The charity single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief was released 30 years ago this week. Here are some interesting facts you may not know about it.
Released under the name USA for Africa, “We Are the World” was recorded in an all-sight session in a Los Angeles studio following the 1985 American Music Awards. Producer Quincy Jones figured that it would be the only time he could get more than three dozen rock stars together in the same place on the same night.
The song’s writers, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, sing on the song, as do superstars like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, the Pointer Sisters, Cyndi Lauper, and Dan Aykroyd. Why was a comedian there? An L.A. talent manager named Ken Kragen was in charge of assembling as many stars as possible for “We Are the World.” He booked a few of his own clients (Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes), as well as Aykroyd, who accidentally made an appointment with Kragen in 1985 when he was looking for a business manager.
Huey Lewis’s one solo line, “But if you just believe, there’s no way we can fail,” was originally set aside for Prince…arguably the biggest star of the 1980s who didn’t appear on “We Are the World.” He turned down the offer to sing on the song—because he thought it was a terrible song, regardless of its charitable intent—but offered to play guitar. Producer Quincy Jones response to Prince’s manager, Bob Cavallo was: “I don’t need him to f****** play guitar.” Prince instead contributed a song to the USA for Africa album.
Willie Nelson was a part of USA for Africa, and the occasion inspired him to further his charitable work to help people closer to home. Nelson would later start Farm Aid. (Also, in 1985, USA for Africa participants Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder would record “That’s What Friends Are For” to benefit AIDS research.)
For more music trivia, check out Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into Music.