s wanted itself to be, and maybe wasn't, really. And here, in the greed-is-good '80s, look at what happened.

CNN: What do you think of MTV nowadays?

Goodman: I don't. (laughs) My daughter does watch it. But I think the most telling thing was just a few months ago, they took the [word] "music" out of the logo. And they were only 10 years late doing that, I think.

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