In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing each #1 single within the history of the Billboard Sizzling 100, starting with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my formula up into the present.
USA For Africa – “We Are The World”
HIT #1: April 13, 1985
STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks
Bob Dylan not at all has had a #1 hit. Dylan remains a pivotal cultural figure and a hugely current performer, and he’s gotten to #2 a few times, with 1965’s “Relish A Rolling Stone” and 1966’s “Moist Day Woman # 12 & 35.” (“Relish A Rolling Stone” is a 10. “Moist Day Woman” is a 6.) In 1965, the Byrds covered Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and took it to #1. Nonetheless Dylan himself has not at all ascended to the pinnacle site.
Bruce Springsteen has not at all had a #1 hit, both. Springsteen became as soon as one in all the defining pop stars of the ’80s, and he’ll presumably be assist to packing of us into arenas as soon as it becomes both safe and culturally acceptable to pack of us into arenas. Springsteen has a ton of top-10 singles, and he’s gotten to #2 as soon as, with 1984’s “Dancing In The Darkish.” (It’s an 8.) In 1977, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Gentle” and took it to #1. Nonetheless Springsteen himself has not at all ascended to the pinnacle site.
And yet Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen be pleased both regarded on a #1 single — the connected #1 single. The 2 of them are accountable for what’s going to be the 2 silliest moments on “We Are The World,” the noisy and self-congratulatory all-star singalong that turn out to be a cultural event in 1985. Dylan and Springsteen don’t variety a ton of musical sense on “We Are The World.” Dylan sounds adore a frog demise. Springsteen sounds adore an mad man shitting out a pinecone. And yet they’re both there, both lending whatever gravitas they’ll muster to this ridiculous enterprise.
Hundreds of us are on “We Are The World.” This abundance is the highest selling level of the product — that and whatever guilt reduction that legend traders earned as soon as they spent a few dollars on a puffed-up and solemn seven-minute nothing of a song. The solid of characters on “We Are The World,” all of whom assembled into a single recording studio on a single Los Angeles night, is astronomical and impressive. The backup-singer chorus on “We Are The World” — the teeming mass of singers who don’t even get of enterprise to speak a solo line — features mountainous stars adore Smokey Robinson and Bette Midler and Lindsey Buckingham. The soloists are a parade of most of basically the most animated names of the day. There became as soon as so unprecedented abilities in that room, and yet it’s all there to variety a tranquilizing musical irritant. I’ll not at all impress it.
The British had the premise first. In 1984, the Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof and Ultravox’s Midge Ure build collectively a mountainous supergroup of largely-British singers, they generally recorded “Terminate They Know It’s Christmas?,” an ooky nonetheless successfully-that potential holiday synthpop ditty. (“Terminate They Know It’s Christmas?” appears to point out that the onerous factor about being African is that there’s no snow? And that with out snow, no one will comprehend it’s Christmas? Uncommon song.) The single, released under the title Band Wait on to raise money for Ethiopian famine reduction, sold three million copies within the UK by myself. For years, it became as soon as basically the most animated-selling single in UK history. (In the US, it peaked at #13.)
All around the connected time, the entertainment-exchange legend Harry Belafonte desired to position collectively a mountainous earnings concert for famine reduction. (Belafonte has not at all had a single on the Sizzling 100, nonetheless he became as soon as at his height within the years earlier than Billboard started this list. Belafonte’s Calypso, let’s bid, became as soon as basically the most animated-selling album of 1956, the predominant year that Billboard saved song of these items.) About a days earlier than Christmas 1984, Belafonte called up the excessive-powered supervisor Ken Kragen, who instructed that they fight as an replacement to reach up with an all-star single adore “Terminate They Know It’s Christmas?”
Kragen lined up his customers Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie first, and he obtained Quincy Jones to conform to break it. Richie recruited Stevie Wonder, suggesting that the 2 of them write it collectively. Jones requested Michael Jackson if he’d attain the song, and Jackson stated that he desired to speak on it and assist write it. So Richie and Jackson obtained collectively at Jackson’s family’s home in Encino to write down the song. (Wonder became as soon as busy.) Jackson and Richie spent a week in search of to variety the song as easy and unprecedented as imaginable, after which Jackson surprised both Richie and Quincy Jones with a demo for the song that he’d recorded in a single night.
