your egos at the door."
On January 28, 1985, some of the most popular
artists in the 80's along with music
legends came together to
do their part to combat hunger in Africa. Twenty years later, this event has been
humiliated [SNL skits, the Simpsons, etc.] and duplicated [Hear 'N Aid, Northern
Lights, Voices That Care, Artists United Against Apartheid, etc..], but never
replicated. Sure, it's commonplace to throw a bunch of celebrities in a room
and film it in hopes of inspiring the public to be awed at the mere mention of
the Backstreet Boys and N'Snyc recording on the same song [gasp!], or you could
choose to do what Sir Geldof did and attempt to recreate the event with current
pop stars ["Blasphemy!" according to some Brits]. Wisely, and perhaps
thankfully, those responsible for USA For Africa chose to release this set to
commemorate the 20th anniversary.
During the political and social unrest of the 60's and 70's, it was common
for musicians to express themselves in song. Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Harry
Chapin and Marvin Gaye were a few of the artists responsible for laying down
some of the greatest vocal commentaries ever. By the time the 80's rolled
around, John Lennon, Harry Chapin and Marvin Gaye were silenced. Insipid one hit
wonders were filling the airwaves. Hostages were taken in Iran. There was an
assassination attempt on our President. Cats and dogs were sleeping together. Plain
and simple, there
was upheaval in the world. However, despite all the injustices, the music industry was nowhere near as
social or political as it had been during the previous decades. All that changed on November 25th, 1984 when Bob Geldof
gathered some British [and one or two American] musicians together to record
"Do They Know It's Christmas?".
While the intent of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was to bring to
light the situation in Africa, it also inspired long-time activist Harry
Belafonte to phone Ken Kragen, a former talent manager, and pitch the idea of an American
version of Band Aid. The first two artists contacted were
Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, both at the highest points in their careers,
and together they wrote "We Are the World" in a mere two hours. Along
with famed producer
Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and session musicians Greg Phillinganes [keys], John
Robinson [drums] and Louis Johnson [bassist from Brothers
Johnson], Michael and Lionel assembled a rough
cut of the song which was sent to the invited artists. Then, on January 28, 1985, immediately after the American Music
Awards, some of the biggest stars in music: Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Bruce
Springsteen, Hall & Oates, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles
and Tina Turner, amongst others, gathered at A&M Recording Studios to lay down what would become an 80's
Disc one contains the main feature which runs
52 minutes [technically 41 minutes since the "We Are the World" music
video is a part of the documentary]. Hosted by Jane Fonda, I wouldn't really
consider this a "documentary" since it's solely raw footage of the
artists recording the song. From Michael Jackson demonstrating an unused chorus
to a spontaneous
performance of Belafonte's "the Banana Boat Song
(Day-O)", we're even treated to a brief cameo from Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis!
While it was amusing to watch artists from many different genres interact with
each other, the "how's" and "why's" weren't discussed as
in-depth as I would've liked. The "Bonus Tracks" submenu,
gives us the following options:
Michael's Guide Vocal [1m 46s]
Recording the Chorus [9:20]
"Sha-laa" Background Chorus [1m 26s] - Michael
demonstrates an unused chorus that has Smokey Robinson asking Ray Charles
"Ray, would tell me what "Sha-Laa, Sha-lingay"
Day-O [3m 7s] - Watch as the choir launches into a
spontaneous rendition into Harry Belafonte's most popular song.
Recording the Solos [5m 31s]
Bob Dylan Solos [9m 16s] - Believe it or not, Quincy wanted
Bob to sing his part like that!
Bruce Springsteen Solos [9m 4s] - What surprised me
while watching this disc was the level of energy Bruce displayed. In
interviews he's always quiet and guarded, but during the recording he was
playful and very hilarious.
Stevie And Diana [3m 36s]
Karaoke Track [6m 26s]
"Play All" will give you the option of playing the feature with or
without "Outtakes". Selecting "With Outtakes" will cause a
globe to pop up in the corner of the screen at various times. Hitting the play
button when the globe appears will access the longer, sometime alternate footage
Disc two contains the 10th Anniversary Special "One Song Many Hands".
Narrated by Harry Belafonte, it also runs 52 minutes. This feature was more of a
documentary, talking about what the recording of "We Are the World"
had accomplished and the follow-up event, "Hands Across America" which
was to help homelessness in America. Basically, this documentary contained what
I felt was missing from the first.
Also included on this
disc is the live performance of "We Are the World" from "Live
Aid". Surprisingly, we're given the option of selecting from three different
telecasts: ABC, BBC or MTV. Knowing what I do regarding what the folks over at
Warners went through in assembling the recent [and, IMO, highly recommended] Live Aid DVD set, I appreciated having the option to choose.
There's another "Bonus Tracks" submenu:
- American Music Awards [13m 39s] - Diana Ross presents Harry
Belafonte with the American Music Award Of Appreciation. Harry gives a
poignant speech that talks about a ripple effect started by Harry Chapin
during a tribute the two men, along with Pete Seeger and Don McClain,
attended in New York. The acceptance speech is followed by an impromptu [?]
performance of the "We Are the World" chorus. There are satellite
feeds from Detroit [Aretha!], Tuscon [Johnny Cash!] and London [Sirs Paul
and Geldof!] chiming along.
- Grammys [5m 58s] - See Lionel and Michael accept "Song Of the
Year" from Sheena Easton and Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes! Watch Quincy
accept "Record Of the Year" from Sting and Phil Collins!
- Recording the Solos [25m 34s] - EXTENDED footage of the main group
of artists umm...recording their solos.
- Michael Jackson Solos [10m 12s] - Footage of Michael recording his
solos, which he recorded instead of attending the American Music Awards.
- Quincy Conducting [4m 2s]
- Stevie & the Producers [2m 15s] - A funny outtake with Stevie
and some producers.
- Photo Gallery
Shot on donated video, We Are the World: the Story Behind the Song is presented
in a full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture quality was sharp and pretty
much what I expected from a relic of the 80's. While the colors are vibrant and
bright, there was some slight grain on the print and one or two instances of
ghosting as the artists were entering the recording studio for the first time.
However, this is hardly
something that would make this unwatchable.
Audio: The main feature "the Story Behind the Song" and the
music video for "We Are the World" are presented in either 5.1 or
Dolby Digital 2.0. I went with the 5.1, encoded at 448kbps, as it sounded richer
and fuller. The 2.0, encoded at 192kbps, is the only option for the rest of disc
one and all of disc two.
Packaging: I'd love to tell you what the disc or cover art looks like.
Hell, i'd even like to tell you if there's an insert. Unfortunately, Image
decided to send out a blank, generic disc with no case, no cover art, no
Conclusion: Being a child of the 80's, I felt a great wave of nostalgia
while watching this disc. It made me think of a time when artists did things NOT
for publicity, but rather out of the kindness of their hearts. Perhaps it was my
rose coloured glasses, but I really enjoyed the footage and I think it serves to
document a significant event in the history of American music. The AMA and
Grammy material included on disc two was an unexpected treat. However, on the
other hand, I do think that those of us who were not there to witness this event
when it first happened, might not share my opinions and you'd be better off
renting it instead. For everyone else, this is a Highly Recommended set
and would look rather nice placed next to the four disc Live Aid
collection on your DVD shelf.