“We Are the World 25”: A lukewarm effort for a worthy cause

In 1985, the super group USA for Africa recorded the charity single, “We Are the World” as a way to raise funds for famine relief in Africa. The track was co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and was produced by Quincy Jones. The track also featured Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper and Smokey Robinson – among a choir of 42 other musicians and one Hollywood actor, Dan Aykroyd.

Within four months of its release, the USA for Africa project had raised almost $10.8 million, most of which came from sales of the record “We Are the World” and to date, has raised over $63 million. “We Are the World” is also holds the title of the fastest selling American pop single and was the first single to be certified multiplatinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Those are some pretty big shoes to fill and so when Lionel Richie announced that he was putting together a remake of the same song with a new group of artists in order to raise funds for Haiti, expectations ran high.

Maybe too high.

The remade single was released on Feb. 12, 2010 and the video was shown during the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The video, very similar to the 1985 original, showed a plethora of relevant artists in the recording studio and was inter-cut with footage from Haiti.

But an effort to support a good cause resulted in the desecration of a classic. The 2010 remake by the super group “Artists for Haiti” is a far cry from the 1985 classic in many ways.

In the 1985 version, Lionel Richie rightfully starts off the song, along with Stevie Wonder, giving the song a sort of credibility from the beginning. I expected the same or at least, a similar opening from the remake. Instead, we got Justin Bieber, the 15-year-old Canadian pop singer who has yet to establish himself in the music industry. The remake lost me at this point. But the worst was still to come.

One noticeable difference between the two versions of the single was the male-female dynamics of the track. The 1985 had a significant male presence. Legends such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson, lent their voices to solos on the track and gave the track a masculine feel.

The women in the group noticeably carry the 2010 version. The line-up of female artists on the track includes Gladys Knight, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand while the men pale in comparison.

The 1985 version had Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Bob Geldof. In their place, we have Akon, T-Pain and Lil’ Wayne, all of whom have questionable singing talent and rely heavily on auto tune and computer-generated vocals for their performances.

The super group is a choir of artists that are relevant at the time but in the 2010 version, two of the most popular and critically acclaimed musicians are conspicuously absent: Jay-Z and Beyonce. For me, the track didn’t feel complete without them and I wondered why they weren’t included on the line-up.

Jay-Z was personally invited by Lionel Richie to be featured on the track, but he declined the invitation.

Why? Because “some things are just untouchable. It was a valiant effort, but for me, it’s gonna be untouchable,” Jay-Z said to MTV, a sentiment which I share. Some songs, the classics, just shouldn’t be touched. There is a reason why nobody has tried to remake Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It’s a classic and just can’t be re-done right.

“We Are the World 25” (the 2010 remake) is not all bad. It has some highs, which include Celine Dion’s solo, but they are far and apart and are overshadowed by its shortcomings. I doubt that this version would live up to the original in sales and that could be because consumers don’t buy music the way they used to in 1985. Or maybe it’s because there are a lot of people out there like me, who would rather donate $10 to Haiti through the Red Cross than pay $1.29 for this song.

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