Encore

They Were the World

''We Are the World'' -- The stars came out to sing for the starving seven years ago

Willie Nelson and Michael Jackson traded autographs. Al Jarreau professed his love to Bob Dylan, then started bawling. Producer Quincy Jones ordered Diana Ross to stop singing above everyone else. On Jan. 28, 1985, with their limos parked outside the thickly guarded A&M Studios in Los Angeles, an astounding array of talent gathered at 10 p.m. to record ''We Are the World,'' written just a week earlier by Jackson and Lionel Richie.

The records and video, inspired by Bob Geldof's Band Aid project in Britain and organized here by manager Ken Kragan's USA for Africa, eventually raised more than $60 million to fight hunger in Sudan, Ethiopia, and other African countries. But that night, the stars were primarily concerned with each other. ''All these superstars seemed so humble,'' recalls reporter Cheryl McCall, who covered the event for Life. ''And nervous. Dylan kept looking at Springsteen out of the corner of his eye. It was a look of envy and awe, like 'Here's the guy who took my place.'''

This harmonic convergence nearly fell apart, however, when Stevie Wonder announced the chorus would sing a line in Swahili. Some of the country singers were fit to be tied. Waylon Jennings walked out and didn't come back. Finally a line in English was used instead. At 4 a.m. two Ethiopian women were escorted into the studio. ''Thank you on behalf of everyone from our country,'' one of them said. Almost everybody wept. By 8 a.m. it was done, but the night would not be soon forgotten, partly because the song has remained a source of parody. That same year chorus member Bette Midler skewered it on her comedy album Mud Will Be Flung Tonight (''We are the rich/We are the famous''). This month, The Simpsons featured a parody of the song, sung by Sting, to benefit a little boy who fell down a well: ''Though we can't get him out/We'll do the next best thing/We'll go on TV and sing, sing, sing.''



TIME CAPSULE

Jan. 28, 1985
Madonna was still behaving ''Like a Virgin,'' Dynasty was TV's Wednesday night must-watch, Iacocca was burning rubber in bookstores, and Eddie Murphy ruled the box office in Beverly Hills Cop.

Originally posted Jan 24, 1992 Published in issue #102 Jan 24, 1992 Order article reprints
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