Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1985 USA For Africa: We Are The World

There was always the air of inevitability after Band Aid's roping together of the 'cream' of British artists in the cause of famine relief that the Americans would follow suit with a song of their own. And sure enough, it came a few months later in the form of 'We Are The World', though the 'USA For Africa' banner actually stands for 'United Support of Artists for Africa'.

And what a line up of artists too - Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson (and the rest of the Jackson family), Waylon Jennings, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon et al - it certainly puts the likes of Tony Hadley and Bananarama into perspective. And with a line up like that and a song written by Jackson and Richie, 'We Are The World' should be some kind of masterpiece right? Errr, no.

The biggest problem with 'We Are The World' is that, unlike Band Aid where (Bono apart), the performers were content enough to just get on with things and leave their day job behind, when Springsteen, Dylan, Wonder etc get up to sing their lines, there is no doubt that they are playing the role of Springsteen, Dylan, Wonder etc. The hugely differing vocal styles make for a disjointed and rather abrasive listen that borders on parody. Rory Bremner could have provided the vocals in place of most of the acts here and no one would have been any the wiser (he'd have had great fun with Cyndi Lauper who here sounds like a bad karaoke version of Cyndi Lauper having a tantrum).

Unlike the Band Aid single, 'We Are The World' is not a Christmas song and does not directly address famine in Africa. Instead, it delivers the sort of feel-good anthem of hope with just a hint of Christianity that would work equally well as either an advert for Coke or the Eurovision entry of any number of former Soviet states keen to put a history of war crimes or ethnic cleansing behind them:
"We can't go on pretending day by day, that someone, somewhere will soon make a change. We are all a part of God's great big family and the truth, you know love is all we need". And that's the message. Such naive optimism is something you're either going to hate with a cynical vengeance (who are these multi-millionaires to tell anyone "We are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start giving"), or else ignore because after all it's for a good cause.

As slick and professional as it is, 'We Are The World' is a means to an end and nothing more. The starburst line up plays a similar role to the students trying to cram as many people into a mini as they can - it's a spectacle that provides the consideration and justification for the handing over of your hard earned cash solely to benefit other parties. Once you've seen the students try/fail in their task, you walk away and never think about it again for the rest of your life. Similarly, I can't for the life of me imagine anyone actually wanting to listen to this in the privacy of their own homes once they've bought it. Not even at Christmas.

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