Thursday, December 28, 2017

"We Are the World" by USA for Africa

#1 Alert!
Multi-Platinum Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  2269
Date:  03/23/1985
Debut:  21
Peak:  1 (4 weeks)
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Charity

Pop Bits:  This charity single was the idea of singer Harry Belafonte after he had heard about the UK charity song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" He wanted to do a US-based song to help benefit the organization United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa, which was created to help alleviate the rampant starvation in Africa. Belafonte enlisted the help of entertainment manager Ken Kragen to secure artists for the project. Kragen's clients Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers were first to join up. Soon, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson were on board as well as producer Quincy Jones. Richie, Jackson, and Wonder had signed on to write the tune, but Wonder had to drop out due to time constraints. Richie and Jackson took a couple of weeks to write the song and it was finally completed the night before the first recording session was to take place. With the basic recording done, a second session for recording all the vocal parts from a slew of celebrity artists took place six days later. The single would be issued just over a month later and the hype along with the associated video would send record buyers flocking to the stores. The song would debut just outside of the Pop Top 20 and four weeks later it would be #1. It would be the fastest selling single in US history and would be the first single to achieve multi-platinum success selling over 4 million copies. It would also reach #1 at R&B and AC while getting to #27 Rock and #76 Country. The following year the project would be awarded four Grammy awards including Record and Song of the Year. Not only was it a success in the US, but it hit #1 on many charts around the world. With sales of over 20 million copies worldwide, it is tied for fifth on the list of the biggest selling singles in history.

ReduxReview:  This was quite the deal back in the day, especially the video. It helped that the hottest star on the planet, Michael Jackson, participated alongside several major music stars of the day. I find it hard to judge this tune. I mean, it was done for a cause and I think it really exceeded expectations and (hopefully) in the end did some good. So how can I fault it? I guess what I have to do is set the charity part aside and take a look at the song itself. When I do, I have to admit that I'm not a fan. I wasn't back in the day either. In fact, I found it annoying. One critic said it sounded like a Pepsi commercial and I have to agree. However, that is what was brilliant about what Richie and Jackson did. They created a simple, catchy song that anyone could sing and it basically was a jingle for the charity. It wasn't meant to be a deep, profound musical piece. They just wanted to get the point across and get folks hooked. It worked very well. Ask anyone (of a certain age...) around and I bet that they can sing you the chorus of this song. Mission accomplished! But as a piece of songwriting, I think it is banal. If one artist did this as a non-charity song with different lyrics, I'd totally dislike it. However, the stars, the charity, and the historic nature of the tune adds a bit of value to it. If I never hear this song again, I'd be totally happy. However, I do recognize what was accomplished and it serves as a sort of 80s touchstone for a lot of folks.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The extensive list of artists that participated in the song's recording included heavy-hitters like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Daryl Hall, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, and Ray Charles. All of those performers along with a few others performed solos in the song. The full chorus of voices included other celebs such as Dan Ackroyd, Bob Geldof (of the Band-Aid project), Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters, and several members of the Jackson clan. Although it was noted that one major music star was absent. Prince was initially supposed to be a part of the recording, but ended up backing out. While no confirmed excuse was ever given, one source reported that it was because he just didn't want to record with other artists. Whatever the reason, in the end he ended up donating his own song "4 the Tears in Your Eyes" to...  2) ...the We Are the World album. In addition to the single, it was decided that an album of unreleased songs by various artists would be assembled.  In addition to the title-track, the album featured donated tracks by Springsteen, Turner, Steve Perry, Chicago, Kenny Rogers, The Pointer Sisters, and Huey Lewis and the News. In addition, the Canadian charity single "Tears Are Not Enough" (billed as by Northern Lights) was included. The album would reach #1 and sell over three million copies.


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