USA For Africa – We Are The World
We're all a part of God's great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need
We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving
January 28, 1985, really saw the second part of one of those miracles that made the 80s unrepeatable. That night, America’s biggest stars gathered to record “We are the World.” For some, this was an attempt to copy the idea of Bob Geldof, who two months earlier had brought together the big names of English pop to record “Do they know it’s Christmas“. For the vast majority of people it was a further effort for good that generated a second aid stream to the poorest areas of the world, and helped to raise awareness in the richest zone.
For those of us who love music and the 80s, “We are the world” is the seed that led to the realization of the second part of Live Aid, which took place at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, thus creating a unique event in the world, probably unrepeatable forever. But let’s proceed in order.
After the realization of Band Aid’s fantastic project, in December Harry Belafonte, the singer of “Banana Boat” who in the fifties was considered the king of calypso, had a jolt of pride. The American music world could not remain indifferent to the example of the British, and had to do its part. After contacting a couple of producers, he involved two key people. The first was Lionel Richie. Lionel quickly realized that he needed a great producer for such a project, and he had no doubts. He called the greatest, he called Quincy Jones. When the phone rang, Quincy Jones was with Michael Jackson. They had released the album “Thriller” together and were beginning to work on the king’s next album, “Bad“. A minute later Michael Jackson was part, along with Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones, of the founders of the “USA for Africa” project.
In short, they made the list of stars to invite. Some of them had already been part of a Quincy Jones project for a Donna Summer hit: Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Loggins, and they quickly agreed. The list of invitations was very long, and as confirmations increased, two problems became apparent. First of all, where and when to make the recording, since the artists were scattered throughout every area of America. Then, Quincy Jones realized that he would most likely also have to manage the ambitions and expectations of great stars accustomed to being absolute protagonists, but who were together with others for the first time. And not everyone could have one of the main lines in the song.
About logistics, Richie, Jackson, and Jones had a winning idea: on January 28, 1985, American Music Awards night was scheduled at Hollywood, and many of the stars would be attending the evening. So Quincy Jones did the right thing: he invited them all, after the ceremony, to the A&M studios, which were very close, to record the song during the night, in an immense after party.
Unlike Bob Geldof with Band Aid, Quincy Jones had already pre-recorded the music base, and had sent a tape with the base and vocals of Lionel and Michael Jackson to each of the guests, who then showed up already knowing how the outcome was expected to be, although there was certainly a considerable dose of improvisation that contributed to the great success. To record the base, Quincy Jones asked for help to the same team that played in “Thriller”. A dream team that included, for example, Toto’s Steve Porcaro and David Paich, and percussionist Paulinho da Costa.
And the big moment came. Quincy Jones accommodated all the managers, wives, husbands, partners in another room, and the stars entered the recording room. On the ground there was tape with people’s names, and everyone had their place well marked. A simple but effective way to handle any claims of greater visibility or more space. To tell the truth, there were very few opportunities for rifts; we can really say that everything went smoothly, and by eight o’clock the next morning everything was over and all the lyrics were recorded.
We have already mentioned some of the protagonists of this project; there were many others, starting with those who had the chance to have some verses for them, such as Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Daryl Hall, Kim Carnes. Some great myths are seen from vey close, such as Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan. Others appeared only in the chorus, such as the Pointer Sisters, LaToya Jackson, Sheila E. They were all Americans, except for two: Dan Aykroyd, the Canadian actor starring in “The Blues Brothers” and “Ghostbusters”, who was invited to represent the world of cinema, and especially Bob Geldof, who was invited precisely to represent continuity and in a way also recognize the validity of the Band Aid project.
There were great no-shows; Madonna was the most famous star who was not invited. Prince was supposed to attend, but he didn’t show up, he never explained the real reason. He fixed by sending a song to be included on the album. There were those who benefited from this, because when it became clear that Prince would not show up, his verse in the song was offered to the incredulous Huey Lewis, who was only supposed to sing in the choir.
It was a huge success: the song was released on March 7, recorded in eight hundred thousand copies that immediately sold out. In total it sold more than twenty million copies, reached the top of the charts worldwide and became, at that time, the best-selling song in the history of music. It naturally won awards and awards, both as a song and as a video.
The continuity and affinity of the Band Aid and USA for Africa projects, besides having both Bob Geldof’s participation, was naturally certified by the concert that marked the highest moment in the 80s history, Live Aid, which on July 13, 1985, united music fans from all over the world with two must-see concerts at Wembley and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.
“We are the world” is therefore much more than a song: it helped to improve living conditions in a part of the world, which is the most important thing, and it has also had an impact on the career and image of many artists. Personally, I was lucky enough to hear Lionel Richie himself singing “We are the world” at a concert in Milan, with images of the video scrolling across the screen behind him. Emotions that cannot be forgotten.
USA for Africa on Wikipedia