Hasn’t Haiti suffered enough? The mildly anticipated retread of Michael Jackson & Lionel Richie’s landmark “We Are The World” — with 21st century flashes in the pan and abundant Auto-Tune in place of Bruce/Tina/Stevie/Willie/etc — hit YouTube over the weekend. It was filmed 2/1, the day after the Grammy Awards (AKA Hotbed Of Talent Awards) in the same LA recording studio that berthed the original. It is available for purchase at world25.org.
Expectations were low, but not this low.
While Richie and USA For Africa producer Quincy Jones mulled a celebratory remake of the classic song last year, “We Are The World 25″ was green-lit only in the wake of Haiti’s devastating quake on 1/12. Richie responds to criticism of the new version in USA Today:
What’s a classic? To the next generation, it’s just an old song. We have a familiar song that kids learn in school. Why not bring in Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and let them address the issues? We can pass the baton and empower the next generation to take up arms and have a legacy with this.
Billboard’s Q&A with the project’s executive producer/AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips provides more context:?
Billboard: How did you come to be involved with “We Are The World-25?”?
Randy Phillips: I came in because Lionel Richie, who I manage, asked me to. Originally a group of guys including (original WOTW producer) Ken Kragen … had an idea to re-cut “We Are the World” that was called Live 25. Lionel and Quincy were very lukewarm about it because they felt that what happened 25 years ago was iconic and they did everything they could for Africa at that time, and they didn’t feel re-cutting the song really made any sense. Basically, Lionel didn’t really want to do it, and we kind of let it die by not issuing the publishing license, because Lionel owns the copyright along with Michael Jackson’s estate. That was in November/December. They had gotten Visa on board as an underwriter of that effort, and I think they were going to try and premier it at the World Cup.? ?Then Haiti happened and that pretty much changed everything. Quincy called Lionel and said, “this is what this song is written for, as a fundraising vehicle for causes, tragedies, catastrophes like this. Why don’t we take over the process, call our friends, and actually do this?” And because Lionel understood the urgency of Haiti, he agreed to do it.??
Billboard: Talk about the talent booking process.?
Randy Phillips: Tisha Fein had been on board for the original idea (to re-cut WOTW as Live 25), so Quincy kept Tisha as the talent booker, and she was already in contact with a ton of people. When you’re doing these things, one person tells you an act’s in, another person says they aren’t, it’s always a fluid thing until you get there. All of these things come together like that, much of it at the last minute. [Barbra] Streisand came in the day before. Of the list we went after, I’d say we ended up with 80% of the people we wanted.?
?Billboard: Any comment on the controversy surrounding the booking of this project, primarily reports that you said acts would be participating that had not committed??
Randy Phillips: The truth is I wasn’t that involved in the booking, other than making a few phone calls to artists I was close to, like Jamie Foxx, who I’ve worked with in the past, and Justin Bieber, who I work with now as his tour promoter. This happens all the time when you’re putting one of these multi-act charity benefits together, people are in, people are out, schedules change. When you’re doing something as noble as this, why is there any controversy at all?
I don’t think there is any “controversy” except that it’s a terrible record. Jay-Z:
“I know everybody gonna take this wrong but I just think ‘We Are the World’ — I love it, and I understand the point and I think it’s great — but I think ‘We Are The World’ is like ‘Thriller’ to me. I don’t ever wanna see it touched. I mean, I’m a fan of music you know. And I know the plight and everything that’s going on in Haiti, and you know, and I applaud the efforts and what everyone has done. … For me ‘We Are The World’ is untouchable like ‘Thriller”s untouchable. You know, some things are untouchable. And I think it was a valiant effort, but for ‘We Are The World’ to me is gonna forever be untouchable.”
USA For Africa is the greatest charitable supergroup of all time. Via Wiki:
The soloists: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, 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 chorus: Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Sheila E, Bob Geldorf, The Jackson 5 (with La Toya instead of Jermaine for some reason?), Waylon Jennings, Bette Midler, John Oates, the News, and a couple of Pointer Sisters.
My only gripe about USA For Africa: Dan Aykroyd, while a co-frontman on a chart-topping album in 1979 and not afraid of no ghosts, is Canadian. But clearly the entire team tapped into its inner zef and magic was the gathered. They worked all night and finished vocals at 8AM. Their 2010 counterparts “left to go to the Lakers game,” Jones told USA Today. “Voices give out, and you can’t keep them there all night.”
In any case, we should not be surprised that noble-ish intentions can yield such an abysmal product. Carelessly arranged packs of celebrities have given us some of the worst cover songs of the last 25 years. They leave a wonderfully awkward pockmark on the modern pop/rock landscape because they age so terribly, especially when they have videos. And they all have videos. Props to Bob Geldof for inventing the format! Leave your egos at the door!
Below is a silly but hopefully entertaining list I’ve been meaning to compile and post for a long time. Since we were just reflecting on 1985 it seems especially good timing. Speaking of timing, tonight (weather permitting) Brandon and I head to by:Larm 2010 — Amrit, Jessica, and Gabe will be holding down ‘Gum HQ — to present Stereogum’s showcase at Stratos. Follow our Norwegian adventures at @stereogum.com. by:Larm will be the first music festival outside the U.S. I have ever attended. I am looking forward to the long flight as it will also be the first time I’ve been offline for more than 6 hours since 2005. I hope Brandon introduces me to some black metal dudes. I packed 3oz of corpsepaint.
The 21 Worst All-Star Charity Music Videos Of All Time. Enjoy?
21. Band Aid 20 – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (2004)
20. Helping Haiti – “Everybody Hurts” (2010)
19. Artists United Against Apartheid – “Sun City” (1985)
18. Artists Against AIDS Worldwide – “What’s Going On?” (2001)
17. Hope Collective – “Give And Let Live” (2005)
16. The Crowd “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (1985)
15. Various Artists – “Come Together Now” (2005)
14. Stop The Violence – “Self–Destruction” (1989)
13. Various Artists For Children’s Promise – “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” (1999)
12. Various Artists For The BBC – “Perfect Day” (1997)
11. Beds Are Burning – “TckTckTck – Time For Climate Justice” (2009)
10. Various Artists – “Voices That Care” (1991)
9. The Peace Choir – “Give Peace A Chance” (1991)
8. Northern Lights – “Tears Are Not Enough” (1985)
7. Hear N’ Aid – “Stars” (1985)
6. Michael Jackson & Friends – “What More Can I Give” (recorded 2001, released 2003)
5. Ferry Aid – “Let It Be” (1987)
4. Various Artists – “Just Stand Up” (2008)
3. Band Aid II – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (1989)
2. Various Artists – “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” (2010)
1. Take It Back Foundation – “Yakety Yak Take It Back” (1991)
Take it back is right. MC Skat Kat = the original green skat cat. The more you know.
Can one of you figure out which artist appears most in this countdown? (i.e., who has THE BIGGEST HEART?)