To its fans it is a classic pop anthem that put Britain’s Band Aid effort to shame. To its detractors it is simply one of the worst records of all time, let alone the worst charity record.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it is beyond doubt the lineup for "We Are the World" provided a snapshot of the biggest U.S. acts of the mid-1980s. Now, 25 years on, the song has been re-recorded in aid of the Haitian earthquake appeal with a mostly different chorus of stars.
The original featured Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson. This time round the lineup includes Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls and — perhaps incongruously — Barbra Streisand.
Their efforts — expected to raise millions of dollars — will be played for the first time during coverage of the Vancouver winter Olympics next week before being released worldwide as a download, video and CD.
The recording took place on Monday in the same Hollywood studio as the 1985 original, which was recorded in aid of African famine relief. The new version was again masterminded by the producer Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie, who co-wrote the song with Michael Jackson. But they are the only two stars to have played a part in both records.
The crossover classical tenor Josh Groban insisted "everybody left their egos at the door" — which may not have been universally apparent as Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Al Jardine ignored one another and perfectionist Streisand recorded take after take of her few bars.
Some of the younger stars seemed distinctly overawed by the company they found themselves in. The 15-year-old Canadian singer Justin Bieber said he would ask his new friend, the R&B star Akon, to get him Scherzinger’s phone number. Rapper Lil Wayne managed the requisite display of humility, however, by claiming he thought the organisers were joking when they asked him to sing the line originally performed by Bob Dylan. Asked whether he had done it better, he replied: "Hell no!" He also revealed that his mother had asked him to get a photograph of the soul singer Gladys Knight.
The original was recorded as an American response to Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s "Do They Know it’s Christmas"?, performed by the largely British supergroup Band Aid. Even now, more than two decades on, there are heated arguments over which was the superior record.
Band Aid featured every British and Irish pop star Geldof and Ure could get hold of, after the former was inspired to act by BBC TV reporter Michael Buerk’s harrowing report for the BBC on the famine in Ethiopia. The record stormed to the top of the 1984 Christmas charts, and stayed in the No. 1 slot for five weeks.
Within weeks Harry Belafonte was leading a campaign for a U.S. charity record about the famine. We Are The World was finished by Richie and Jackson the night before the first of several recording sessions in January. The final version featured the voices of Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen and Smokey Robinson. A notice as they arrived at the studio implored: “Please check your egos at the door.” It rapidly became the fastest-selling single in history, with more than $63m raised for projects across Africa.
A British Haiti charity record, masterminded by the X Factor impresario Simon Cowell — a cover of the REM classic Everybody Hurts, featuring 21 artists including Take That and Robbie Williams — was first heard on the airwaves yesterday and will go on sale as a download later this week.
The artists performing also include Susan Boyle, Kylie Minogue, Leona Lewis and Rod Stewart.