‘We Are the World’ Documentary, ‘The Greatest Night in Pop’

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

It was the fastest-selling single in U.S. history, #1 there and in dozens of other countries as well, and it was all for a good cause. “We Are the World,” co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones and credited to USA for Africa—an ad hoc supergroup featuring 46 of the music world’s biggest singing stars backed by a quickly assembled group of instrumental accompanists—was a phenomenon upon its release. Now “We Are the World” is the subject of a new documentary film, The Greatest Night in Pop, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19, 2024, and began streaming on Netflix on Jan. 29. Watch the trailer and a bonus clip of a unique scene below.

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

Directed by Bao Nguyen (Be Water), the film takes a deep dive into the story behind the January 25, 1985, recording session that brought together Jackson and Richie, along with Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles and many other stars of the day. A chorus including many other big-name artists, among them Bette Midler, LaToya Jackson, Lindsey Buckingham, Harry Belafonte, Smokey Robinson, Waylon Jennings and the Pointer Sisters, also crammed into the Los Angeles studio to lend their voices to the song.

The location and participants were top secret. Following the American Music Awards earlier that evening, the stars arrived at the recording studio on the A&M lot. Many drove themselves. There had been a shroud of secrecy as to who was participating. Says Sheila E., “Bob Dylan? I mean, I think I just said ‘hi’ and walked away ’cause I was scared.'”

“Nobody was allowed in the studio except the artists themselves,” notes Lewis in an interview done for the film, “so nobody had assistants. And then, we get to interact with each other and that was really the thrill.”

“Everyone felt the magic,” says Robinson. “Everybody that you can think of who was in show business at that time is at that recording.”

Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan during the “We Are the World” recording session

“The egos were still there,” adds Loggins. “Let’s not pretend that they weren’t there.” Jennings departed. Sheila E. notes in the documentary that she realized at one point that she had been included as a way to try to lure Prince to participate.

Before they began, Jones introduced them to Bob Geldof, who was the principal organizer of the Band Aid recording, “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” His brief speech about the devastating famine was intended to inspire the stars. Mission accomplished.

Once the recording of the chorus was completed, Al Jarreau led a spontaneous version of “Day-o” in honor of Belafonte, who had suggested the project.

Watch Bob Dylan rehearse his solo accompanied by Stevie Wonder on piano and taking direction from Quincy Jones

The new “We Are the World” documentary includes previously unseen footage relating to the massive undertaking that brought together the unprecedented gathering of superstars on such short notice. The film is hosted by Richie, sitting in the same studio in which it was recorded.

Turns out, rock stars are fans, too. An innocent request for an autograph led to an extraordinary turn of events.

“I said yes without knowing who was going to be on it,” says Springsteen in the trailer.

Watch the official trailer for The Greatest Night in Pop

The Greatest Night in Pop was produced by Julia Nottingham, Richie, Bruce Eskowitz, Larry Klein, Harriet Sternberg, and George Hencken. The executive producers are Angus Wall, Amit Dey and Becky Read. Among director Nguyen’s previous projects was a Saturday Night Live doc, Live from New York!

“We Are the World,” which was awarded a quadruple platinum record and spent four weeks atop the Billboard chart, was inspired by a previous charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” released in the U.K. in 1984. The subsequent U.S. recording, whose profits were slated to help aid famine relief efforts in Ethiopia, was followed up by an album, also titled We Are the World. It, too, quickly reached #1, topping the chart on April 27.

Related: When Live Aid rocked the planet

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1 Comment so far

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  1. Bill
    #1 Bill 11 February, 2024, 10:48

    Do we know how much money was generated for the cause?

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