The Greatest Night in Pop (2024)
January 31, 2024 9:42 AM - Subscribe

On January 25th, 1985, dozens of the era's most popular musicians gathered in Los Angeles to record a charity single for African famine relief. Setting egos aside, they collaborated on a song that would make history.

Come to witness Bob Dylan overcome with shyness only to have Stevie Wonder warm him out of his shell, stay for the Michael Jackson pet snake story.
posted by St. Peepsburg (7 comments total)
This is fun! It's just gossipy enough while still maintaining the essential "let's put on a show!" vibe (which in this case is "let's make a song!"). I love these sorts of stories and the logistics of putting this together delight me.

(I also like how much good this song did was kind of a hand-waved away. I'm sure it helped but also ...)

I had this 7-inch as a child. I don't currently have one (I do have "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and Hear 'n Aid's "Stars" because ... reasons). But to be fair, we all had this 7-inch. I bet I could get one pretty easily if I wanted (I don't really want to).

I am not denying the cultural moment that was "We Are the World." It was huge. I love learning the behind-the-scenes story. It's so much fun! I just find that more interesting than the song itself at this point.

(But yes, watch this. It goes by quickly and it's a blast.)
posted by edencosmic at 6:48 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]

I think I saw something LIKE this back in the 80s....a special that they periodically ran on MTV or HBO or something. One of my favorite bits was that sequence they show of everyone going slightly goofy at like 3 am: Billy Joel doing these weird hand exercises, Lionel Richie doing some other exercise on his back, Tina Turner freaking out over the prospect of having "fish burgers".

There was also a whole sequence where someone started busting out "The Banana Boat Song" because a) Harry Belafonte was there, and b) daylight had come and they wanted to go home, and everyone joined in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:48 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]

And now that I've seen this....

1. Man, I never thought I'd come to a point where I had an increase in respect for Lionel Richie. It sounds like he was up super-early the day of the recording because of the AMAs, and then he hosted and and cleaned up in the awards there - and I remember how much of an impression he made (his big catchphrase from the AMAs that year, a hollered "OutRAGEous!" was such a catchphrase that my BFF used it when signing my 16th birthday card over a year later).

And to now learn that all throughout the day he was focused on this, and that after the ceremony he went and DID this....

2. On the other hand, Sheila E got done dirty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Bruce singing his line with his eyes closed, that was just a tad too precious for even this lifelong Springsteen fan. But I did enjoy the documentary.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:52 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

There was also a whole sequence where someone started busting out "The Banana Boat Song"

that is the sweetest damn thing, EC

it starts kind of prankish and silly, Belafonte looks a little nonplussed, maybe even a little irritated? then the song persists and you see a change in the room, and by the end I can't imagine Belafonte wasn't affected by the tribute.

posted by elkevelvet at 12:43 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

elkevelvet - the Netflix special gets into the actual backstory there a bit, and it explains the Banana Boat connection.

Harry Belafonte had reached out to Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones shortly after the Band Aid single; he pointed out that "hey, this is a bunch of white guys coming 'to the rescue' of famine in Ethiopia. We African-American artists should be taking care of ourselves." So he was kind of a catalyst for the whole project. And so on the night of, right as the chorus recording was breaking up, Quincy Jones gave him a shout-out - and it was about 2 am, so someone made the connection and started singing.

Also, the new documentary subtitled some of the Banana Boat lyrics from this, because they were kind of spontaneous and hard to hear. It's the last verse in this, and it starts with something like how they've been drinking all day, "but you'd better not ask for a ride home from Ray" (Ray being Ray Charles).

I also got reminded about another moment that was in both docs - when Cyndi Lauper was doing her solo, they kept on hearing what sounded like people mumbling in the background whenever she was singing. They stopped things and urged everyone to keep quiet for two or three takes, but the problem still happened. The engineer was checking over a whole bunch of things with the equipment, but they still were hearing it.

Then suddenly Cyndi said "oh, hang on, is it my jewelry?" And sheepishly started taking off the 20 or so necklaces she was wearing that were clicking and causing the noise as everyone else cracked up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure the new doc shows that it was ol' drunk Al Jarreau who started the Banana Boat singalong - and it helps show the influence of Belafonte that all the older singers there knew the lyrics and could sing along
posted by jkosmicki at 7:35 AM on February 3

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