When 46 of American pop music’s biggest artistes came together to record We Are The World
Story: In January 1985, some of the best and biggest names of American pop music spent hours cooped together to record We Are The World, one of the most globally well-known humanitarian cause songs. This is the story of how Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones pulled off the greatest night in pop.
The Greatest Night in Pop review: One of my earliest memories of the song We Are the World was when a senior in school, who’d lived in Kuwait until the 1990 war, suggested it as our number for group song at the annual youth festival. I was never much of a singer, but passionate about participating in anything and everything that would give the ‘White House’ that I was in a few more points. For the next few years, We Are the World was our song. I’d not even heard the original recording back then, but only a version that two vocally-blessed singers of the group taught the rest of us.
These were the days before MTV and Channel V, and most of us were not exposed to world music at the time. That changed in college, where the more worldly-wise NRIs had stacks of cassettes with pop music recorded from radio. The mid-90s is when my eyes were opened to the world of music, but We Are the World was always a song that brought in a sense of nostalgia. To this day, I never pass up on a chance to sing along no matter how off pitch – there’s something magical about it.
Many years ago, I’d seen the music video and marvelled at how whoever was behind the idea managed to get so many artistes under one roof. Then I read somewhere that the actual recording that spanned eight hours was nothing short of a miracle. Over 40 top musicians of the time in one recording studio, that’s no mean task and Netflix’s documentary, The Greatest Night In Pop is a peek into how it came to be.
In an age before mobile phones and emails, getting together multiple artistes would have been a logistical nightmare. So, then, why not do it on a night when all the artistes you want are anyway going to be under one roof? This is the story of how Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson managed to convince the biggest names in music to take a detour from the American Music Awards venue and head to a studio for one incredible night of creating music to alleviate hunger in Africa.
Narrated by Lionel and a few singers from the original recording, like Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis, the documentary begins with Lionel and Michael co-writing the song, then recording a scratch version, that is then shipped to every artiste who’d said yes to the project, and the actual recording. From Waylon Jennings walking out after Stevi Wonder suggested some lines be sung in Swahili, to Al Jarreau’s trouble in getting his lines right after a drink or two too many, and producer Quincy Jones’ iconic message at the door into the studio that read ‘Check your egos at the door’, it’s all there in this documentary.
Verdict: The Greatest Night in Pop is a delightful watch and will strike a chord particularly for those who grew up on the music of the icons featured in the song. Adopted as an anthem by several schools in the country, We are the World is a song that people across generations are familiar with, but probably do not know what it was for and what was achieved. Watch this documentary for this bit of pop history, if not for the love of the song.