On a January night in 1985, some of music’s biggest stars gathered to record We Are the World. Bao Nguyen’s documentary takes us behind the scenes at this historic event.
The Greatest Night in Pop is wonderfully entertaining - a compelling record of an incredible night in music history. Guided by Lionel Richie, the film tells the story of We Are The World - the 1985 charity song that aimed, like Band Aid before it, to raise money for starving people in Africa.
The initial idea behind We Are the World is fascinating. Inspired by Midge Ure and Bob Geldof’s record, Do They Know It’s Christmas, Harry Belafonte contacted entertainment manager, Ken Kragen, who then enlisted the help and support of Richie and Kenny Rogers.
Mere weeks later, an impressive group of music legends – including Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen - assembled after the American Music Awards (which Richie presented) and spent the night recording We Are the World - while all standing rather awkwardly in a semi-circle.
As they entered the recording studio, each performer took note of a sign that read: “Please check your egos at the door”. Part of the fun of Bao Nguyen’s documentary is watching this play out over the night. Tired and sweltering under the studio lights, you could forgive any one of them for losing their cool.
If anyone did need their egos checking that night, Bob Geldof was more than happy to oblige. In a suitably somber early appearance, he reminded each musician what was at stake. As the camera pans across a sea of famous faces, we see each performer consider the privilege of their position and the importance of the project.
From this point on, The Greatest Night in Pop focuses on the fascinating moments that happened that night.
For example, when Prince was unable to participate, his line was given to Huey Lewis. In the film, a charming and self-effacing Lewis recalls the pressure of that performance – and the relief he felt when he was more than able to hold his own.
Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen had flown into Los Angeles from his Born In The USA tour. As the night wore on, he began to feel increasingly exhausted. There were also concerns about his voice. In the end, of course, the Boss gave a typically phenomenal performance – one of many that took place that night.
In one of the most heartwarming moments of Nguyen’s film, we watch a deeply uncomfortable (has anyone been more uncomfortable?) and uncertain Bob Dylan struggle with his part in We Are The World. His anxiety was relieved thanks to Stevie Wonder's hilarious (and supportive) Dylan imitation.
While Richie narrates the story in The Greatest Night In Pop (and provides a very poignant end note), he happily celebrates the hero of the night – Quincy Jones. It was down to Jones to organise, cajole and keep the entire project from falling apart. The documentary highlights just what an incredible feat this was.
Cast & Crew
Director: Bao Nguyen
Available on Netflix