How did pop’s biggest stars come together on ‘We Are the World’? Documentary reveals behind the scenes

How did pop’s biggest stars come together on ‘We Are the World’? Documentary reveals behind the scenes
How did pop’s biggest stars come together on ‘We Are the World’? Documentary reveals behind the scenes

“If a bomb drops in this place, John Denver will be back at the top of the charts!” joked Paul Simon, with his acid humor, as a handful of pop stars crowded inside a studio in Los Angeles.

The night in question is January 28, 1985, when dozens of North American stars gathered to record the anthem We Are the World – a song that everyone has heard at least once in their life, unless they live in a bubble.

The USA For Africa project initiative, whose objective was to raise funds to combat hunger on the African continent, has just been revisited by Netflix in the new documentary The Night That Changed Popwhich arrived on the platform last Monday, January 29th.

“I was only two years old when the song came out, but its impact was huge on different nations. My parents were Vietnamese refugees who had just arrived in the United States and loved listening to it. To give you an idea, before we started production on the film, I went to visit my family in Vietnam and, when I got into the taxi, We Are the World was playing”, says the director Bao Nguyen to the Estadão.

Basically, the story begins with actor Harry Belafonte, activist and civil rights defender. It was he who had the idea of ​​combining the cream of American pop for a charity song. Initially, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder would be responsible for composing the track. However, Wonder’s delayed response paved the way for Michael Jackson to join forces with Richie for the genesis of We Are the World. The two were old friends since their Motown days, when one led the Commodores and the other emerged with the Jackson 5.

Once the skeleton of the song was ready, it was up to famous producer Quincy Jones to choose the arrangements and tame all those personalities – a group that ranged from established geniuses like Ray Charles to new sensations like Cindy Lauper: “Please leave your egos at the door. door,” Jones wrote on a sign posted at the studio’s entrance.

Lionel Richie, who is also executive producer, takes on a guiding role during the film, which also features exclusive testimonials from Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Cindy Lauper, Kenny Loggins, Dionne Warwick and Huey Lewis, as well as members of the recording technical team. who were present on that journey.

The documentary ‘The Night that Changed Pop’ shows behind the scenes of the recording of the classic ‘We Are the World’. Photograph: Netflix/Disclosure

“Lionel was a true partner. He is one of the few people alive who knows this story from beginning to end. He didn’t interfere in the editing process and trusted us. His presence opened many doors and validated the project”, says the director, whose CV includes documentaries about actor Bruce Lee (Be Water2020) and the program Saturday Night Live (Live from New York!2015).

Prince X Michael Jackson

Prince is the most regretted absence in We Are the World. There was an attempt to convince him to participate through percussionist Sheila E., who played with the artist, but without success. First-hand, she says that she ended up abandoning the session because she felt exploited as a stepping stone to get to Prince.

Unsociable, the author of Purple Rain he had a feud with Michael Jackson and agreed to record only if he could do a guitar solo, separate from the rest of the group – a demand that was promptly refused.

The stars’ exhaustion in the studio was eventually relieved by jokes. At one point, Ray Charles said he needed to go to the bathroom and was immediately helped by Stevie Wonder: “Come with me, I’ll show you where it is!” said one blind man to the other, making everyone laugh.

There was also tension around the introverted figure of Bob Dylan. With the appearance of few friends, he only seemed to be present at the scene. It was then that, when it came time to record his vocal solo, he lost his nervousness thanks to Stevie Wonder, who took over the piano and imitated Dylan’s nasal voice, bringing relaxation to the atmosphere.

Another tasty anecdote is about the singer Al Jarreau, who decided to celebrate early and drank too much wine. Not surprisingly, he missed several takes alongside Willie Nelson and created an atmosphere of impatience. Nothing compared, however, to the general nervousness when Stevie Wonder wanted to include excerpts in Swahili in the middle of the song. “A simple country guy doesn’t sing Swahili. I’m going to get out,” country icon Waylon Jennings complained before leaving the studio.

“Seeing the raw material from the session, you could feel the tension, but it wasn’t something cinematic. It was a very busy night, with a tight schedule, so we wanted to explore the suspense around the clock inside. It was a way of using cinema language to enhance the drama”, explains the director.

Unfortunately, the documentary does not mention Brazilian percussionist Paulinho da Costa, who played on the recording and was one of the most sought-after musicians of the time.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: pops biggest stars World Documentary reveals scenes



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