The original idea was that Bowie and Jagger – two of the biggest stars of the past decade – would perform together at different legs of the Live Aid marathon on Saturday 13 July. Bowie would be singing at Wembley Stadium in London, while Jagger would appear at the same time on stage at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.
However, combining the two performances proved to be too much of a nightmare for 1985 technology – a half second delay via the satellite link would mean that one or both of the performers would be thrown out by the timing. One solution was that one of them had to mime, and neither Jagger nor Bowie wanted that.
The compromise was to record a single together, make a video quickly and play the clip on the big screens at Wembley and JFK. Simple! The song chosen was the 1964 Motown classic from Martha And The Vandellas, Dancing In The Street. The opening line is “Calling out around the world”, which linked nicely with the “Global Jukebox” idea of Live Aid
The song was recorded on 29 June 1985 at Westside studios in London, where Bowie was working on two songs for the soundtrack to the movie Absolute Beginners. Musicians included Steve Nieve, keyboard player with Elvis Costello And The Attractions and drummer Neil Conti of Prefab Sprout.
Conti remembered the difference between the two superstars in the studio: “Bowie was, as always, very polite, a real gentleman. Mick doesn’t bother with politeness, he’s more the like the mad leader of the gang, shouting out ideas to the troops.”
A rough version of the track was completed in four hours, then it was time for Bowie and Jagger to make the infamous video. They were hurried to the Millennium Mills in London’s Docklands to work swiftly with director David Mallett, who Bowie had collaborated with on the ground-breaking Ashes To Ashes video.