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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

February 18, 2014

We Are the World by USA for Africa, 1985

I haven't done a post on music for a while now, so here's one on a very popular song of the eighties, for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

The mid-eighties (1984, 1985 & 1986) was a productive year for music makers and music lovers. The period saw hundreds of hits by singers who became household names overnight. Michael Jackson topped the impressive list. Kenny Loggins’ foot tapping number, Footloose, was a rage. The namesake album contained some fine songs like Let’s Hear It for the Boy by Deniece Williams, Almost Paradise by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson, and Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler.

Back then I was in college and my friends and I used to listen to the songs on our radios, cassette players and walkmans, and sometimes watch the videos on state-run television. A local publisher capitalised on the music craze by bringing out booklets of the songs with lyrics and pictures. We collected them for a while.


Several of these popular songs won Grammy Awards during this golden period. The songs, belonging to various categories, included Thriller, Beat It and Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, Every Breath You Take by The Police, Flashdance...What A feeling by Irene Cara, Chaka Khan by Chaka Khan, A Little Good News by Anne Murray, Love Is A Battlefield by Paul Benatar, What's Love Got to Do with It by Tina Turner, Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me now) by Phil Collins, Ghostbusters by Ray Parker, Jr., Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean, Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen, Saving All My Love for You by Whitney Houston, Nightshift by Commodores, Freeway of Love by Aretha Franklin, and Money for Nothing by Dire Straits, among others.


There was one other song, a special song for charity, which won four Grammys in 1986 and became a big hit everywhere—We Are the World. It was performed by nearly two dozen contemporary solo artists, a veritable who’s who of the music world, and supported by a fine chorus comprising the likes of Dan Ackroyd, Harry Belafonte, John Oates, Bette Midler, Jeffrey Osborne, Bob Geldof, and Smokey Robinson. The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced and conducted by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, and recorded by USA for Africa in 1985. Geldof and Belafonte were the spirit behind the charity single in aid of famine relief in Africa. The idea for 'USA for Africa' came from the 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' project by Band Aid in the UK. You can read the colourful history behind the event right here.

Today, 'We Are the World' is one of the most popular music videos on the internet. It’s a song that appeals to both old and new listeners. It has a great lineup of singers and musicians, each of whom lends his or her distinct voice to a worthy cause. The meaningful lyrics are put to rich and varying music. Over the years I have seen the video many times and have come to recognise most of the singers in the order they sing—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, and Ray Charles.

You may click here and watch the video of the song that has been labelled as sentimental stuff by many. To me, it’s just a wonderful song.

16 comments:

  1. Much prefer the UK Band Aid song in truth.

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    1. Col, I haven't listened to the Band Aid song for a long time. Never occurred to me really!

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  2. As a song, the anti-apartheid "Sun City" was better, by me; it did also have the advantage of being about a rather more fixable problem than either of the predecessors. I've mostly been using music videos that have dramatic narrative in the monthly music lists, rather than the Friday Overlooked...

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    1. Todd, I have not heard "Sun City" which I just found out is by Artists United Against Apartheid, a protest group of the eighties. Thanks for mentioning the song. I admit I need to get back into the "overlooked" frame as far as movies are concerned. I haven't seen any early or vintage films as I'd ideally like to and write about.

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  3. always rather enjoyed We are the World, although it is not generally my kind of music. But it's just nice to hear

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    1. Charles, I'm a bit of a sucker for that kind of music. But then, there is no pattern to what I listen, much like the books I read and the films I watch.

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  4. I'll side with Col. Bob Geldof's idea about Band Aid was less commercial than "We Are the World" and produced a better, harder edged song with a truer, less cliche message.

    "We Are the World" in all its naive sentiment and its bouncy melody is the utter antithesis of 1980s music. For me the 80s was the birth of alternative rock, the "new wave" era. It was a time when I really grew to love rock music that had an edge, was darker, and challenged the listener with unusual rhythms and instrumentation.

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    1. John, I have been listening to rock, perhaps even alternative rock, for many years though I'd scarcely know the difference between the two or the people and groups behind it. I have heard and read about the "new wave" music of the eighties. It's an area of music that deserves more attention on my part.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Dear Yvette, I owe you a big apology. I seem to have inadvertently deleted your wonderful comment while deleting another comment that looked like spam. I tried to recover your comment through cached files but without luck. As always, I appreciated your feedback.

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  6. The pamphlets you describe, Prashant, are an interesting phenonmenon...no recordings to go with them, I gather, just the lyric sheets and such? I will disagree with John to this extent--while I didn't think much of Jackson nor particularly Richie as songwriters (nor did I like Richie as a performer at all), they were very much of the 1980s along with the Madonna Ciccones and Duran Durans, even as the more interesting New Wave, punk and college/indy rock and related music flourished in that decade. I think if I seem excessively grumpy about it, the sadness that "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "We Are the World" brought out in me at the time was great, as well-meant but so utterly inadequate attempts to help the helpless, and nearly so, and on such a scale...but it's hard to see the attempt as unworthy, and I can't imagine anyone was turned away from charitable thought toward the people the songs were meant to celebrate, as opposed to what anyone might think of the performers.

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    1. Todd, you're right, the booklets only had lyrics and pictures, and no recordings. I think they were around for a year or two. I recall collecting four of the pamphlets. Pop music was immensely popular in India in the eighties with bands and singers like Abba, Jackson, Lauper, Richie, Collins, Madonna, Stewart and many others in great demand. Rock music had its own following, though fewer in numbers I'm sure. Around this time I also listened to some fusion music, particularly that of the famous Indian percussionist and composer Trilok Gurtu. Frankly, I don't think I gave any thought to the social impact, if any, of songs like "We Are the World" and such other charity music albums and programmes, or how much of a difference the two music charities made for poor Africans. All I did was enjoy the music, as I do now.

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  7. I'm with Todd on enjoying the bite of "Sun City" a little more. But "We Are the World" left a wider pop culture mark and is a deserved classic.

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    1. David, I consider "We Are The World" a classic too. The music video makes the song that much more enjoyable. Jackson, Wonder, and Springsteen have got more of the song, while some like Kim Carnes have got just a word or two in. I guess what counts is team effort and the cause behind it.

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  8. Prashant, I am not that well-versed in any kind of music, but I have fond memories of a lot of the songs and artists you mentioned. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Tracy, you're welcome. I listen to music almost daily but I'm no expert. I usually listen to music that sounds good to my ears. There are quite a few singers I haven't heard in a long time now.

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