“Witnessing Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, and Quincy Jones Create “We Are The World” by USA For Africa.”
One of the greatest memories in my musical career is witnessing the making of USA For Africa’s “We Are The World” project. This project was (and still is) the biggest collection of Stars coming together to make a recording for a charitable cause. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie (better known as Nicole Richie’s pappy to you young folks:) and Quincy Jones produced.
You might be wondering, why am I referencing a song that was done back in the ’80s? Well, my whole purpose is to share some of the knowledge that I’ve witnessed because many of these concepts and techniques will never be seen again. It’s a different time now and people write songs and make music differently today.
One thing that always stands the test of time, is a well crafted song with a strong melody and great lyrics. A hit song and a hit record are 2 very different things.
The thing that separates the “Best of the Best” is that they NEVER settle for being just “good enough”. The reason why they achieve massive success is that they do more than the average person does. To get extraordinary results, you have to put out EXTRA-ORDINARY effort.
One of the most educational things for me was to hear Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie (with Quincy Jones overseeing it all), voice their thought process concerning the lyrics. To hear exactly WHY they would change certain words and phrases, was very enlightening. Below are the lyrics and I will paraphrase a few of the things that I remember about HOW AND WHY they were changed to make them more effective.
( 1st Verse ) There comes a time when we heed a certain call (Lionel Richie) When the world must come together as one (Lionel Richie & Stevie Wonder) There are people dying (Stevie Wonder)
o (originally, it said “there are children dying” because they were starving in Africa and that was the whole reason for doing this.
o What was amazing, was to hear them discuss why they should change that phrase to “there are PEOPLE dying” because the song is called “WE Are The World” and even though you saw images of starving children on television every day, that’s a shocking sight to watch, and people may become de-sensitized after a while. But if you say PEOPLE, then it INCLUDES EVERYBODY so it will be more touching. Just Brilliant.)
Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life (Paul Simon) The greatest gift of all (Paul Simon/Kenny Rogers) ( 2nd Verse ) We can’t go on pretending day by day (Kenny Rogers) That someone, somehow will soon make a change (James Ingram) We’re all a part of God’s great big family (Tina Turner) And the truth (Billy Joel) You know love is all we need (Tina Turner/Billy Joel)
( CHORUS ) We are the world, we are the children We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving (Michael Jackson) There’s a choice we’re making – we’re saving our own lives (Diana Ross)
o (originally, I think it said “There’s a CHANCE WE’RE TAKING-We’re saving ALL THEIR LIVES” and they discussed changing it. They didn’t want people to think that they were “taking a chance” to help out, so they changed it to “There’s a CHOICE WE’RE MAKING-We’re SAVING OUR OWN LIVES”. Wouldn’t YOU make the choice to save YOUR OWN Life instead of THEIR Lives.
o These changes were made to ENGAGE the listener like the quotation, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” – It could easily be you or me. Instead of being just observers of the problem, we’ll all become participants toward the solution. Again, this is absolutely brilliant thinking because, what is the title to this song? —>”WE Are The World”. They never forget that fact.) o
It’s true we’ll make a better day just you and me (Michael Jackson/Diana Ross) (there was a discussion about effectively using the words “brighter day” and “better day”)
( 3rd Verse ) Well, send ’em your heart so they know that someone cares (Dionne Warwick) And their lives will be stronger and free (Dionne Warwick/Willie Nelson) As God has shown us by turning stone to bread (Willie Nelson) And so we all must lend a helping hand (Al Jarreau)
( REPEAT CHORUS ) We are the world, we are the children (Bruce Springsteen) We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving (Kenny Loggins) There’s a choice we’re making we’re saving our own lives (Steve Perry) It’s true we’ll make a better day just you and me (Daryl Hall)
( BRIDGE ) When you’re down and out there seems no hope at all (Michael Jackson) But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall (Huey Lewis) Well, well, well, let’s realize that a change can only come (Cyndi Lauper) When we (Kim Carnes) stand together as one (Kim Carnes/Cyndi Lauper/Huey Lewis)
(REPEAT CHORUS AND FADE ) (additional ad-lib vox by Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, James Ingram) (Casting of each voice to each line was vocal choreography at it’s best – Quincy was amazing to listen to – he just seems to always know how to pull it all together.) ( END )
o While there are no guaranteed formulas for getting a hit record, there ARE formulas that will help you craft your songs better. You can literally MAKE people do what you want with well crafted words.
Lyric CRAFTING is becoming a dying art. I urge all Songwriters, Singers, and Musicians who read this article to use these insights on you own songs. YOUR well crafted lyrics and melodies can truly last forever.