“We Are The World” Shows Community Unity: The Good…
On April 5, 1985, 5,000 radio stations across Africa, North America, Asia, China, and Europe simultaneously played “We Are the World,” a song that was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The song was produced by the legendary Quincy Jones and revolved around a simple idea: to unite American recording artists and help raise money for the poor and less fortunate famine relief victims in one of Africa’s most remarkable lands, Ethiopia.
This kind gesture was initialized by Calypso music legend, Harry Belafonte, who first contacted the head of the United Support of Artists for Africa foundation, Ken Kragen. Kragen then reached out to Lionel Richie, whose wife passed the idea on to Stevie Wonder the following day. Then music’s best, Quincy Jones, signed on as producer and brought in Michael Jackson. The rest is history.
As America’s “We Are the World” propelled up Billboard’s charts, the other songs on the top five singles list were “One More Night” by Phil Collins, “Crazy for You” and “Material Girl” by Madonna, and “Nightshift” by The Commodores. The “We Are The World” song was recorded on January 28, 1985 on the evening of the American Music Awards, which was a smart way to guarantee that the top recording acts would be present. Sure enough, others quickly followed suit, and before long, the list of supporting acts had grown to include over three dozen celebrities such as:
Dan Aykroyd Jackie Jackson Cyndi Lauper Kenny Rogers
Harry Belafonte LaToya Jackson Kenny Loggins Diana Ross
Lindsay Buckingham Marlon Jackson Bette Midler Paul Simon
Kim Carnes Michael Jackson Willie Nelson Bruce Springsteen
Ray Charles Randy Jackson John Oates Tina Turner
Bob Dylan Tito Jackson Jeffrey Osborne Dionne Warwick
Sheila E. Al Jarreau Steve Perry Stevie Wonder
Bob Geldof Waylon Jennings The Pointer Sisters Huey Lewis
Darryl Hall Billy Joel Lionel Richie &
James Ingram Quincy Jones Smokey Robinson The News
CBS Records’ Columbia and Epic labels had the bulk of contributing artists. The song’s opening developed from a basic raw phrase, and then its chorus evolved into an international anthem december global holidays of the world. Dropping the music down was the first phase of production. They accomplished this at the studio by capturing the instrumental performances of musicians into the studio’s multi-track recording system. The lyrics were later added to the instrumental as the song progressed.
Producer Quincy Jones turned three days of pre-production work with Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson into a recording session of less than three hours, by advising artists in advance to “check their egos at the door.” As this unforgettable recording session transpired, the performers did their parts, leaving Richie and Jones in the studio tightening up the track until the following morning. Recorded in Hollywood’s A&M Studios, all of the artists were arranged choir-style with a half-dozen microphones in place for the song’s chorus.
In a little over a month after its recording, “We Are the World” arrived in stores. Needless to say, Harry Belafonte’s dream parlayed itself into a music industry phenomenon when between Thursday, March 7 and Sunday March 10, 1985, over 800,000 copies were sold. Entering the Billboard singles chart at #21, it became the fastest-rising Billboard #1 single in 10 years. In less than a decade, the Commodores’ front man Lionel Richie scored his eighth #1 single by writing “We Are the World.”
Although a fierce bidding war for the release of the record probably took place between record companies like Motown (Lionel Richie’s label) and Epic (Michael Jackson’s), Columbia Records won out; it was Epic’s sister company, and a division of CBS Records (part of the CBS conglomerate).
To comprehend the significance of the bidding wars, just figure in the economics. By the new decade, CBS would go on to be sold to the Sony Corporation for $2 billion. Sony recouped its investment within a year thanks to chart-topping hits by acts like Mariah Carey, Luther Vandross, Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def releases…and Michael Jackson, also known to some as the ‘King of Pop.