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Music / We Are the World

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"There comes a time, when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one..."

"We Are the World" is a song by USA for Africa (a Supergroup formed for the purpose), released in early 1985.

In 1984, Ethiopia was struck by a famine, making headlines across the world. The famine also struck the conscience of the entertainment industry. At year's end, Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof gathered a bunch of major UK music stars together (highlighted by George Michael, Sting, Phil Collins, and various members of U2, Duran Duran and Culture Club) under the name Band Aid, to record "Do They Know It's Christmas?". A massive hit in its homeland (the biggest selling single in UK history up until "Candle in the Wind 1997", and still #2 on the list), it also made the American Top 20 and raised funds and awareness for Ethiopia.

Harry Belafonte decided that American performers should do something similar, so he called up Lionel Richie, who then contacted Michael Jackson, who agreed to perform and help with writing. Belafonte also contacted Kenny Rogers, Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones, who assisted with conducting and producing the song.


Richie, Jackson, Wonder and Jones continued to tweak the lyrics up to the first recording session, and a special track was prepared for the performers who would be invited to perform on January 28. Included in the lineup were Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and Willie Nelson, with a vast choir that included Dan Aykroyd, Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters and the rest of Jackson's family, with Bob Geldof joining them in an Approval of God gesture.

"We Are the World" was released on March 7, 1985, reaching number one on the R&B Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100, and raising $10.8 million within four months. Since then, the record has raked in $63 million, put toward both short-term and long-term humanitarian relief projects, with 10% of the funds also being used for domestic hunger and homeless programs.


Twenty-five years on, in February 2010, a new version of "We Are the World" was recorded and released following the Haiti earthquake, reuniting Richie and Jones for its production, with a rap verse written by Material recorded by Jackson from the original was also interwoven into the new version, which features Wyclef Jean, Josh Groban, Usher, Janet Jackson, Lil Wayne and other well-known artists. All proceeds from the song were used by the newly formed We Are The World LLC to help with relief efforts in Haiti.

There's a choice we're making. We're troping our own lives:

  • Acronym Confusion: "USA for Africa" does not stand for "United States of America for Africa." According to the literature, it actually stands for "United Support of Artists for Africa."
  • Artistic License – Traditional Christianity: Willie Nelson's line "As God has shown us by turning stones to bread." Anyone who has actually read The Bible knows that it was Satan who tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:3 and Luke 4:3) to do so; of course, he turned him down flat. This was changed in the 2010 version to "We can't let them suffer/No, we cannot turn away."
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Jackson originally had the African-sounding "sha-lum sha-lingay" as the response lines in the chorus, until Geldof said that using gibberish like that might be considered offensive. Stevie Wonder called a friend who suggested some lines in Swahili instead, but Ray Charles and Waylon Jennings objected to having to learn phrases in a foreign language on short notice, and others pointed out that Swahili isn't even spoken in Ethiopia. Eventually the lines ended up as "one world, our children."
  • Award-Bait Song: Considering it was meant to raise money for famine victims, the creators had no qualms throwing in all the cliches of this trope to tug at listeners' heartstrings.
  • Battle Aura: If you watch carefully during the video, you can see Steve Perry psyching himself up in the background before his line.
  • Blind Musician: Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, both of whom threatened to personally drive everyone home if the vocals weren't all completed by the session's end.
  • Charity Motivation Song: The Trope Maker, organized to help raise money for Ethiopia in the wake of the Ur-Example "Do They Know It's Christmas?".
  • Contrasting Replacement Character: Prince agreed to take part but never showed up. His line was given to Huey Lewis. Very noticeable since he follows Michael Jackson, and pairing Prince and Jackson (often contrasted at the time as the Red Oni, Blue Oni superstars of R&B) makes more sense.
  • 11th-Hour Ranger: Ray Charles doesn't appear until around the 4:30 mark of the full version, but dominates the rest of the song.
  • Epic Rocking: The unedited version runs 7:02.
  • Formerly Friendly Family: In the video, Michael and the rest of the Jacksons stand on opposite ends of the choir. (Michael had left the family group on bad terms only a month before "We Are the World.")
  • Large Ham: Hoo boy. Several of the featured artists definitely got lost in their performances. Bruce Springsteen is roaring his parts, Cyndi Lauper is screaming so loud that it's a little hard to understand what she's saying, Stevie Wonder is hollering at the top of his lungs during his back and forth with Springsteen, James Ingram's roaring so loud he sounds like he could bring down the whole building and at various points in the video, Harry Belafonte appears to be screaming his head off. Bob Dylan's bleating on his solo line almost seems like a Self-Parody.
  • Let's Duet: Several lines are sung by two people simultaneously, with some unusual pairings (Paul Simon/Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner/Billy Joel, Dionne Warwick/Willie Nelson).
  • Magical Jew: In a song rooted in Christian religious sentiment, the presence of Paul Simon evokes this trope.
    • Subverted by Bob Dylan, who had converted to Christianity a few years earlier (though he was coming off Infidels, an album sometimes viewed as a move back towards Jewish themes).
  • Mega Crossover: A large mix of superstar American singers from many genres.
  • Melismatic Vocals: As a song with touches of Gospel Music sung by singers wanting to seem sincere, this shows up many times.
  • No Indoor Voice: Everyone, but especially Steve Perry, Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper and James Ingram.
  • Salt and Pepper: Towards the end of the song, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder engage in a bit of call-and-response.
  • Supergroup: One of the most famous examples from The '80s.
  • The Team Normal: Dan Aykroyd. All the more so since, with his jacket, tie and glasses, he looks like some stockbroker who just happened to wander into the studio from a nearby bar.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: It wouldn't be a rousing, inspirational song without one, beginning with the chorus after Bob Dylan's part.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The lyrics definitely convey this tone.
    And the truth, you know, love is all we need.