Relive the glorious moments that made music history.

From Woodstock to Live Aid; the Beatles at Apple Corp rooftop to the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert: music history abounds with moments that make you sigh wistfully at the thought of what it must have been like to be there in the flesh, and to feel the electric thrill of an on-song band thrashing out history in the making. For those who were there, those moments are a talking point and, let’s face it, a bona fide reason to show off forevermore.

Whether you’ve experienced such iconic moments first-hand and want to re-live them, or you haven’t and want to see what all the fuss was about, YouTube is a music-lover’s friend. Thanks to its magic, we can journey down memory lane, blast up the volume and croon along to some of the top performances to have ever graced the world’s biggest stages. Lighters in the air, everyone.

Bruce Springsteen Plays East Berlin, 1988

In July 1988, The Boss, with his E Street Band, came to the then-divided Berlin. One hundred thousand people bought tickets, but 300,000 came, with the authorities opening up the gates and letting them in, a symbolic move that is thought to have been a turning point; sixteen months later, the wall was torn down. Amid his set, Bruce stopped to carefully deliver a speech in German, which translated to: ‘I'm not here for any government, I've come to play rock and roll for you in the hope that one day, all the barriers will be torn down’, before breaking into a rendition of Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom. Watch it here, and feel the goose bumps.

The Beatles At Apple Corp Rooftop, 1969

The Beatles were no strangers to extraordinary shows, from their days at The Cavern to the Reeperbahn in Hamburg to their biggest-ever gig at Shea Stadium, New York, the latter attended by 56,000 screaming fans. But none is more iconic than their last-ever concert, held on the roof of Apple Corp’s London office. Many have tried to emulate it; none has come close. The mark of a truly great performance? The arrival of the police to tell them to turn down the volume. Watch it here.

Queen At Live Aid, 1985

In 1985, Bob Geldof organised a concert to raise money to relieve the famine that was devastating African countries, most notably Ethiopia. That concert was Live Aid, and the set list was astonishing: David Bowie, Elton John, Paul McCartney and U2 were among the bands to perform as 1.4 billion people across the world watched. However, the group that stole the show was indisputably Queen; watch the set here as 1980s double-act Smith and Jones introduce them, and Freddie Mercury launches straight into Bohemian Rhapsody, before doing call-and-response vocal exercises with the audience. The crowd is in the palm of his hand. Electrifying.

Dylan Goes Electric At Newport Folk Festival, 1965

By 1965, Bob Dylan was firmly established at the leader of the American Folk Revival. So when he took to the stage at Newport Folk Festival with a rock and roll set, one year after the performance at the same festival that was his first real national exposure, he was beset by boos and shouts of protestation. Watch as he sings Like A Rolling Stone to the sounds of loud disapproval. Turns out he went on to do just fine.

Jimi Hendrix At Woodstock, 1969

The summer of ‘69 has gone down in legend as one of peace, love and great music, thanks to one event in particular: Woodstock. When one Jimi Hendrix’ set was cancelled due to rain, he took to the stage on Monday morning and delivered the most famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in history. Reportedly entirely off the cuff, the four-minute performance was both political, in protest at the war in Vietnam, and possibly the most rock n roll thing ever to have happened. Watch it here and feel your spine tingle.

Aretha Franklin At Obama Inauguration, 2009

No one had a voice like Aretha. This performance of My Country, Tis Of Thee, at the historic inauguration of President Obama, is majestic, moving and historic for all the right reasons. Watch it here.

Freddie Tribute Concert, Wembley, 1992

The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert brought together some of the greatest legends in music to celebrate the dearly departed Freddie, who had lost his life to AIDS just a few months earlier. Bowie, Metallica, Guns N Roses, Liza Minelli, Elton John, Annie Lennox and even Elizabeth Taylor were there to send him off in style and to raise awareness of the disease that had – and continued to – devasted so many lives. George Michael, however, was the performer who arguably captured the spirit of Freddie best. We love his rendition of Somebody To Love, which you can watch here.

Amy Winehouse, Mercury Awards, 2007

The great Amy Winehouse’s short life was beset by addiction. As such, there are fewer knock-out live performances than there might have been, given her frankly astonishing talent. This one, of the gorgeous Love Is A Losing Game, is every inch a testament to her gift. Beautiful and affecting. Watch it here.

Michael Jackson Showcases The Moonwalk, 1983

It was 1983 and Michael Jackson was already a big star. But when he stepped onto the stage of Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, sang Billie Jean and his very first outing of The Moonwalk, his status as the king of pop was assured. Watch it here.

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, 1968

When Johnny Cash stepped onto the stage at Folsom State Prison in 1968, he was at almost as low an ebb as the prisoners. His pill addiction was extremely bad and he was in danger of being dropped by his label, to mention nothing of his turbulent personal life. And yet he pulled it out of the bag, his performance cementing him once more as the legend he was. Watch it here.

Nirvana Unplugged, 1993

At the height of their powers, Nirvana appeared as part of MTV’s Unplugged series. That it remains their most iconic performance was by no means an assured thing. Kurt Cobain was suffering drug withdrawal, and MTV was far from delighted that the band had chosen not to play their biggest hits (Smells Like Teen Spirit was notably absent, for example). We love this rendition of Come As You Are, although we also have a particular soft spot for their live cover of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World.

Whitney Houston, World Music Awards, 1994

Anyone who remembers 1994 will remember the ubiquity of Whitney’s cover version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, which featured in The Bodyguard. This performance reminds us what an extraordinary voice she had, and what a loss to music she continues to be. Watch it here. Looking for another rendition of the Star Spangled Banner? Whitney supplies one in astonishing style here.

Bowie Kills Ziggy, Hammersmith, 1973

When, in 1973, David Bowie took his most famous alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, to the stage, fans were not expecting it to be his last-ever show. And yet, at the end of his tour at Hammersmith, Bowie announced that it would be the last show the band would ever do. Shock reverberated around the arena. And yet, as Bowie would go on to prove, this was not the whole story; rather the beginning of his life of reinvention. For as Ziggy met his demise, Aladdin Sane was born. And after that, we were treated to many more Bowie incarnations. Watch as he sings Rock N Roll Suicide at Hammersmith here.

Bowie Comfortably Numb, The Albert Hall, 2006

And so, to prove the point, we move on to Bowie’s actual last live performance. This time, it was at the Royal Albert Hall – just a couple of miles down the road from Hammersmith – as the surprise guest of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. None of the fans had a clue that they were to going to be treated to two legends on the one ticket. This rendition, for what our opinion’s worth, deserves to be called that over-used term: iconic. Watch it here.

Adele Sings At The Brits, 2011

In 2011, Adele Atkins stepped onto the stage at the BRIT Awards, a very successful artist. When she stepped back down again, she was an icon. Someone Like You, her breakthrough single, combined heartbreaking vulnerability with her powerhouse voice, all wrapped up in a tune that sounded as if it had been around forever. An instant classic from a great star. Watch it here.

Elvis On The Milton Berle Show, 1956

The King was no stranger to stand-out performances. In 1956, when he was just 21, he appeared on the Milton Berle show, sang Hound Dog and thrust his hips in signature style as the audience swooned. The media was shocked. Religious groups were up in arms. A star was born. Watch it here.

By Nancy Alsop
October 2021

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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.