Thirty years ago today, dozens of top musicians came together to record “We Are the World,” the successful charity single that raised money for hunger victims in Africa.
The song, which was written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, came on the heels of the British charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It was recorded in Hollywood after the 1985 American Music Awards, and featured a who’s who of popular artists from that time. The artists recorded under the name USA for Africa.
In addition to Richie and Jackson, the song also featured Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, 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.
The all-star chorus included Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Bette Midler, Waylon Jennings John Oates, Jeffrey Osborne, The Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson’s siblings, Jackie, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Tito.
Richie tells USA Today that he and Jackson listened to various national anthems in order to get into their minds into writing a “world anthem.” “We didn’t want a normal-sounding song,” recalls Richie. “We wanted bombastic, the biggest thing you got.”
Billy Joel told ABC News Radio in 2005 that when he first heard the track, he wasn’t impressed at all. “I wasn’t that crazy about the song. I think that was my main memory of that,” he recalled. “It was, ‘Oh, this is the song?’…It sounded like a Pepsi commercial!”
The recording session on January 28, 1985 at A&M Recording Studios in Hollywood began at 9 p.m. and lasted 12 hours. The artists were greeted by a sign that read, “Check your egos at the door.”
Quincy Jones, who produced the track, recalls that the sign wasn’t necessary. “Here you had 46 of the biggest recording stars in the entire world in one room, to help people in a far-off place who were in desperate need,” Jones tells USA Today.
“I don’t think that night, that experience, will ever truly be duplicated again,” says Jones, adding, “I know and believe in the power of music to bring people together for the betterment of mankind, and there may be no better example of this than the collective that was ‘We Are the World.'”
Following its release on March 7, 1985, “We Are the World” sold more than 20 million copies and raised more than 60 million dollars for famine relief in Africa. It went on to win three Grammy Awards.
An updated version of the song was recorded in 2010 to help victims of the Haiti earthquake. It featured Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Adam Levine and Kanye West, among others.