Live Aid springs to mind. Over at the JKF Stadium in Philadelphia, two famous British bands suffered a nightmare—Duran Duran and Led Zeppelin. And with the former it concerns singer Simon Le Bon and his “bum note”. Hooray!
Le Bon’s False Note
Okay, you can forward to the four minute mark on this and then brace yourself for it.
The song in question is View to a Kill, the band’s 13th single that was released on 6th May 1985. It was written to support the eponymous James Bond film out that year.
It was a big hit, so it was a natural choice to include in their set.
However, throughout the whole song (which sees Le Bon prancing about energetically), his voice does seem a tad strained. He almost lost it shortly before the big moment. But then it happens:
“Dance into the fire. A fatal kiss, is all we NNNEEEEEd.”
The world’s media descended on the moment in a heartbeat. It was quickly dubbed:
“The bum note heard around the world.”
It was compared to Freddie Mercury’s scintillating vocals with Queen during the band’s London performance in 1984, which the media raved about.
And Le Bon was mocked mercilessly for his momentary error. And many, many millions of people watching on live TV laughed at him.
It’s a strange thing. The note barely lasts for a second and poor Le Bon has had this thing hanging over him for the rest of his life. Here you are now, reading this, and it’s a bit of good fun and all that.
But Le Bon has since said it was the most embarrassing moment of his career.
Now, it’s easy to mock and jeer. But we can’t even hold a note, never mind sing live to a live arena audience and millions of viewers, so fair play for having the skill (and nerve) to do that.
We know singers go through a lot of training to keep their voices sharp. But you can see with the likes of other 1980s group Toto how tough it can be for a brilliant singer, in that case Bobby Kimball, to stay on it.
Kimball’s voice went off the rails due to cocaine abuse and he began struggling to sing properly live. It got him kicked out of the band.
Anyway, bad luck that it went a bit wrong at that moment, Simon. Even the greats mess up, as you can see with Robert Plant at the very same gig.
Led Zeppelin’s Bad Day at Live Aid
Yes, also struggling was an unprepared legendary rock band.
Having disbanded following the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, the surviving members returned for this one-off show.
Their peers The Who had done the same at the Live Aid Wembley gigs, with not much success. A lack of rehearsal resulted in an underwhelming set.
The same fate befell Led Zeppelin. Drafting in Phil Collins on the drums, he later noted singer Robert Plant was happy with that arrangement. But guitarist Jimmy Page wasn’t.
Whatever, they had an hour to rehearse and then headed out on stage with Page clearly the worse for wear (he appears to be dribbling during the performance).
The 20-minute set was a disaster and helped put the band off reforming for good. Ever since they’ve banned the footage from appearing on any DVD release.
Plant sounds hoarse having performed three gigs in a row prior to Live Aid, whilst Page was underprepared, and Collins likewise.
The latter took a lot of the brunt with the criticism. He later defended the performance saying he wanted to walk off midway through the show, “It wasn’t my fault it was shit.”
Led Zeppelin eventually returned for a one-off gig in London back in 2007, which went much better after lots of rehearsal time. As you can hear!
A well rehearsed Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands of all time. Thusly, we wanted to remind everyone of that.