For this issue, we revisit the original “We Are the World” charity single which was penned by Lionel Richie with the late, great Michael Jackson and co-produced by Quincy Jones. The final recording by 46 outstanding artists took place on the evening of January 28, 1985 at A&M Studios in Hollywood, California. The idea was preceded and likely inspired by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (which we already did an entire feature on worth checking out again if you missed it). I still own my original personal copy of “We Are the World” as a 45 record – evidence below 👇.
“We Are the World” was released as a single on March 7, 1985 and the initial shipment of 800,000 records sold out within just three days. In its first four months, the song already raised $10.8 million and by October of 1986, “We Are the World” had raised over $51 million (surpassing the initial goal of $50 million). It would reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April and stay there for four weeks while also reaching the top of the charts in at least 16 other countries worldwide. The song became the first single since The Beatles’ “Let It Be” in 1970 to enter Billboard’s Top 5 within two weeks of release. At the 1986 Grammy Awards, the song won four awards including both Record of the Year and Song of the Year. “We Are the World“, which was eventually named the biggest-selling single of all time, has sold more than 20 million units and raised over $70 million for humanitarian aid in both Africa and the U.S.
Here is the music video for the original “We Are the World” by USA for Africa…
Here are the lyrics to “We Are the World” along with the artist who sang each line:
There comes a time when we heed a certain call (Lionel Richie)
When the world must come together as one (Richie & Stevie Wonder)
There are people dying (Stevie Wonder)
Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life (Paul Simon)
The greatest gift of all (Paul Simon/Kenny Rogers)
We can’t go on pretending day by day (Kenny Rogers)
That someone, somehow will soon make a change (James Ingram)
We’re all a part of God’s great big family (Tina Turner)
And the truth (Billy Joel)
You know love is all we need (Tina Turner/Billy Joel)
( CHORUS )
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving (Michael Jackson)
There’s a choice we’re making we’re saving our own lives (Diana Ross)
It’s true we’ll make a better day just you and me (Michael Jackson/Diana Ross)
Well, send’em you your heart so they know that someone cares (Dionne Warwick)
And their lives will be stronger and free (Dionne Warwick/Willie Nelson)
As God has shown us by turning stone to bread (Willie Nelson)
And so we all must lend a helping hand (Al Jurreau)
( REPEAT CHORUS )
We are the world, we are the children (Bruce Springsteen)
We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving (Kenny Loggins)
There’s a choice we’re making we’re saving our own lives (Steve Perry)
It’s true we’ll make a better day just you and me (Daryl Hall)
When you’re down and out there seems no hope at all (Michael Jackson)
But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall (Huey Lewis)
Well, well, well, let’s realize that a change can only come (Cyndi Lauper)
When we (Kim Carnes)
stand together as one (Kim Carnes/Cyndi Lauper/Huey Lewis)
(REPEAT CHORUS AND FADE )
The song concludes with Bob Dylan and Ray Charles singing a full chorus, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen duet-ting, and some ad-libs from Charles and James Ingram.
In addition to those noted above, here are the other artists who were part of the chorus:
Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Mario Cipollina, Johnny Colla, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Bill Gibson, Chris Hayes, Sean Hopper, Jackie Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Bette Midler, John Oates, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Pointer, Ruth Pointer and Smokey Robinson
The American pop stars of that time most-noticeably absent from this incredible group are Madonna and Prince. Madonna was apparently on tour and chose not to cancel any performances to make it to the recording session, but she did appear at Live Aid later that same year. There are various stories about why Prince did not attend, however Prince did ultimately donate an exclusive track, “4 The Tears In Your Eyes”, for the album.
Upon entering the recording studio, the musicians were greeted by a sign pinned up which read, “Please check your egos at the door.” They were also greeted by Stevie Wonder, who proclaimed that if the recording was not completed in one take, he and Ray Charles, two blind men, would drive everybody home. There are many other great stories about the recording sessions and the process that created this powerful song. Most importantly, this super-group of musicians from all different genres came together, “checked the egos at the door” and did something truly special. I will always remember this song fondly for a variety of reasons. Looking back 35 years later, I think I can appreciate it even more than I did back then not only as a song, but as a statement and a moment.
There is a behind-the-scenes video filmed during the recording sessions and making of the music video. It allows you to see some unique interactions as well as the magic behind this special evening and the extraordinary song it produced. Definitely worth watching, we’ve included this entire video right here…
“We Are the World“, along with Live Aid and Farm Aid from the ’80s, demonstrated that rock music had become more than entertainment, but a political and social movement. Music could actually change the world. The song is an appeal for human compassion. Journalist Robert Palmer noted that such songs and events had the ability to reach people around the world, send them a message, and then get results. This turned out to be a momentous part of the decade’s pop culture and, yep, you know it happened in the ’80s. But, it would serve us well to remember the sentiments of this song especially in these times several decades later, too.