"A lot of people said we’d never play together again," grinned Paul McCartney. "I said we’d never play together again," said John Lennon. "But as Ed Sullivan once said," McCartney shouted, " ‘Ladies and gentlemen: The Beatles!"
And with that, the middle-aged foursome on stage at London’s Wembley Stadium launched into the familiar strains of ‘‘Magical Mystery Tour,’’ kicking off the final performance of the daylong Live Aid concert July 13, 1985.
It was the event the 70,000-plus music fans in attendance — and tens of millions more around the world — had waited nearly two decades to see.
McCartney, front and center with a Rickenbacker bass; George Harrison, holding a white Fender Stratocaster, standing stage left; Ringo Starr sitting behind his pearl-white drum set.
And Lennon, who had gone into seclusion after a whack-job named Mark David Chapman was subdued by several onlookers after firing an errant shot at the singer outside his Dakota apartment on Dec. 8, 1980, standing onstage in a T-shirt with a suit jacket, his patented round granny glasses on his nose, an Epiphone electric strapped high on his chest.
It had taken a lot of prodding, but ultimately it was the cause — feeding starving children in Africa — that got the band to perform live together for the first time since they stopped touring in the mid-1960s.
NOT LOVING THE ’80s
Up until Live Aid, of course, the Beatles had rebuffed numerous offers to reunite — including a goodnatured one in May 1976 from "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels, who promised a check for $3,000.
But the members of the quartet, whose solo careers had gone quite well in the ’70s, steadfastly had refused all offers to get back together.
The early ’80s, however, had not gone as well for John, Paul, George and Ringo. It was a new era in rock music — new wave, Duran Duran, punk, dance-pop, Madonna. There was no major war to protest, and the social rebels of the ’60s, like Jerry Rubin, were now yuppies.
McCartney — who had scored several hits, both solo and with his band Wings, in the ’70s — had settled into mellow mediocrity. The same could be said for Harrison, who had released some critically and commercially hailed records in the 1970s, but by the mid-’80s had not had a chart hit in years.
After a few No. 1 hits in the ’70s, Starr had disappeared from the music charts and turned to acting, playing the title character in 1981's dreadful "Caveman."
And Lennon? After his self-imposed seclusion to raise his newborn son Sean from 1975 to 1980, he had released "Double Fantasy" in 1980 and scored a few hits with "(Just Like) Starting Over," "Woman" and "Watching the Wheels."
But his 1984 album "Milk and Honey" had fared less well on the charts, and in the new age of something called MTV, Lennon, along with his ex-band mates, was seen as just another aging rocker not keeping up with the times.
NIGHT TO REMEMBER
Wembley Stadium was at a fever pitch as the Beatles broke into their 1967 hit, the incomparable harmonies of Lennon and McCartney bringing smiles to the faces of the baby boomers in the crowd and the millions watching on TV.
The Beatles themselves, feeling the old magic, grinned as if it were the height of Beatlemania 20 years earlier.
The rest of the five-song set kept to the band’s late-era rock side, eschewing their psychedelic and Beatlemania phases, banging out a heavy version of Lennon’s "Come Together," McCartney’s "Back in the U.S.S.R.," Harrison’s beautiful "Here Comes the Sun" and closing with the epic feel-good mantra of "All You Need Is Love," which captured the vibe of Live Aid as no other song could.
Alas, as Beatles fans all know, the reunion was far too short. The next day, the four went their separate ways.
McCartney and Lennon had a few minor hits, but it is mostly their Beatles work that keeps fans coming to their sold-out solo concerts.
Harrison went on to score a few solo hits, too, but died of cancer in 2001. Starr still tours with an all-star band made up of other classic rockers.
But it will be that hot summer night, 25 years ago, that music fans will remember.