Early in "the session," the 45 artists began singing the chorus:
We are the world
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So, let's start giving.
. . . And to their horror, many of the men discovered that the key was far too high for them.
But the video cameras were rolling, recording this historic event for posterity. They tried gamely to reach the notes.
The dissonance caused producer Quincy Jones to shudder.
There were moments in the landmark "We Are the World" recording session at the A&M Studios in Hollywood when the emotion ran so high that many of the pop-rock stars had tears in their eyes. The aforementioned, of course, was not one of those moments.
Diplomatically, Jones stopped the prerecorded instrumental tape and suggested that anyone having trouble with the notes just refrain from singing until later in the session. The chorus then would be reconstituted into a lower, more agreeable key.
With the cameras still panning the room, however, the singers were in an awkward position as the music started again. It would look strange in the video if they weren't singing. Some of the artists couldn't figure a way through the dilemma--so they just stood there and smiled. Others pretended to sing. If you look closely now at the video, you'll be able to tell the difference.
When the first break was called, a few of the men--including Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen--retreated to the far side of the room until Jones called for a more manageable register. After Jennings looked over and saw that Nelson, too, had bailed out, the old outlaw pals from Texas broke into laughter.
At the podium, Jones was all smiles. The chorus was finally singing in key.
During another break, Al Jarreau and Lionel Richie broke into a playful version of "Banana Boat Song" as a salute to Harry Belafonte's role in organizing the project. Better remembered as "Day-O," the song has been one of Belafonte's signature numbers since the '50s.
After several sing-along choruses, Stevie Wonder made up a verse that poked fun at his own blindness and that of Ray Charles, who stood near him. Smiling broadly, Wonder sang:
If you drink too much, I'll have to say
You're gonna have to be driven home by me or Ray.
Quincy Jones called the affair a "space-age Woodstock." Stevie Wonder described it as "something out of a dream." Paul Simon was moved by the "tremendous sense of community." Bette Midler felt it brought out "the best in all of us."
Behind the scene of a pop miracle
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