Jackson and Richie finalized the “We Are The World” lyrics on the night earlier than the recording session. They changed “we’re taking our absorb lives” to “we’re saving our absorb lives” so as that it wouldn’t sound adore they had been speaking about suicide. They changed “there’s of enterprise we’re taking” to “there’s a necessity we’re making” so as that they wouldn’t sound so egotistical.
In the meantime, Kragen worked his formula down the Sizzling 100, calling all individuals he might maybe maybe procure and in search of to get them to conform to the venture. Kragen had the premise to legend the song on the connected night as the American Tune Awards, which had been happening in Los Angeles on the discontinue of January. That supposed that a ton of stars would be in town that night, nonetheless it also supposed that Kragen most animated had a month to get the deal achieved. Kragen ended up doing too successfully at recruiting stars; he turned away fading names adore John Denver.
Kragen’s two white whales had been Bruce Springsteen and Prince. After Kragen badgered Springsteen’s supervisor into it, Springsteen became as soon as down. Prince, on the replacement hand, conception that the entire factor became as soon as wack. He couldn’t explore how his divulge would work in that every individual-star cacophany. This wasn’t the method Prince operated. Sheila E., Prince’s buddy and collaborator, had agreed to speak within the chorus, and he or she did her most efficient to get Prince to repeat up. Nonetheless Prince went out partying in LA that night as an replacement. Quincy Jones had deliberate on Prince taking fragment. When Prince no-showed, Huey Lewis, who’d within the initiating been blueprint to speak within the chorus, obtained bumped as much as soloist.
When the stars arrived on the studio that night, they had been famously met by a notice that told them to overview their egos on the door. Quincy Jones might maybe maybe honest had been basically the most animated producer hard sufficient to contain all individuals in line. Jones mapped out beforehand who would get to speak which traces and taped these traces to mic stands, and he didn’t allow for any arguments over who would speak what. In his infamous 2018 Vulture interview, Jones told a sage about how Cyndi Lauper tried to begin up some set aside of revolt:
She had a supervisor reach over to me and bid, “The rockers don’t adore the song.” I know the method that shit works. We went to explore Springsteen, Corridor & Oates, Billy Joel, and all these cats they generally stated, “We adore the song.” So I stated [to Lauper], “OK, it’s possible you’ll maybe factual get your shit over with and leave.” And she became as soon as fucking up every acquire because her necklace or bracelet became as soon as rattling within the microphone. It became as soon as factual her that had a self-discipline.
There are other fun tales from the night of the session. There’s Michael Jackson hiding within the relaxation room. There’s Stevie Wonder joking that he and Ray Charles would power all individuals dwelling if it took too prolonged. There’s Wonder suggesting that all individuals replace the nonsense syllables on the discontinue of the song with some words in Swahili, after which there’s Waylon Jennings flat-out refusing to speak in Swahili. (They went with “one world, our younger of us” as an replacement.) There’s Billy Joel getting starstruck at seeing Ray Charles, after which Bob Dylan silently snubbing a gushing Al Jarreau, leaving Jarreau sobbing. (Pretty about a these tales are in this good Just feature.)
