“We hesitated to say yes. The chances of making fools of ourselves were so big”: Live Aid was Queen’s crowning glory. But they nearly turned it down

Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Brian May onstage at Live Aid
(Image credit: FG/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images)

The cover of Classic Rock 325, featuring a picture of Queen in 1983

(Image credit: Future)

The brand new issue of Classic Rock magazine is out now and features Queen on the cover, telling the story of their commercial resurrection with 1984’s back-to-basics The Works album, which followed a turbulent few years for the rock legends.

The in-depth cover story, written by Queen biographer Mark Blake, also throws up a few surprises, not least the fact that the band almost didn’t play Live Aid – their crowning glory as a live band.

Queen had entered the 80s bigger than ever, notching up their biggest ever US single with the funky Another One Bites The Dust and bagging a transatlantic No.1 album with The Game.

But then the wheels started to wobble. 1982’s Hot Space album proved divisive with fans, who viewed its prominent R&B and disco influence as too much of a departure from their hard rock roots. Hot Space’s failure to replicate the success of The Game caused tensions with the band’s US label Elektra, who singer Freddie Mercury blamed for not promoting it enough in America. Mercury himself already had one eye on a solo career that would reach fruition with his 1985 solo album, Mr Bad Guy.

Released in 1984, The Works marked Queen’s return to rock, with singles such as Radio Ga Ga, I Want To Break Free and It’s A Hard Life reasserting their commercial power in the UK (if not the US), while Hammer To Fall and Tear It Up found them rocking harder than ever.

Such was their renewed success that it was as surprise that they didn’t appear on the Band Aid charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas?, released in December 1984 to raise money for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. Mercury himself wasn’t shocked at their absence. “I don’t know if they would have had me on the record,” said the singer. “I’m a bit old.”

There were no such questions the following year, when Band Aid co-founder Bob Geldof approached Queen to appear at Live Aid. A huge charity gig held simultaneously at London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium on July 13, 1985, it was set to be the most spectacular gig in history. The line-up read like a Who’s Who of rock and pop, with Paul McCartney, The Who, reunited Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan, Madonna all lined up to appear. And Bob Geldof wanted Queen on the bill. The only problem was that Queen weren’t sure if they wanted to be involved.

“We definitely hesitated to say yes,” recalled guitarist Brian May. “We had to consider whether we were in good enough shape. The chances of making fools of ourselves were so big.”

Those concerns were based on the fact that the members of Queen had decided to take a break from each other. While both The Works and the subsequent world tour had been successful, the band were seemingly pulling in different directions, not least Mercury, who released his debut solo single, the dance-pop track I Was Born To Love You, in April 1985. The rest of Queen wondered if they’d lost him for good.

“Freddie had stepped so far away,” said May. “I thought we might not get him back.”

Luckily, Geldof wanted Queen to play, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Legend has it that his invitation for them to play at Live Aid ran along the lines of: “Tell the old f***** itʼs going to be the biggest thing ever…”

What happened next is history. Queen signed up to play Live Aid, and as Mercury hammered out the opening notes to Bohemian Rhapsody on a grand piano in front of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium, their doubts and fears evaporated, together with the uncertainty that had surrounded them earlier in the decade.

Read the full story of the making of The Works, and Queen’s return to glory, in the new issue of Classic Rock magazine, on sale now. 


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Classic Rock 325 - front cover

(Image credit: Future)
Classic Rock

Classic Rock is the online home of the world's best rock'n'roll magazine. We bring you breaking news, exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes features, as well as unrivalled access to the biggest names in rock music; from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses to the Rolling Stones, AC/DC to the Sex Pistols, and everything in between. Our expert writers bring you the very best on established and emerging bands plus everything you need to know about the mightiest new music releases.