Rolling Stone calls that clip of U2 performing “Bad” at 1985’s Live Aid the moment “that made the band’s career.” But to the band, it initially seemed like a disaster:
After this video: U2 had a huge argument backstage. Mullen, Clayton, and the Edge were unhappy with Bono’s venture into the crowd, which hung them out to dry and denied the band a chance to play their biggest hit, “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The consensus among the four band members was that their performance had been clumsy and earthbound. “We felt like we’d blown an opportunity to be great,” Mullen said.
“It was a great day, but I thought I had f*cked it up,” Bono said. He flew home to Ireland with his wife Ali, visiting her parents in Wexford, brooding about what felt like a massive failure. Over the following week, however, the band discovered that their performance was considered by most observers to be the day’s high point (alongside Queen’s triumphant set). Far from being a blown opportunity, it was a career-making moment that returned all their albums to the U.K. charts, established them in the U.S.A., and transformed them into worldwide stars. The band begrudgingly had to admit that Bono’s instinct as a performer trumped their sensible show-biz plans.
The Edge said, “It really took us by surprise when people started talking about U2 as one of the noteworthy performances of the day. I thought they were joking, I really thought we were crap. But looking back, as I did a week later, I started to see what it was. It was the sense of real, total jeopardy, which is always very exciting for a live event, and Bono’s complete determination to make physical contact with the crowd and eventually getting there after two minutes of struggling over barriers. I think there was something about the effort he had to put in to do it that somehow made it even more powerful.”
Considering Live Aid years later, Bono summed up U2’s set: “Crap sound, crap haircuts, and we didn’t end up playing the hit ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ because the singer f*cked off into the crowd – band wanted to fire me as a result – and it turned out to be one of the best days of our life. Explain that. Ask God, he probably knows.”
If, like me, you’re a U2 fan, watching that clip will be the best 12 minutes you will likely spend today. Despite Bono’s mega-mullet.