Because I’m a hopeless completist doofus about issues adore this: Al Jarreau is one in all most animated five soloists on “We Are The World” who not at all scored a #1 single of his absorb. Jarreau, in actual fact, not at all had a top-10 hit. His absolute top-charting single is 1981’s “We’re In This Fancy Together,” which peaked at #15. Willie Nelson’s two absolute top-charting singles, 1982’s “Always On My Mind” and the 1984 Julio Iglesias duet “To All The Ladies I’ve Hottest Sooner than,” both peaked at #5. (“Always On My Mind” is a 10. “To All The Ladies I’ve Hottest Sooner than” is a 5.) As the frontman of Inch, Steve Perry’s absolute top-charting single is 1982’s “Launch Fingers,” which peaked at #2. (It’s a 7.) As a solo artist, Perry’s absolute top-charting single is 1984’s “Oh Sherrie,” which peaked at #3. (It’s one other 7.) We’ve already been over Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
It’s fun to imagine all these of us getting collectively within the connected room for the connected all-night session, to imagine the entire unusual conversations that of us must’ve had. It’s fun to imagine Harry Belafonte within the chorus, beholding what he’d wrought whereas standing next to Dan Aykroyd, also within the chorus for some mysterious draw. It’s fun to explore the unusual tiny harmonizing pairs: Paul Simon and Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Dionne Warwick. Nonetheless it’s no longer any fucking fun at all to be all ears to “We Are The World.”
“We Are The World” is a tough dangle. It’s a glacial and unending seven-minute ordeal, an ongoing sequence of stars stepping as much as teach their most anguished and terrorized wails. Most of them most animated get a sentence or much less, so they build the entirety they be pleased into singing hot-air platitudes: “It’s time to assist to life, basically the most animated reward of all.”
The backing-band musicians on “We Are The World” are largely the connected ones who achieved on Michael Jackson’s Thriller — at the side of Toto’s David Paich, a previous chart-topper himself. And yet they lift no longer one in all the onerous, rippling pleasure that it’s possible you’ll maybe hear on Thriller. As a exchange, “We Are The World” is pure musical goo, a intellectual rhythmless high-tail that’s most animated there to melt into the background. The level of pastime, as an replacement, is on the singers.
Some of these singers sound dazzling good. Whatever her emotions on the song, Lauper howls completely the fuck out of her one mountainous line, and Jackson himself is sensitively shivery on his solo moment. Some of them, adore Dylan and Springsteen, sound adore butt. Largely, even though, they’re factual a mismatched mass, a mountainous community of of us that don’t be pleased any chemistry with every other and who aren’t fully obvious why they’re all there. The song is a chore, and it sounds adore one.
“We Are The World” is a song created with basically the most efficient of intentions in mind. And it did its job. The single sold better than 20 million copies, and it topped charts round the area. There became as soon as a associate-share album, too, and that also sold about a million. (Prince might maybe maybe no longer be pleased participated in “We Are The World” itself, nonetheless he did donate the song “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” to the album.) There had been shirts and videocassettes and diverse other commodities, and the entire factor introduced in better than $60 million. And no longer lower than as some distance as I can show, it looks adore most of that money in actual fact went to present a boost to the lives of impoverished of us — not at all a given by formula of all-star charity affairs adore these.
So “We Are The World” achieved its targets. It did honest on this planet. USA For Africa is composed an operational charity, and it composed uses the proceeds from the song to assist of us. I’m elated. Nonetheless I hate the song. I hate it so fucking unprecedented. Segment of it’s the song itself — a share of music that’s both oppressively unimaginative and catchy sufficient that it continues to oppressively bore me even when I’m no longer actively listening. Nonetheless phase of it’s the self-indulgent nature of the entire enterprise.
I merely don’t get the premise of an initiative adore this. If the artists fascinated by “We Are The World” — or, better yet, their legend-tag bosses — had donated a few share points of their annual earnings round that time, they presumably would’ve generated unprecedented extra money. Nonetheless that’s no longer the method we attain issues. As a exchange, we variety a total spectacle out of any form of humanitarian circulation, turning what might maybe maybe’ve been a easy fundraiser into an infinite glittering moment. It grosses me out every time something adore this occurs.
Per chance we ought to composed resolve “We Are The World” by what it did — as a collective work of humanitarian empathy, no longer as a share of music or a spectacle. As a spectacle, even though, it’s an uncomfortably showy present. And as a share of music, it sucks shit.
