Ironically, despite giving what many consider the greatest performance of the event, Queen's involvement was criticized by the music magazine NME and some other musicians, including Daryl Hall, as the band had recently broken the cultural boycott of Apartheid South Africa by playing a series of concerts at Sun City, which had resulted in the band being fined by the Musicians' Union and placed on a United Nations blacklist.
During The Who's set, a red warning light at the front of the stage flashed to alert the band that their time was up. In response, Pete Townshend stepped on the warning light, broke it, and the band played for five extra minutes.
Several groups who had not performed together in years reunited for the concert. Among them were The Who Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Led Zeppelin (with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson filling in for the late John Bonham) and Black Sabbath
Originally, Mick Jagger and David Bowie were to perform a duet of Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" with Jagger in Philadelphia and Bowie in London. However, when they realized that it would be technically impossible, they decided to make a video and single of the song. It later became a top five hit and the proceeds were donated to the Live Aid Trust.
Organizer Bob Geldof has been quoted as saying that he felt Queen had the best sound, the best show of the entire event. Geldof was in the booth at Wembley helping to organize the chaos, and happened to pause for a moment. He overheard the music, and realized that it was noticeably better than it had been all day (technical problems were rampant). He asked, "Who is that?" and the answer was "Queen". He stopped working for several minutes, captivated by the show.
For several years Bob Geldof refused to release the concert on video of any form. He felt that the concert should be remembered as a once in a lifetime event and only viewed once. However, when several bootleg copies began turning up over the years, Geldof finally decided to release the concert on DVD with the proceeds going to the Band Aid Trust.
Queen almost didn't perform due to the fact that Freddie Mercury was afraid that their performance was going to be seen as a political statement. Bob Geldof eventually convinced the band that there was nothing political about the concert.
Queen rehearsed their performance intensely for a week at the Shaw Theatre in London. Before taking to the stage at Wembley, the band's sound engineer switched the limiters on the PA system, meaning they would be louder than the other acts.
One artist that did appear onstage during the London finale but went relatively unnoticed was Yussef Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens. He had even written a song for the show, but due to time constraints didn't perform it.
During his performance, Bob Dylan' made a statement that some of the proceeds from Live Aid should go 'to help the American farmers that were in danger of losing their farms. This offhand remark later inspired Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp who didn't perform at Live Aid, to start up the annual Farm Aid '86 (1986) concerts.
Even though several bands had reunited for the show, one band that was asked to but didn't was the Beatles. The surviving members of the band were asked to perform with Julian Lennon filling in for his father John, but they declined.
Wham!George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley was scheduled to perform after Elton John but couldn't due to Elton's set running over its allotted time. However, Elton did invite the duo to perform with him on the song "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me".
During Paul McCartney's performance his mic went out. He said years later that, during the performance, he was thinking of changing the lyrics to his song "Let It Be" from "There will be an answer" to "There will be some feedback, Let it be"
Phil Collins wasn't the only artist to perform twice during the show. John and Andy Taylor performed not only with Duran Duran they also performed earlier that day with their side project Power Station Also, Crosby, Stills and Nash played earlier that afternoon and reunited with Neil Young who also performed that day doing a solo set.
London and Philadelphia were the sites for the main concerts, but lots of other benefit concerts were happening all over the world the same day in places like Austria, Russia, Germany, Australia, Yugoslavia, Denmark, and Japan.
The reformation of rock legends Led Zeppelin was expected by many to be the highlight of the Philadelphia concert but the band were under-rehearsed for their 17-minute, three-song set. Robert Plant's voice was not at its best, there were equipment problems and Jimmy Page's guitar was badly out of tune. Page subsequently described the performance as "pretty shambolic", and Plant has called it "a fucking atrocity". Zeppelin refused to let their performance be included when the DVD was released in 2004. However, the band members did decide to donate money to the charity.
As part of Geldof's insistence that it should be a one-off event, the TV companies responsible for the outside broadcasts in London and Philadelphia were under strict instructions to destroy all the recordings of the show. The BBC ignored this stipulation, kept its tapes and archived them but ABC dutifully destroyed its own material. This meant that when the Trust decided to release the concert on DVD, all the Wembley footage was available (including multi-tracked audio), but recordings of the Philadelphia sets had to be assembled from B-roll tapes, the BBC's own copies of the satellite-linked sections and material that had been archived by MTV.
During the Boomtown Rats performance of the song "Rat Trap", Bob Geldoff accidentally yanked out the cord from his microphone and as a result the audience didn't hear him sing for a good portion of the performance. This resulted in the song not being included in the DVD release.
Big Country was on stage for the finale of the Wembley Stadium portion of the concert, but they did not perform by themselves on that day, as it was thought at the time that the band had broken up. So when the band showed up on the day of the concert, people merely thought they had come to just show their support for the show.
Sting and Phil Collins performed two songs together at the concert after meeting and getting on well during the Band Aid recording in November 1984. Sting provided additional vocals for Collins' song "Long Long Way To Go", while Collins joined Sting on backing vocals for "Every Breath You Take". They rehearsed their performance over the telephone.
Led Zeppelin employed two drummers to replace their late drummer John Bonham, Phil Collins and Tony Thompson. The band's guitarist Jimmy Page later blamed Phil Collins for the disappointing performance. He accused Collins of not knowing the songs he was playing and "bashing away cluelessly and grinning". Collins admitted in a subsequent interview that he nearly got up and walked off because the performance was going so badly but he also said Page had made him a scapegoat for their performance. Collins had landed the gig because of his connection with Robert Plant, having played drums on his first two solo albums.
Stevie Wonder was invited to perform but refused citing the fact that there were very few African-American artists on the bill and he didn't want to be a token. In fact, he and Michael Jackson supposedly tried to organize a boycott of the event.
Bruce Springsteen was approached to appear at the Wembley portion of the show, but he refused. He later admitted that he could have done a brief acoustic set and later regretted not performing on that day.
Originally Bob Dylan was going to perform "Blowing in the Wind" with 'Peter, Paul & Mary'. In fact, the trio was listed on the posters leading up to the event. However, he called the organizers a few days before the event and said that he would be performing with Keith Richards and Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones instead.