Steve Perry on ‘We Are The World’: Behind-the-Scenes

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We Are The World screen grab

Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper and Kim Carnes during the recording session

It’s been decades since several dozen all-time greats recorded as USA For Africa in the hours following the 1985 Grammy Awards. “We Are The World” was recorded on January 28, 1985 and released on March 7.

The effort came from an idea originated by singer-activist Harry Belafonte, following the success of Band Aid’s 1984 “Do They Know It’s Christmas” charity recording.

The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie; the sessions were produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian. But as you can see from these “making-of” clips, Richie was very hands on during the recording process. The charity single – and album – both reached #1 on April 27, 1985. The single would go on to sell a whopping 20 million copies and raise over $60 million for humanitarian efforts to address hunger in Africa.

In an August 2022 interview, Steve Perry talked about feeling intimidated by the caliber of artists that were also involved. At the time of the session, Perry was no slouch having been Journey’s lead vocalist for over seven years. He had sung and written (or co-written) such classics as “Lights,” “Lovin, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” “Any Way You Want It,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Steve Perry, during ‘We Are the World’ rehearsals with (from L) Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins and Daryl Hall

“You got to remember that at that moment, I believe it was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ tour period of his life,” he recalled to Rock Classics Radio on Apple Music Hits. “And when he walked in, it was like God had walked in the room, and Michael Jackson was there and Ray Charles was there. I mean Tina Turner was there and then, Paul Simon and Bette Midler.

“So what I ended up doing, because I felt a little uncomfortable for a while in this room with all these people, I went to the other studio that was adjacent to it in another room and it was called the catering room. So there was all the lunch meats and the pineapples and so I’m eating lunch meat and I look over, there’s Bette Midler and Paul Simon there. And so we’re sitting there just the three of us and Bette Midler says, ‘It’s a little overwhelming isn’t it?’ I said, ‘That’s for sure.’”

Watch an extensive rehearsal segment that features Perry

The We Are the World album included previously unreleased recordings from Prince & the Revolution (“4 the Tears in Your Eyes”), Perry (“If Only For the Moment, Girl”), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (“Trapped”), Tina Turner (“Total Control”, and others.

In this clip Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper and Kim Carnes passionately work out their solos and ultimate collaboration, ending with Lauper’s spontaneous (and heartfelt) “Yeah yeah yeah yeah.” It’s also amusing to see A-Listers Kenny Loggins, Perry, Daryl Hall and others in the background, like schoolkids watching a teacher berate a classmate. Meanwhile, Michael Jackson is all business.

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And then there’s Bob Dylan, just 43-years-old, rehearsing his solo accompanied by Stevie Wonder on piano and taking direction from Quincy. “There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives…”

While posing for a group photo, the performers good-naturedly regaled Belafonte with an impromptu rendition of his “The Banana Boat Song.”

There were 21 soloists in all, five of whom are no longer with us: MJ, Al Jarreau, James Ingram, Kenny Rogers and Ray Charles. In order of appearance:

Lionel Richie
Stevie Wonder
Paul Simon
Kenny Rogers
James Ingram
Tina Turner
Billy Joel
Michael Jackson
Diana Ross
Dionne Warwick
Willie Nelson
Al Jarreau
Bruce Springsteen
Kenny Loggins
Steve Perry
Daryl Hall
Huey Lewis
Cyndi Lauper
Kim Carnes
Bob Dylan
Ray Charles

Related: When Live Aid rocked the planet

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