‘The Greatest Night in Pop’: 10 Facts About the Mega-Stars Who Made “We Are the World”

When Quincy Jones posted a sign above the entrance to AM Studios in Los Angeles that read “Check your ego at the door,” the night the producer and some 40 bands recorded the charity song. the greatest singers of the ’80s. We are the world.”

It’s not really stupid.

“Egos were still there; let’s not pretend they weren’t there,” Kenny Loggins said in the documentary Pop’s Biggest Nightnow streaming on Netflix.

Bao Nguyen’s film, which had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of how the single came to raise more than $80 million ($214 million today) for humanitarian aid in Africa and United States, with commentary. from performers such as Loggins, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Sheila E., Huey Lewis, and the original orchestra that co-wrote the song with Michael Jackson and kept the artists in line during the recording session , Lionel Richie.

“Think about the insecurity, the selfishness, all the overlap,” Richie said recently. THR. “You’re standing next to Ray Charles. I mean, no matter how famous you thought you were, you weren’t as famous as Ray. That’s Diana Ross over there. We’re only going to bring so much ego into the room before you go, ‘OK, hold on. Let me sort my head out here.’

Excellent organization was key to attracting philanthropic efforts. As Richie hosted the 12th Annual American Music Awards (AMAs) on January 28, 1985, that date was also chosen to record the single, as the ceremony attracted the top entertainers in the business. to Los Angeles at the same time. However, the management of this number of people, vocal ranges, and, again, egos, in the recording studio after the award show is not so small. Read below for some of the most revealing tidbits about the making of “We Are the World.”

Harry Belafonte

“We Are the World” was inspired by the activism of actor Harry Belafonte. After witnessing famine throughout Africa, especially Ethiopia, he approached music manager and television producer Ken Kragen to perform a charity concert to raise money.

Harry said: ‘We have white people saving black people, we don’t have black people saving black people. This is a problem. We need to save our country from starvation,” Richie said in the documentary.

Kragen, inspired by Band Aid, the UK charity group founded by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 to raise money for famine in Ethiopia, said: “Harry , let’s take the idea that Bob has already given us and let’s take the biggest stars. in America to do it. ” And the rest is history.

Michael Jackson

Although “We Are the World” was written by Richie and Michael Jackson, Jackson wanted to write the song instead of performing it.

“Michael didn’t want to sing or be in the video,” Jones said in an audio recording of the film. “He thought it was too much at first. I discussed it with Michael. It was one of the biggest mistakes of his career if he didn’t show up. “

Jackson didn’t just show up, he skipped the AMAs and was the first artist to come into the studio to record his part with Jones alone.

Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan Pop’s Biggest Night.

From Netflix

Stevie Wonder

Richie wanted Stevie Wonder to co-write the song with him and Jackson from the beginning. But the Motown singer never returned his calls. When Wonder showed up at the Lion Share studio to record a demo, he was shocked to find that the song had already been written. But that didn’t stop him from trying to put his own spin on the track during the actual recording, so they suggested singing in Swahili.

The moment caused confusion in the room as the singer tried to teach different words and change her tune. Geldoff, who gave a speech about the importance of what artists do late at night, was able to convince Wonder to leave the crusade, reminding him that he had not tried to talk to they are poor people but the people who can help the poor, not to mention Ethiopians don’t speak Swahili. Order was finally restored. But there was still a musical element to the chaos: According to photographer Ken Woo, Waylon Jennings, who watched the chaos, said: “Well, they know the good boy never sang Swahili spirit. I’m gone,” and he left.

Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper wouldn’t have hit those high notes on the bridge of “We Are the World” if she’d been listening to her boyfriend at the time. According to Richie, he tried to quit the recording session during the AMAs.

“On stage, Cyndi Lauper came up to me and said, ‘My girlfriend heard the song. I won’t be able to come because he thinks it’s out of his reach,’” Richie said. “I said, ‘Cyndi, it’s important for you to make good decisions. Don’t miss the meeting tonight.’”

In her confession, Lauper defended her doubt, saying, “No one knew. It must have been a lot of people, but I was very tired.”

