Monday, February 15, 2010

We Are The World

“We Are The World” has always held a special place in my heart. As a young music geek, the original 1985 version of this song was a sampling of who was relevant and important at that time. Some of those artists who participated in the original like Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan continue to produce important music however many participants like James Ingram, LaToya Jackson and Peter Cetera are not known now to most people.

This song written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson and produced by one of the greatest producers of all time Quincy Jones never claimed to feature all of the greatest artists of the time. There are many people that you can point to at the time who were absent like Neil Diamond, Madonna, Johnny Cash, who were relevant back then and whose influence is still felt right now. And of course there were no British guys, I know it was “USA for Africa” but c’mon where was Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney?

“We Are The World” featured incredible “dream team” duets like Billy Joel and Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick and Willie Nelson and Springsteen trading ad libs in the end with Stevie Wonder still gives me chills.

This song was a huge success, was a top selling single and a cultural phenomenon. And now twenty-five years later “We Are The World” is back. Lionel Ritchie, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones had considered remaking “We Are The World many times but the tragedy in Haiti provided the greatest reason to make this remake happen.

Ritchie and Jones decided first off that they would get a whole new crop of artist, people who participated in the original were not going to be in the cover except for Ritchie himself and Michael Jackson. As news of this remake broke there was a lot of skepticism in the news. Arap verse was going to be added, artist which many see as not “legit” like the Jonas Brothers were spotting walking into the recording studio and for some reason Lil-Wayne and T-Pain being asked to sing.

And this is what they came up with:

Love it or hate it, this cover of “We Are The World” is very much a spiritual child from the original. There are some legends like Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand and LL Cool J as well as teen idols lot like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Before you go crazy about how theses people shouldn’t be there keep in mind in the original recording, Cyndi Lauper, Springsteen and Huey Louis were more teen idols than anything else.

There are some beautiful moments Josh Groban's classical touch. Tony Benntt is a gentle elder statesman and Mary J. Blige proves that she really is one of the greatest soul singers of her time. Michael and Janet. . . there’s really not words. Wyclef singing for his own people is inspired and Usher singing the bridge with Michael his hero is a fitting tribute. Jamie Foxx doing his best Ray Charles was a fun and I’ll even give Celine Dion props, Fergie on the other hand well. . . whatever.

As much as you may not like Lil’ Wayne, T-Pain and this whole auto-tune thing, it is an important and relevant way that people express themselves through music and featuring it in this song is putting this sound in a times capsule so that people understood that it's part of music. “I’m On A Boat” is good stuff people.

The rap section led by living hip-hop legend, LL Cool J with, Snood Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West and many others. They wisely to chose to make this section most chant like and focused on the clarity of the rhymes and lyrics as opposed to rapid fire delivery. It’s a declaration of values and solidarity that proves that the art of rap isn’t tied down to the themes of drugs and gangster life.

Quincy Jones opened up the song creating a more dynamic background. The ending in brilliant having the instrumentals drop out and letting Wyclef’s voice echo out. This song rejuvenates the original but there is a rejuvenated dynamic which reflects how much pop music has changed in the past twenty-five years. What remains the same is also what continues to make the pop music relevant: great melodies, powerful messages and beautiful voices.

I don’t what it is about Michael Jackson. His death still feels unresolved for me. Seeing him featured prominently in this new version makes me happy but also a little sad. I don’t think he’s a martyr. I’ve acknowledged the darkness in this life but there were great things that he provided this culture and “We Are The World” is one of them.

The demo of “We Are The World” revels the soul of this song which really is Michael’s view of the world. His intentions musically truly were something amazing. It’s an amazing thing how the 1985 version captured this spirit and I’m glad to see it carried on 25 years later.

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