How Phil Collins Became Live Aid’s Transcontinental MVP
There were many ambitious things about Live Aid's execution and roster of performances.
One of the biggest was Phil Collins performing at Live Aid on both sides of the Atlantic, at London's Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium.
The stunt drew enormous attention, though Collins hardly needed the exposure: In summer 1985, he was an unstoppable commercial force thanks to No Jacket Required. Still, during his Wembley set, the Genesis member performed an especially crowd-pleasing selection of songs, sitting at the piano for the solo hits "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" and "In the Air Tonight," and teaming up with Sting for their No Jacket Required collaboration "Long Long Way to Go." For good measure, Collins also contributed backing vocals when Sting performed the Police song "Every Breath You Take."
And then the fun began: Collins headed to a helicopter, which flew him to Heathrow Airport, where he then caught a supersonic Concorde jet to New York City, and then grabbed another helicopter to Philadelphia. The Concorde flight was apparently especially eventful: Collins encountered Kal Rudman, publisher of the radio industry staple, Friday Morning Quarterback, which helped stations make airplay decisions.
"Phil later told me that when he saw me [on the plane], he died and went to heaven," Rudman recently told the Philadelphia Daily News. "Here he was, sitting next to the guy who determined whether his records were going to live or die. He was rather tongue-tied and nervous."
Still, Collins recovered. At Live Aid Philadelphia, he again performed the solo songs "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" and "In the Air Tonight," and also played drums for Eric Clapton's three-song set.
Watch Phil Collins Perform 'In the Air Tonight' at Live Aid
Incredibly, he wasn't quite done performing yet. Collins was part of the much-ballyhooed Led Zeppelin reunion, which was about the only thing that did not go smoothly that day for him.
“I thought it was just going to be low-key and we’d all get together and have a play,” Collins told Q in 2014. “But something happened between that conversation and the day — it became a Led Zeppelin reunion. I turned up and I was a square peg in a round hole. Robert [Plant] was happy to see me, but Jimmy [Page] wasn’t.” (The Philadelphia Daily News story is even blunter, saying that Page blamed the set's lack of success on the drummer's "incompetence and lack of preparation.")
Watch Phil Collins Perform With Led Zeppelin at Live Aid
Besides personal differences, the reunion was plagued with on-the-fritz equipment and ill-prepared musicians. "My main memories, really, were of total panic," a 2014 Rolling Stone story quotes Page as saying. "John Paul Jones arrived virtually the same day as the show and we had about an hour's rehearsal before we did it. And that sounds like a bit of a kamikaze stunt, really, when you think of how well everyone else was rehearsed."
Collins minces no words in that same Q interview, saying the set “was a disaster, really. Robert wasn’t match-fit with his voice and Jimmy was out of it, dribbling. It wasn’t my fault it was crap. If I could have walked off, I would have. But then we’d all be talking about why Phil Collins walked off Live Aid — so I just stuck it out.”