The Eighties: One Day, One Decade by Dylan Jones

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The Eighties: One Day, One Decade by Dylan Jones

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Category: Entertainment
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A detailed, thoroughly engrossing account of of the Live Aid Concert on 13 July 1985, encapsulating a musical, social and cultural history of the decade as well as the build-up to the show, its aftermath and its effect on the world since then
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 456 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Preface
ISBN: 9781848094130

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Most of us can count on the fingers of two hands, perhaps only one, a select few special days when it was as if the eyes of the world were focused on one major event. These include 9/11; the day Princess Diana was killed; and for those of us with even longer memories the day Kennedy was shot. Add to that grim litany an event which had far more positive results.

The day was 13 July 1985, and the event a major pop and rock concert staged over two continents, lasting from midday in the UK and 7 a.m. in the US until well into the small hours. Thousands attended while billions more of us, yours truly included, were glued to our televisions for much of the time. It is no exaggeration to say that much of the universe stopped in its tracks while it was on.

No totally impartial assessment of its financial and artistic success or its true cultural impact could be written for some years. I’m glad that Dylan Jones, a music editor and journalist who was one of the 72,000 in the audience at Wembley that day, has left it almost thirty years before taking a long hard look at the whole affair, the build-up and its reverberations in the years that followed.

When I started reading this, I thought it would be a fairly straightforward and thus extremely detailed account of the Live Aid concert in central London, and of the show in Philadelphia which followed. It turned out to be much more than that. While the proceedings of 13/14 July are the main focus, Jones also discusses the careers and reputations of all the leading acts who took part, with some interesting byways along the political, social and cultural elements of the era, as well as positive and negative critical reactions to the venture. Taken as a whole, it is more than just a book about Live Aid. As the title indicates, it ends up being more or less a book about the whole decade.

While reading this book, I made a list of what I thought were the most interesting, amusing or significant points to integrate into this review – as I generally do. Over more than 400 pages, it rapidly became a very long list. I’ll just choose a few at random: all the artists at Wembley being friendly backstage according to Francis Rossi of Status Quo, except a rather self-important Elvis Costello; Neil Kinnock making a joke about his haircut at the launch of Red Wedge, the left-wing pressure group, and then pausing for the laughter which never came; the revolutionary new CD which cost a fortune when first launched, then became the must-have designer accessory in an era when music turned into a supermarket product; and the first high-profile deaths from AIDS, of actor Rock Hudson and junior government minister Nicholas Eden, son of the British Prime Minister at the time of the Suez crisis – both only a few months after Live Aid.

It goes without saying that throughout these pages the personality of Bob Geldof is more often than not in the background, sometimes out front. The pre-eminent Boomtown Rat has always been an enigma, an often petulant loudmouth capable of astonishing anger and passion one moment, full of humour and rugged charm the next, with a well-reasoned argument on politics as much as on any other subject. In 1976 Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols articulated the utter rejection of everything perfectly, he explains at length. Somebody had to come along and change it, and then somebody did – a woman with a handbag. Margaret Thatcher was Johnny Rotten in drag, as like him she swiped at every institution that was there. By comparison Arthur Scargill, he adds, was no more than an egomaniac leading his people into oblivion. We are also reminded that the Rats, who saw out the 1970s as one of the top British bands in terms of chart success, were completely washed up a couple of years later and their front man was known behind his back as ‘Mr Paula Yates’. After Live Aid, a BBC producer was quoted as saying that the project had sounded the death knell for Geldof as a rock star, as he could no longer be a rebellious symbol of youthful alienation one moment and sending food to Africa the next.

Ironically, despite his insistence that Live Aid was solely a political lobby and not a cultural event, Geldof incurred the wrath of the left. But he doubtless cared little that the ‘Daily Mail’ immediately called it ‘rock’s finest hour’ (and with hindsight many of us would agree), while ‘New Musical Express’ dismissed it as patronising and bemoaned the fact that most of the artists appearing, with the exception of Elvis Costello and the Style Council, were hardly standard-bearers for the paper’s socialist views. Any pop star which had not followed Paul Weller and gone fiercely public on backing the recent miners’ strike was in the naughty corner.

But the book is not just about politics. Anybody who reads this largely out of musical interest will find plenty to whet their appetite. Why was there no sign of such mid-80s icons on stage as Frankie Goes To Hollywood or Boy George and Culture Club, or heavyweights like Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd? What was the truth behind the reunion that might have been and nearly was – a 1985 Beatles with Julian Lennon taking his father’s place? Why were David Bowie and Elton John keeping each other at arm’s length throughout the day? How did a slick routine by Mick Jagger and Tina Turner manage to upstage the shambolic trio of Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, who followed them? How did the day almost bring down the curtain on the career of Adam Ant, who could seemingly do no wrong just four years earlier – but conversely help propel U2 into the premier music league, and also provide a superbly-rehearsed Queen with the greatest triumph of their career and make them the real stars of the day, ironically at a point when they had been almost on the point of disbanding?

Jones has written a pearl of a book. Live Aid could have been a disaster, as some of those involved had secretly feared. But it was a brave venture which ultimately came up trumps and changed a good deal. He captures it all extremely well.

If this book appeals then you might also like to look at:

No Off Switch: The Autobiography by Andy Kershaw

Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty by Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow

Buy The Eighties: One Day, One Decade by Dylan Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Eighties: One Day, One Decade by Dylan Jones at

Buy The Eighties: One Day, One Decade by Dylan Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Eighties: One Day, One Decade by Dylan Jones at


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