On January 28, 1985, 47 of the world's biggest music stars, including Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper and Diana Ross, met in a Los Angeles studio to record We are the World. This unique moment in music history is told in a new Netflix documentary. The biggest night in pop. Here are seven things you should know about this legendary piece.
Poster for the documentary “The Greatest Night in Pop”. Courtesy of Netflix
1. Michael instead of Stevie
A few months after the success of the charity song Do They Know It's Christmas?, designed for the Band Aid event, Harry Belafonte wanted to make an American edition to combat famine in Africa. With the help of producer Ken Collar, he asked Lionel Richie if he wanted to write a song with Stevie Wonder. The problem? The latter was nowhere to be found. Then Michael Jackson came to the rescue.
Huey Lewis and Michael Jackson. Courtesy of Netflix
2. Take advantage of the American Music Awards
How do you manage to bring dozens of big stars together in one room? We came up with the idea of recording the song on the same night as the American Music Awards since everyone would be in Los Angeles. Since Lionel Richie hosted the gala, we hoped that this would convince several stars to take part.
Lionel Richie. Courtesy of Netflix
3. Race against time
A few days before the gala, the cast of stars was finalized, but the famous song still hadn't been written! Producer Quincy Jones began putting pressure on Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. The two artists came together and exchanged ideas. And the magic was on its way.
4. Top secret
After the demo was recorded, around fifty cassettes were sent to the various artists involved. Above all, this recording should not be released to the media. The location of the studio therefore remained secret until the end. After the gala, Lionel Richie was asked by journalists about this famous project and he said he knew very little about it.
Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan. Courtesy of Netflix
5. Lionel's big night
Lionel Richie may remember January 28, 1985 for the rest of his life. That evening he hosted the American Music Awards. In addition to two appearances, he won no less than six trophies! And right after that he went into the studio to record “We Are The World.” “When I came home, my family members were there and congratulated me on the gala,” he said. But all I wanted to talk about was We Are The World and they had no idea what that was!”
6. Like in kindergarten
The big stars arrived at A&M Studios shortly after 11 p.m. Almost all the big names in pop music from 1985 were there. Everyone was excited. “It was like the first day of kindergarten,” said Lionel Richie. Bob Geldof, who was behind Band Aid, then brought some seriousness back by explaining to the artists why they were there and what this song could do for Africa.
7. Raised millions of dollars
At the end of the documentary, it is mentioned that We Are The World has raised more than $80 million for humanitarian causes in Africa. After its release, the song became a huge success and is still making money almost 40 years after its release.
Group photo during the recording of “We Are the World”. You can see Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper and Kenny Rogers. Courtesy of Netflix