Interestingly, Harriet Sternberg, head of creative services for Kragen & Co., said in the interview that she wanted Madonna to replace Lauper for the song. “Sexual girls and everything she did would bring a different audience. But Ken wanted Cyndi,” she said. “We fought about it.”

Sheila E.

Sheila E.’s performance at the AMAs was high when she entered AM Studios, but her feelings were later dampened when she found out that she was not represented and may have been asked to participate in the the recording under pretense.

“I’m starting to feel like I’m used to it here, because Prince wants to show up and if I stay long enough, Prince might show up,” he said in the confessional. “I already know that he will not come, because there are too many people and he does not feel comfortable.”

After singing the chorus with the group, Sheila E. decided to leave. “I told Lionel, ‘I’m going.’ They never wanted me to sing a verse, which was heartbreaking.”

Hey Lewis

When Jackson found out that Prince would not be appearing, he asked Loggins who should sing the verse and he suggested Huey Lewis.

Jones called Lewis to the piano to sing the line, and although most of the singers in the room demanded a solo, Lewis was nervous. “These are big holes to fill. From that moment on, I was nervous,” she said.

The nerves were heightened when Lewis was asked to match Lauper and Kim Carnes on the bridge. “They said, ‘Sing with Cyndi and Kim.’ The demo had no coherent parts. I have to create a three-part harmony in front of Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Kenny Loggins and Daryl Hall. It was really not stressful at all,” Lewis said.

The resulting sound pleased everyone involved, but Richie recalled at the time, “I thought Huey was going to blow his head off.”

Huey Lewis, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson Pop’s Biggest Night.

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Al Jarreau

According to recording engineer Humberto Gatica, “Al Jarreau was literally high — in the alcohol section” during the recording session. The singer had to repeat his part several times because he couldn’t remember the lyrics, much to the chagrin of Jones who constantly reminded artists that they were pressed for time.

Richie said: “Al wanted to have a party before we did the song. “He kept saying, ‘Bring another bottle of wine, we’re going to have a party,’ so every time a bottle came in, I took another bottle out.”

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen deviated from his usual post-tour routine when his manager asked him if he was ready to go to LA for a recording session the day after his tour ended, something he “didn’t do yet”. he did.

“Not long ago,” Springsteen says in the film. “Normally I wouldn’t. But it seems important.”

As the session progressed, the singer began to worry about his naturally raspy voice when asked to record ad libs while all other parts were captured.

“I just came off the ‘Born in USA Tour’ and I was so tired, but I just started singing,” she said. “My voice wasn’t great, but I sang as well as I could.”

Willie Nelson, Quincy Jones and Bruce Springsteen Pop’s Biggest Night.

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Bob Dylan

When Springsteen agreed to do the song, the team decided to go after Bob Dylan—the personality voice of the time—and he agreed. One of Jones’ first directives in the studio was to choose not to sing if your voice didn’t sound natural, which Dylan took to heart, as seen in the music video. hide the lyrics during the recording. But things didn’t improve when Dylan was asked to write his own solo.

“I think he was a little nervous because Bob didn’t seem to understand how he should sing,” Woo said.

Jones told Dylan to just sing along with the affirming lyrics, “That’s a beautiful man,” with every note. But it was Wonder who ended up being a “secret agent,” playing chords for Dylan and mimicking his voice when he sang that helped the folk singer feel comfortable singing himself.

Diana Ross

Diana Ross brought peace and harmony to the room the night of the recording. During one of the breaks, he went up to Daryl Hall of the pop rock group Hall & Oates and asked him to sign his lyrics. The event created a domino effect in the studio as the artists began asking each other for autographs, dampening the energy in the room.

Ross was also said to be the last person to leave the studio around 8am. Tom Bahler, the sound engineer for “We Are the World,” recalled hearing her cry in another room.

“Quincy said, ‘How are you, Diana?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want it to end.’ That’s the sweetest thing I think I’ve ever heard.”

Pop’s Biggest Night now streaming on Netflix.

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