Netflix Examines ‘The Greatest Night in Pop’ With Rare Footage From ‘We Are The World’ Special

We are the World recording 1985
Columbia Records

It is a rare sight to see so many iconic music artists in one place at the same time, apart from award ceremonies. Even more special when they come together for a song. A new Netflix documentary aims to explore one of the greatest nights in pop music history when 46 artists came together to record the song “We Are the World” in 1985, which ended up winning a Grammy.

The song was recorded at Henson Studios to help benefit African famine relief and features Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, and many, many more (see the full list below!). Yet, there were some big artists that were left off the list including Prince and Madonna. The new film will examine why they were not a part of the song and video. The documentary director Bao Nguyen explained, “The film explains it really well. [Producer] Ken Kragen and his staff, [producer] Harriet Sternberg – Harriet wanted Madonna. Ken didn’t want Madonna because he thought that Cyndi [Lauper] sort of served the purpose of being the female pop icon at that time, and it was as simple as that. They wanted voices that really were distinct from each other and that represented their genre.” Prince on the other hand reportedly turned down the offer because he wouldn’t have been comfortable.

Recording artist Madonna performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

It was written by the late Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones. Richie opens up in the documentary’s trailer about how it wasn’t just difficult to get so many artists together on one night but it was hard to create the perfect song.

The Greatest Night in Pop US poster Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Quincy Jones, middle row, from left: Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Huey Lewis, bottom, from left: Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, 2024

Netflix/Everett Collection

He shared, “The greatest artists of a generation came together to sing some lines. But we only had one night to get this right. I’m at the house with Michael (Jackson) writing the song. He hums every part. Tapes and tapes of just layered and layered of him humming. Stevie (Wonder) wouldn’t call me back and the recording was in a couple of days. We now have a template with mumbles and no words. What do we want to do? We’re talking to the world, so we have to talk this out.”

Viwe of the autographed first page of the sheet music for the song 'We Are the World,' written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, 1985. The song was designed to raise awareness and funds for a worldwide hunger relief program, and its international success led the way for the Live Aid concerts later that year

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“We Are the World” became a huge smash hit and generated over $60 million to help Africa. On the song’s 25th anniversary, it was re-recorded with new artists for Haiti and featured artists such as Justin Bieber, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Miley Cyrus, and Janet Jackson.

 In this handout photo provided by WATW, singers Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Usher, Katharine McPhee,, Toni Braxton, Barbra Streisand, LL Cool J, Harry Connick Jr., Wyclef Jean, Vince Vaughn, Jeff Bridges, Natalie Cole and others perform at the "We Are The World 25 Years for Haiti" recording session held at Jim Henson Studios on February 1, 2010 in Hollywood, California

Kevin Mazur/Handout/Getty Images

The Greatest Night in Pop will be released on Netflix on January 29, 2024. Watch the trailer and let us know if you’ll be watching to learn about one of the best nights in pop music history!

The full list of artists who appeared in “We Are the World” in 1985:

Quincy Jones

Soloists (in order of appearance)
• Lionel Richie
• Stevie Wonder
Paul Simon
Kenny Rogers
• James Ingram
Tina Turner
Billy Joel
• Michael Jackson
Diana Ross
• Dionne Warwick
Willie Nelson
• Al Jarreau
• Bruce Springsteen
Kenny Loggins
• Steve Perry
Daryl Hall
Huey Lewis
Cyndi Lauper
• Kim Carnes
Bob Dylan
Ray Charles
Chorus (alphabetically)
Dan Aykroyd
Harry Belafonte
Lindsey Buckingham
• Mario Cipollina (of Huey Lewis and the News)
• Johnny Colla (of Huey Lewis and the News)
Sheila E.
Bob Geldof
• Bill Gibson (of Huey Lewis and the News)
• Chris Hayes (of Huey Lewis and the News)
• Sean Hopper (of Huey Lewis and the News)
• Jackie Jackson
La Toya Jackson
• Marlon Jackson
Randy Jackson
• Tito Jackson
Waylon Jennings
Bette Midler
John Oates
• Jeffrey Osborne
Anita Pointer (of the Pointer Sisters)
• June Pointer (of the Pointer Sisters)
• Ruth Pointer (of the Pointer Sisters)
• Smokey Robinson

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’80s Where Are They Now

March 2023

Who can forget all the great TV shows, movies and music of the ‘80s? See what your favs are up to now!

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