The Greatest Night in Pop

You’ve got MJ, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Springsteen, Tina Turner all crammed into the studio like some kind of Musical Avengers.

Dan Aykroyd belts it next to Ray Charles?

Dylan asks for Stevie Wonder’s help on singing a line.

And the stars are nervous — literally sweatin’ it.

It’s musical magic, proving that even Hollywood egos can unite for something bigger than themselves.

This is the making of “We are the World”.


Trailer for “The Greatest Night in Pop”

Watch “The Greatest Night in Pop”

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  • My Rating: 98/100
  • IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 94/100 (users); 95/100 (critics)

My Review of “The Greatest Night in Pop”

The doc opens up with Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. Lionel comes up with some words and Michael riffs on it.

Michael comes up with the “We are the World” line.

In 7 weeks, they have the song done.

In the meantime, Quincy Jones (who will be the song’s conductor) and talent exec Ken Kragen get to work recruiting other singers.

They decide to schedule the recording for January 28, 1985, the night of the American Music Awards in Los Angeles.

They pick that date because a bunch of stars will be together the same night.

The first 2 “gets” are Springsteen and then Dylan.

The next recruits appear to have been Billy Joel, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon.

Forty other stars in all (see below) end up joining in for a total of 45 performers.

Some things I learned in the doc that I didn’t know:

  • Quincy writes a note at the entrance that says “Check your ego at the door”
  • Quincy gets Bob Geldorf to speak to the artists about the starvation in Africa (it’s moving because Geldorf has just visited Africa after his work for Live Aid).
  • Bob Dylan was probably the most uncomfortable at the start because the singing was out of his range.
  • Waylon Jennings walks out when Stevie Wonder suggests they sing some Swahili.
  • In the middle of auditions, Diana Ross says to Darryl Hall “Darryl, I’m your biggest fan. Would you sign my music for me.” Everyone starts signing autographs for each other.
  • Why Prince Didn’t Sing on “We are the World” — Sheila E. calls Prince (who’s near the studio) on the night of the recording and asks him to show up. Prince doesn’t show up (too many people in the studio, Sheila E. Says (Prince is shy)). Quincy Jones asks Huey Lewis to sing the line they hoped Prince would sing.
  • Al Jarreau was celebrating early that night (before the song was done) by drinking wine and needed extra takes because of it.
  • A Mysterious Sound in the Recording — there is a mysterious background sound when Cyndi Lauper sings. It turns out it’s her jewelry. She takes it opff
  • Dylan has trouble figuring out his voice and lines. He asks Stevie Wonder to rehearse it with him. Stevie can mimic just about anyone’s voice so he plays the piano and does Dylan’s lines in Dylan’s voice…this gives Dylan the idea for how he can sing it (which he does)

Who sang what in “We are the World” (and in what order)?

Here are my notes on the singing of the song (I put the video of the final recording here in case you want to play just the song):

“We are the World” was sung by 45 people (10 soloists and 35 chorus members).

Lionel Richie opens up singing the first words and is quickly joined by Steve Wonder in a harmony. Then, Stevie sings a line alone.

Then, Paul Simon (one of the most distinct voices) sings alone with Kenny Rogers up next.

James Ingram sings and then Tina Turner and Billy Joel

Michael Jackson sings the first “We are the world” chorus.

Diana Ross is up next (solo) with Michael joining for the end of it.

Dionne Warwick sings next with Willie Nelson quickly joining in. Then it’s Al Jarreau.

Bruce Springsteen is next. Then Kenny Loggins.

Steve Perry (Journey) sings next followed by John Oates.

Michael Jackson sings the first part of the bridge followed by Huey Lewis.

Then, Cyndi Lauper sings (my favorite part) alone followed by Kim Carnes.

Then, the entire group of 45 sings the chorus.

The song wraps up with Bob Dylan singing “There’s a choice we’re making. We’re saving our own lives. It’s true, we make a better day, just you and me.”

Then the 45 folks sing another chorus.

Then, Dylan repeats his line: “it’s true we make a brighter day, just you and me.”

Ray Charles is next and sings (while playing piano): “There’s a choice we’re making. We’re saving our own lives. It’s true we make a brighter day…just you and me.”

Stevie Wonder and Bruce then trade vocals on a duet.

Ray Charles and Ingram then do what’s supposedly an impromptu duet.

The Chorus

The song ends with all 45 singing the chorus.

The 35 chorus members included Michael Jackson’s 5 siblings (Jackie, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Tito)……and these 30 folks: Smokey Robinson, Harry Belafonte, Bette Midler, Dan Aykroyd, Bob Geldof, Lindsey Buckingham, Waylon Jennings, John Oates, Sheila E., Mario Cipollina, Johnny Colla, Bill Gibson, Sean Hopper, Chris Hayes, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Pointer, June Pointer and Ruth Pointer.

The band was:

  • Paulinho da Costa – percussion
  • Louis Johnson – synth bass
  • David Paich – synthesizers
  • John Robinson – drums
  • Ian Underwood – synthesizers, programming
  • Steve Porcaro – synthesizers, programming
  • John Barnes – keyboards, programming, arrangement
  • Greg Phillinganes – keyboards
  • Michael Omartian – keyboards
  • Michael Boddicker – synthesizers, programming

Everyone (Quincy, Ken Kragen, the 45 singers and 10 musicians) all volunteered their time.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc