At first glance, the 80s looks like the Age of Excess. After all, it was the successful days of Yuppies, Preppies and Reaganomics. Disco swallowed up all the love and social consciousness of the 60s leaving the self-centered 'Me Generation' in its wake. Well, that's what some people would like you to believe anyway. Actually, the 80s experienced a worldwide flurry of fund raising events that resulted in some of the greatest benefit concerts of all time. From Band Aid to Farm Aid, the 80s had a great impact on the spirit of giving all around the world. Issues like poverty and human rights became something that people really cared about and supported.


The musician who got it all started was Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats. In October of 1984, he was shocked by the horrifying images of starvation in Ethiopia he saw broadcast as a BBC documentary and wanted to do something about it. The result was Band Aid - a group of almost 40 musicians from Great Britain and Ireland that included members of Wham! and Duran as well as solo performers like David Bowie. They came together in November to record the single 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in an effort to raise money for famine relief. The song immediately achieved phenomenal success, debuting on the UK charts at number one. It went on to sell five million copies, three million in the UK alone. Two weeks later, it topped the US charts as well. During the winter of 1984, it seemed the video was on every time you tuned in to MTV.


In the states Ken Kragen, eventual founder of USA For Africa, contacted Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson about writing a song the proceeds of which could be donated to the relief effort. Together they wrote the US single 'We Are The World'. In order to assure all of the artists would be available on the same date, the song was recorded on January 28th, 1985, the same night as the American Music Awards. With performers like Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper, the song was a major success. 800,000 copies reached stores in early March and sold out the first weekend. The single entered the Billboard charts at number 21, the highest debuting single in the US since the release of John Lennon's 'Imagine'. It reached number one three weeks later. Eventually the song went on to win Grammys for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year.


Meanwhile, Geldof had been working on a large benefit concert to raise even more money for Ethiopia. After convincing broadcasting companies, venues, concessionaires, as well as the bands and their crews to donate their time, the concert was scheduled for July 13, 1985. With packed arenas in London and Philadelphia, Live Aid became the concert of the decade. The musical and technological masterpiece aired to a worldwide audience of almost 2 billion. Broadcasting simultaneously from Wembley Arena and JFK Stadium, the 16-hour concert was seen in 170 countries worldwide. Viewers watched, mesmerized, as coverage bounced back and forth across the Atlantic, highlighting the global support for famine relief. Somehow, Geldof was able to orchestrate the reunions of several bands that had not performed together in a long time including the Who and a reunited Led Zeppelin with Phil Collins replacing their drummer, the late John Bonham. U2, who was not widely known in the US at the time, captured a new audience by proving they were the best live act around. Bono's heartfelt performance had the whole audience singing along.


In the following months, benefit concerts and fundraising efforts by musicians became an integral part of the decade. Rock fans continued to become more and aware of many different charities and organizations. For instance, the Artists United Against Apartheid album released in 1985 focused on the boycott of South Africa. The Conspiracy of Hope Tour, featured acts like Sting and U2 while broadcasting public service announcements that brought attention to the goals of Amnesty International. In the spirit of Live Aid, Willie Nelson, John Cougar Mellencamp and Neil Young organized the first Farm Aid concert on September 4, 1985, starting an ongoing tradition of support for American farmers. Since then, Farm Aid has donated over 14 million dollars to 100 farm organizations, churches and service agencies in 44 states and has staged 10 other benefit concerts through the years.


Live Aid and the charity events that followed in its wake represented a growing activism in the music community. By the time the 80s had ended, the entire entertainment industry had become an important part of public awareness in the face of threats like poverty, political injustice and even AIDS. Youth around the world realized that social problems were just as real, just as important as they had been two decades earlier for their parents' generation. It was okay to care. It was cool to be doing something for a cause, to make a difference. While the self-absorbed consumerism of the decade will always be remembered, the 80s were also a time of universal awareness and hope for improving the future.

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