30 Years Ago Today, We Were All The World [VIDEO]
On this date, 30 years ago today, more than 6,000 radio stations got together and put aside their differences for a good cause. They brushed aside location, formats and even ownership to support a cause; all of the stations played played the same song at the same time. A song with a purpose, with a cause; a song called "We Are The World".
On January 22nd, 1985, spurred on by Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?", producers Quincy Jones and Michael Ormartian along with organizer Harry Belafonte brought together 43 of the biggest names in American pop, country and rock music, along with 7 of the best studio musicians in Los Angeles, to record a song to help famine relief effort in Africa. The song, "We Are The World", written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, went on to sell over 20 million copies, with all of the proceeds going to African famine relief.
The song was released on March 8th of that same year and almost immediately went to #1 on the Billboard pop chart. The song debuted at #21 on the chart and climbed to the top spot in just 4 weeks; generally a song takes twice that time to climb to #1. The record's initial printing of 800,000 copies sold out in its first three days of release, making it the fastest selling single in U.S. chart history. It was the largest selling single of 1985, and by 1990 had become the best selling single of the 80's, eventually being certified as the largest selling single in both U.S. and pop music history, eventually selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
Since its release, "We Are the World" has raised over $63 million for humanitarian causes. Ninety percent of the money pledged went directly towards relief efforts in Africa, both long and short term. The long term initiative included efforts in food production on the continent, which included over 70 recovery, development and training projects in seven African nations. The remaining 10 percent of funds was earmarked for domestic hunger and homeless programs in the US.
The success went on to directly spur two more musical projects related to relief across the globe. Seeing the success of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "We Are The World" and the noted absence of hard rockers from both efforts, Jimmy Bain, Vivian Campbell and Ronnie James Dio of Dio went on to gather performers from the heavy metal universe to form Hear'n Aid, recording the single "Stars". The song would be the title track for a benefit album of songs donated to the effort by some of the performers who contributed to the single. Because of contractual and other legal issues, the release of the single and album was delayed for over a year, diminishing its contribution to famine relief and aid.
On January 12, 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, causing widespread damage to the island and eventually taking over 200,000 lives. Before the deadly quake, Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie had planned to organize a re-recording of "We Are the World" to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original recording of the song. However, because of the devastation caused in Haiti, these plans were postponed. Richie felt though that the message of the original song was still strong, also feeling that a chance at action had been missed in the hurricane Katrina devastation 5 years earlier. A new recording was organized, and on February 1st, a reported 87 musicians came together in the same studio the original single was recorded in, to put together USA for Haiti and their version "We Are The World 25".
Despite its good intentions, the remake was universally panned as a failure. It failed to sell anywhere near the original song, and was even compared unfavorably to a "response" video (apparently approved of by the USA for Africa Foundation) that was put together by independent and unsigned artists on YouTube.
The original proved it had the ability to bring together artist and contributors from around the world for a good cause. It also proved it could do one more thing, maybe even more difficult...it united the radio community across genres, regions and names on the front doors, even if it was just one day and only for a little over 4 minutes on March 28, 1986 at 10:15 a.m. eastern standard time.