The benefit concert has been a part of rock 'n' roll for decades. Band Aid, Live Aid and all the other Aid spectaculars simply gave it a legitimacy and political weight that traditionally had been missing. One thing's for sure: The process still seems to be spreading, though some people, pointing to the recent Concert That Counts fiasco in Los Angeles, thought it might be on the skids.

The canceled Counts concert, originally scheduled for April 26, became the concert that shrank, from 40 major acts in an 80,000-seat stadium at $65 a head to fewer than a dozen minor acts in a 12,000-seat hall at $15 a head. And it wasn't even selling then, after major acts unceremoniously pulled out due to the confusion and disorganization.

One major problem was that this was a rock event organized by outsiders -- television people who, despite good intentions, were simply out of their element. They also seemed more intent on recasting the media hype of Live Aid than re-creating its philanthropic effects.

Major benefit events coming up: On May 18, Liberty Rocks, the concert honoring the Statue of Liberty and featuring Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis & the News and the Hooters, will be telecast from the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to 100 arenas. On May 17, Self Aid, a huge concert featuring most of Ireland's major rockers in a fundraiser for employment opportunities, will air from Dublin. Bigman Benefit

Benefit events do not need to be widely publicized to be successful or effective. For instance, the Bigman concert held Monday night at Numbers raised about $40,000 for the Paul Gerdon Foundation. Paul Gerdon Jr., a local bar owner, died of obesity in 1984, partly because he chose not to go to the hospital for treatment, knowing there was no special bed to accommodate a patient his size. The Bigman benefits (this was the third) have raised funds for the Georgetown University and Fairfax hospitals and the National Organization for Victim Assistance to purchase such equipment as scales, lifts and wheelchairs for the obese. Among those performing with Steve Smith and the Nakeds were John Cafferty and three members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band -- Clarence Clemons, bassist Gary Talent and guitarist and local favorite Nils Lofgren.

Talent has produced a fund-raising single featuring Springsteen, Clemons, Lofgren, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Carolyn Mas and a chorus of 450 New Jersey musicians recording under the name Jersey Artists for Mankind (JAM'86). "We Got the Love," parts of which were recorded at Asbury Park's fabled Stone Pony, will be released next week by Arista. Proceeds will go to charitable organizations focusing on hunger.

Also on record: Neil Sedaka has recorded "Me and My Friends," an album of songs by his longtime writing partner Howard Greenfield, who recently died of AIDS. Also evident recently is the antidrug song "Stop the Madness." Particularly noticeable is the video, which features a clutch of pop, rock and soul artists, as well as Nancy Reagan mouthing the chorus of "Stop the Madness." The video for "Hands Across America," actually quite moving, may help the song get back up the charts; it has been struggling in the 60s with no real movement for the last few weeks. Apparently, for radio play and sales it helps to have a genuine all-star chorus rather than a few nameless sound-alikes. Fund-Raising for the Young

There will be a pair of benefit concerts this Friday. At Georgetown University's Hall of Nations, three local punk bands -- Beefeater, Dag Nasty and In Pieces -- will perform to raise funds for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which provides free services to runaway, homeless and troubled young people and their families (for information call 546-6807).

At George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, a five-band concert put together by a group of local high school students will raise money for the Africa Fund's ongoing campaign against apartheid in South Africa. Eric Steinberg, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, says the student group Rock Against Apartheid wants to raise consciousness as well as money. "It's been really shocking," he says. "The awareness in high schools ranges from a small minority who know a lot about apartheid to some who have never even heard of it." Rock Against Apartheid includes students from most Montgomery County and District schools. The bands performing at Lisner are Marginal Mann, Government Issue, Carl Malcom and Positive Vibration, Newkeys and the Slickee Boys.

Meanwhile, in England a number of major artists including Sade, Declan MacManus (Elvis Costello) and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran have organized an Artists Against Apartheid in Britain. Among its tactics: a clause to be inserted into recording contracts that would forbid the manufacture, distribution and exploitation of their work in South Africa and Libya.