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Monday, February 26, 2024

Pop history’s Dream Team for the win 

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Even before the 1992 Dream Team that brought together Michael Jordan and other NBA stars of his era, American pop stars already did the trick in 1985 as they gathered in the same room, on the same floor, singing in unison, and practically capturing the world to sing along for African famine relief.

The documentary The Greatest Night in Pop looked back on that night of the living legends – Jan. 28, 1985 to be exact – with footage of the recording session for the charity single “We Are The World” and featuring interviews with and recollections from key figures involved, including some of the artists themselves like Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Dionne Warwick, Huey Lewis, Kenny Loggins and Lionel Richie who co-wrote the song with the late King of Pop Michael Jackson.

The dream pop ensemble saw some of the greatest musical artists who were already icons by the time of the gathering that happened at A&M Studio in Hollywood (Los Angeles, California) on the same night that year’s American Music Awards was held. Attendees of that awards night spent quite an after-party with producer Quincy Jones practically serving as host.

In an old clip inserted in the documentary, Harry Belafonte, the man who initiated the USA (United Support of Artists) For Africa, said.“It is the artist who reveals the society to itself.”

I have a feeling that a viral video clip from the recording session where the faces of pop royalty sang his classic “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” in an impromptu tribute led to the creation of this documentary that offers touching moments from that fateful night, including one where some of the singers were gathered around Stevie Wonder playing the tune on piano while they sang their designated parts for the first time.

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At some point Bob Geldof, the brainchild of UK’s Band-Aid that produced “Do They Know It’s Christmas” two months before America’s crème de la crème followed suit, made a speech before a silenced crowd of hitmakers.

He said, and you could see from his hand gestures that he was feeling nervous himself, “Maybe to put you in the mood of the song you’re about to sing which hopefully will save millions of lives, I think it’s best to remember that the price for life this year is a piece of plastic seven inches wide with a hole in the middle. Maybe it’s the best way of making what you really feel why you’re really here tonight come out through this song. Thanks a lot, everybody and let’s hope it works.”

Boy how it worked. “We Are The World” sold more than 20 million physical single copies. It raised $80 million which is equivalent to more than $200 million in today’s money.

Superstars asking for each other’s autographs was priceless while country singer Waylon Jennings walked out because he didn’t like Stevie’s idea of singing a line in Swahili appeared unnecessary. A key message had been written for the famous people entering that room: “Check your ego at the door.”

While the amount of superstardom tremendously helped push the project to historic heights, we have to give equal credit to the song itself. It was brilliantly written; the build-up in the verses was effective and the chorus pure gold. Even the bridge section heightened the emotional weight of the track, with Cyndi doing a good job in emphatically bringing the whole thing to the final stretch of choruses.

“We Are The World” was singable, easy to comprehend, and just about what people starving needed to hear to keep their hope alive. MJ imprint was written all over. He also used the line “there are people dying” on his later single “Heal The World.” We are the world. Heal the world.

Fittingly, the documentary was dedicated to the memory of those who were there and are no longer with us, including the talent manager that gathered the acts Ken Kragen, and best-selling artists Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Al Jarreau, James Ingram, Ray Charles, Anita and June Pointer, as well as Harry and MJ.

Other greats who had solo parts on “We Are The World” were Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Kim Carnes, and Bob Dylan. Smokey Robinson, frontman of The Miracles, was relegated to the chorus of singers.

The Greatest Night In Pop premiered at Sundance Film Festival last Jan. 19. Ten days later it was made available on Netflix.

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