ON March 11, Columbia Records will release "We Are the World," a new song written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson and performed by a chorus of 45 pop stars calling themselves USA for Africa (United Support of Artists for Africa). Roughly 90 percent of the proceeds from the single and an album to be released April 1, as well as a full- length video and related merchandizing, will be donated to African famine relief. Another 10 percent will go to fight homelessness and malnutrition in the United States.
"We Are the World" is an American response to "Do They Know It's Christmas?," the single that was recorded late last year in London by Band Aid, a group of British rock stars. The record became the most successful single in British history, selling 3.5 million copies in Britain and 2.5 million in the United States and raising $9.2 million.
"We Are the World" originated last December with a telephone call from Harry Belafonte to Ken Kragen, the manager of Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers and other top pop acts. "If Jews were starving in Israel, American Jews would have raised millions," said Mr. Belafonte, whose idea it was to organize a black superstar benefit concert.
Mr. Kragen contacted Mr. Richie, who in turn contacted Michael Jackson and the producer Quincy Jones. Mr. Richie and Mr. Jackson spent four days writing the song, and on Jan. 22 Mr. Jones and a group of top Los Angeles studio musicians recorded the rhythm and instrumental tracks and also made a demo with Mr. Jackson and Mr. Richie that was sent to all the artists involved.
What had begun as a supersession of black singers expanded after Bruce Springsteen agreed to become involved. Some of the stars who ended up donating their talents were Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Paul Simon and Dionne Warwick. The vocals were recorded on Jan. 28 in a marathon 10-hour recording session at A & M Recording Studios in Los Angeles. The single, whose long version runs over seven minutes, includes 21 separate vocal solos.
"We Are the World" is more than an unprecedented communal collaboration among pop music's elite for a good cause - it is an artistic triumph that transcends its "official" nature. The Band Aid single was a cheery pop carol that tended to homogenize individual voices into a jingly singalong. By contrast, the vocal solos on "We Are the World" have been artfully interwoven to emphasize the individuality of each singer. The record opens with Lionel Richie's calm, almost ministerial singing, followed by Stevie Wonder's reedier, more urgent response; Michael Jackson comes in at the chorus. Recorded against a solemn mantric drone that recalls the mood of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," the voices are layered in a way so as to create a sense of continuous surprise and emotional buildup. Mr. Springsteen, Mr. Dylan, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Charles and Miss Lauper contribute especially powerful vocal fragments.
The song, a simple, eloquent ballad whose opening measures recall Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight," is a fully-realized pop statement that would sound outstanding even if it weren't recorded by stars. And the lines "There's a choice we're making / We're saving our own lives" assume an extra emotional dimension when sung by people with superstar mystiques.
The "We Are the World" album, which Quincy Jones is supervising, will include previously unreleased tracks by a number of major stars. Linda Ronstadt is contributing "Keeping Out of Mischief," Prince "Tears in Your Eyes," and Bruce Springsteen a live version of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped." Chicago and Tina Turner have also promised to contribute cuts. A Canadian coalition calling itself Northern Lights and including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Anne Murray, Bryan Adams, Gordon Lightfoot and Oscar Peterson, among many others, has recorded a song for the record called "Tears Are Not Enough."
The entire "We Are the World" recording session was filmed by a camera crew for a full-length video to be released at a later date, and among its live-in-the-studio vignettes will be Stevie Wonder teaching the song on the piano to Bob Dylan and the entire company surprising Mr. Belafonte with a spontaneous rendition of his mid-50's hit "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)."
"Every company wanted the record, but we went with CBS for two reasons," said Mr. Kragen. "Having released the Band Aid single, they had learned how to deal with the pricing and distribution problems. They also had the most artists involved in the project. Hopefully, it will grow into something of real substance that is more than just a song. It's not just about raising money but raising consciousness to change priorities."
A White Rock Singer With Motown AppealTeena Marie, the former protege of the rock-funk star Rick James, is one of the few white singers to captivate a predominantly black audience with her volcanically soulful wailing.
"I grew up on the border of the black ghetto in Venice, Calif.," she recalled recently. "The singers I most admire are the ones with big lungs like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Patti Labelle. It was always my dream to be the first successful white female artist on Motown. A lot of people still think I'm black."
The 27-year-old singer realized her dream when she was only 19. But after recording three albums for the label, the last of which sold 800,000 copies, she dropped from view. At Motown, she had been drawing a salary of $800 a week, and she sued to get off the label. A long legal wrangle ended in an out-of-court settlement in her favor, and Miss Marie moved to Epic Records.
Miss Marie's change of address hasn't diluted her sound. Her sobbing delivery remains one of the most nakedly emotional in all of pop. After a shaky start on her new label, her second Epic album "Star Child" has yielded one of her most popular singles to date, "Lovergirl," which is No. 14 on Billboard's Hot 100 and climbing.
A Hot Seller for Roth
What's hot? David Lee Roth, the lead singer of the Los Angeles heavy- metal band Van Halen, has put out a four-cut extended-play record, "Crazy From the Heat," that has sold 800,000 copies for Warner Bros. Records in just two weeks. The raspy- voiced, long-haired singer who flaunts an exaggerated burlesque- show sexiness has been one of the stars to benefit the most from the rise of music-video. He is the class cutup of rock-and-roll - a droll, sometimes profane concert performer who never appears to take himself or his audience very seriously.
In "Crazy From the Heat," this master of crowd manipulation has made a record that is slightly more grown-up than the records of Van Halen. Breaking out of the heavy- metal genre, he sings a lusty reprise of the Beach Boys"'California Girls" (No. 3 on Billboard's singles chart and rising fast), the Lovin' Spoonful's "Coconut Grove" and an iconoclastic rock-and-roll rendition of the cabaret standard "Just a Gigolo."
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