Friday, January 28, 2011
On this day in 1985 the cream of the American music industry (in addition to Canada's Dan Aykroyd and Ireland's Bob Geldof) recorded We Are the World as USA for Africa, following that year's American Music Awards... Only it almost didn't happen, thanks mainly to all the spectacular egos involved!
Despite the fact that he'd been working towards an end to world hunger for years, according to Lionel Richie's manager Ken Kragen, John Denver was rejected for inclusion on the grounds that he was 'uncool'*. As usual, the persuasive and unpretentious voice of Bruce Springsteen won out... 'I don't care who is here to record this track, I'm here to help save lives,' he said, which succeeded in silencing the lesser artists; between the exemplary attitude of the Boss and the calm intercession of Quincy Jones the rest of those involved were inspired to act more professionally.
Yet John Denver wasn't the only one treated shabbily in the name of charity; in contrast to the reported harmony at the recording session for Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? - recorded in November 1984 - the divas of USA for Africa put their British brethren in the shade. Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar, despite their fame, had good reasons for not being there (influenza and pregnancy, respectively) but Waylon Jennings walked out after a hissy fit and rumours have always swirled around the event about who exactly might have been invited had they been cooler.
The song, of course, had been the idea of Michael Jackson, who missed the awards show that evening so as to record the chorus as a guide for the others to follow. Jackson's involvement got Lionel Richie onboard as co-author, then Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian as producers; eventually the full spectrum of American music would be present, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper among dozens of others. As is evident from the video, the event is a snapshot of popular music at the time, and who is there is almost as telling as who isn't - Madonna, most pointedly - in the same way that who among them is still popular is as telling as who isn't.
*I wonder how many of those same individuals who insisted he be booted on that day wrung their hands and wept crocodile tears on talk show couches after he died in October 1997.
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