Friday, May 29, 2015

We Are The World Redux

Live Aid was rebooted as Live 8, so it was inevitable, it seems, that "We Are The World," the 1985 anthem for African famine relief written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie would get remade once the right cause came along. And it turns out that Ritchie and producer Quincy Jones had a 25th anniversary sequel planned even before a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12.

We Are The World Redux

Live Aid was rebooted as Live 8, so it was inevitable, it seems, that "We Are The World," the 1985 anthem for African famine relief written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie would get remade once the right cause came along. And it turns out that Ritchie and producer Quincy Jones had a 25th anniversary sequel planned even before a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12.

Can't complain about the charitable intentions of the new "We Are The World 25 for Haiti," which debuted during NBC's Winter Olympics opening ceremonies broadcast on Friday, and has been #1 on the iTunes chart, at $1.29 per download, with all proceeds going to the We Are The World Foundation, ever since.

But the music? That's another matter. I don't mean to act like the original "We Are The World" was any great shakes. Despite a stellar talent pool - Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Cyndi Lauper, the Pointer Sisters, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, etc. etc. - it set the standard for self-congratulatory American celebrity charitable presumptuousness, patting ourselves on the back for being "the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving."

But at least it was an original endeavor, albeit one that's been well-mocked over the years, most amusingly recently in last year's 30 Rock "Kidney Now!" faux telethon, which, in Mary J. Blige, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Wyclef Jean, features three vocalists who also turn up on  "We Are The World 25."

Jay-Z might be acting out of envy when the rapper, who cut a new Haiti targeted tune in "Stranded," with Rihanna and Bono and the Edge of U2, said this weekend that "I think it's time for us to make a new [song]. I tried to do that with 'Stranded.' I didn't try to make 'We Are the World,' but I tried to make our take on how we felt."

But it's hard to disagree with Hov. Save for a few middling rhymes written by Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas and rapped by Kanye West, LL Cool J and others ("We all need someone that we can lean on/When you wake up look around and see that your dream's gone") there's nothing the slightest bit original about "We Are The World 25," down to Jaime Foxx doing his Ray Charles imitation in Charles' stead. 

I found it kind of funny that Lil Wayne, Akon and T-Pain contribute to an Auto-Tune section - "We Are The World 25" wouldn't have seemed of-the-moment if it didn't feature electronically altered singing, and who's to say that the rest of the vocalists - from Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls (who has an oddly prominent role) to teeny star Justin Bieber - weren't doing it with software aided assistance, too? 

I'm betting that Celine Dion wasn't, though: she pulverizes the chorus with trademark galeforce gusto, though Barbra Streisand and Pink, on the other hand, handle their parts with assurance, and it's nice to see Tony Bennett get a turn at the mic. But while he did a fine job with grizzled vocal duties in Crazy Heart, is there any good reason for Jeff Bridges to be part of the all-hands-on-deck singalong?

I can't say I absolutely despise "We Are The World," even in its diminished version as a shell of its former self. Ritchie and Jackson and producer Quincy Jones are too skilled at pushing your buttons for the swelling, hortatory choruses to not have their effect, and sweep you away, at least a little bit. And with the Haitian earthquake is no longer as prominent in the media driven consciousness as it was a couple of weeks ago - now we've got the snow to worry about, and the Olympics to watch - anything that calls attention, and riases money, for the work that needs to be done is a good thing. But while I highly encourage donating, I wouldn't recommend extending the act of charity to actually listening. 

Previously: RIP, Doug Fieger 

Inquirer Music Critic
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