“We Are The World” went on to procure Grammys for both Memoir and Song Of The 365 days, and it pulled in trophies on the entire other mountainous awards shows too. After which there had been copycats. In 1986, Ken Kragen tried to corral extra mountainous stars into raising money to strive against American homelessness with the Palms All over The usa event, nonetheless the mountainous stars didn’t in actual fact flip out, and the theme song peaked at #65. A bunch of Canadians — Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, John Candy — came collectively under the title Northern Lights for a song called “Tears Are No longer Adequate” than ended up on the We Are The World album. Ronnie James Dio led a crew of metal forms on “Stars,” a 1986 song credited to Hear ‘N Wait on. At last, that connected impulse led to all-star rap posse cuts adore 1989’s “Self Destruction” and 1990’s “We’re All In The Same Gang.”
My current of these all-star charity songs, both aesthetically and philosophically, is “Sun Metropolis,” the 1985 song written and organized by the E Facet motorway Band’s Steven Van Zandt. The song protested against South African apartheid, and it made a rallying yowl out of refusing to play the South African resort that continuously booked mountainous stars. “Sun Metropolis” had Springsteen and Speed-DMC and Joey Ramone and Gil Scott-Heron and Jimmy Cliff and Melle Mel and Bob Dylan and Bono and Bobby Womack and Bonnie Raitt and a vary of other of us. Chilly lineup! Rather honest song! Nonetheless in comparison with “We Are The World,” “Sun Metropolis” became as soon as a flop, peaking at #38. (On the replacement hand, African poverty composed exists, nonetheless South African apartheid doesn’t. So maybe “Sun Metropolis” became as soon as extra profitable.)
In 2010, a total mess of more fresh superstars came collectively to raise money for the of us of Haiti after the devastating earthquake there. They assembled on the connected studio for a unusual version of “We Are The World,” and it became as soon as even longer and presumably unprecedented extra unhappy. Atomize auteur Paul Haggis directed the video. There became as soon as rapping. This unusual “We Are The World” became as soon as, if imaginable, unprecedented extra of a successfully-intentioned mess than the authentic. “We Are The World 25 For Haiti” peaked at #2. (It’s a 1.)
This year, Lionel Richie talked about doing one other version of “We Are The World” for COVID-19 reduction. It hasn’t took site, nonetheless it did inspire me to write down this unimaginative shit. Except that version of “We Are The World” comes out — or one other version of the song occurs for one other draw — then USA For Africa obtained’t be in this column again. Nonetheless Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, Billy Joel, Dionne Warwick, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, and Bette Midler all will.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the completely savage “We Are The World” parody that In Living Colour aired in 1992:
(Jamie Foxx, who plays Lionel Richie within the In Living Colour sketch and who would later act as the enthusiastic presenter of the “We Are The World 25 For Haiti” video, will within the kill appear in this column as a guest. As lead artist, Jamie Foxx’s absolute top-charting single is the 2009 T-Worry collab “Blame It,” which peaked at #2. It’s an 8.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Master P starting out his 1992 song “Psycho Rhymes” with a “We Are The World” parody:
(Master P’s two absolute top-charting singles as lead artist, 1998’s “I Bought The Hook Up!” and “Make ‘Em Divulge Uhh!,” both peaked at #16. As a guest-rapper, P’s absolute top-charting single is Montell Jordan’s “Let’s Inch,” which peaked at #2 in 1998. It’s a 7.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Apparently, 1992 is the year that the area within the kill turned on “We Are The World.” Here’s the basic riff on the entire celeb-singalong industrial advanced that became as soon as phase of a good 1992 Simpsons episode:
(As a solo artist, Sting will within the kill appear in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Mitch Hedberg using “We Are The World” in a basic stand-up bit on his 2003 album Strategic Grill Locations:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Jimmy Kimmel working a “We Are The World” parody into his viral 2009 bit “Fucking Ben Affleck”:
(I’m no longer going to get into the absolute top-charting single of each motherfucker on “Fucking Ben Affleck,” nonetheless Huey Lewis and Meat Loaf will within the kill appear in this column. As a member of *NSYNC, Lance Bass will seemingly be in here, too.)
THE 10S: Bruce Springsteen’s painfully difficult synth-rockabilly unhurried-burn “I’m On Fire” peaked at #6 on the assist of “We Are The World.” It cut a six-scramble valley via the center of my cranium, and it’s a 10.