How many music stars (45) were in the A&M studio on January 28, 1985, and what was that wattage like the night “We Are the World” was recorded? As one wag put it: “If a bomb lands on this place, John Denver is back on top!”
When Harry Belafonte beseeched Lionel Ritchie to help him raise money for hunger in Africa, he had no idea what would come. To his great surprise, Michael Jackson and Ritchie wrote the inspiring and very spiritual, pop gospel song “We are the World.” Then artists from around the country showed up to record their tune, which won a 1986 Grammy for “Song of the Year.”
Director/cinematographer Bao Nyguyen expertly conducts new interviews with the recording session’s veterans (Dionne Warwick, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper), displays precious glimpses of legends (Ray Charles, Bette Midler) and captures others in the depths of expressing their vocal insecurities. Huey Lewis confesses: “I was nervous out of my brain.” Clips of Diana Ross and Paul Simon singing around a piano as Stevie Wonder plays are priceless. And who knew that the vocal arranger Tom Bahler chose the singers who did solos based on voice textures, shifting between gritty raspy ones and soft ones for variety?
The communal singing that brings all the artists together is heartwarming. The gossip that’s revealed is still juicy: Sheila E swears she was only invited so they could snare Prince. And he ghosted them! It’s also fascinating to learn that some of the recorded vocals weren’t perfect, or the singers at their best. Yet three months later, when the song premiered simultaneously on radio stations around the world, everything was flawless. Proving that studio engineers are magicians.
Recollecting how hot studio lights made everyone sweat and the room smell provides a nice dose of reality. And watching producer Quincy Jones nurture and herd the musicians reveals both his artistry and diplomacy.
Every cherished moment is here. The emotions, creativity and magnitude of the all-night session are still a wonder. No superfluous footage (editor David Brodie) is shown over the film’s consistently entertaining 96-minute running time. None.
Legendary artists. Legendary moment. Legendary song. For a certain generation, 1980s lovers and music fans, this is the show of shows. A pop music, pop culture milestone. You get what you’re looking for. You hear what you wanna hear. This nostalgic musical doc rocks as much as a live concert, but in the most divine, communal way.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.
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