We Are the World—the original—was, in my opinion, one of the greatest artistic, charitable, spiritual and political events of the 1980s, a decade dominated by Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, and a gang of other scoundrels. So it was with trepidation that I greeted the news they’d be doing a remake, this time to benefit Haiti.
Maybe I was just predisposed to hating anything that messed around with something I consider sacred, but when I saw the truncated version on opening night of the Olympics, I had a hot flash and howled, “I knew they’d wreck it!” But when I went to YouTube to watch the complete video, I calmed down: I don’t know what they did to the chopped-up version, but it made a big difference.
The best parts of the remake are the many background shots of kids in Haiti. I also love that this time Babs participated, hanging onto her headphones while belting out a solo. Of course, I didn’t recognize even half the performers, but Wikipedia lists them all, with links to each one’s story. (Wiki has a ton of information on both WATW versions; check it out.)
My 12-year-old grandson, who’s getting to be quite the critical thinker, prefers the original WATW: he informed me that people who “aren’t even musicians” are in the current version. As far as I can tell, the only ones in that category are Vince Vaughn, who apparently likes being wherever the action is, and Jimmy Jean-Louis, who plays ‘The Haitian’ on the TV show Heroes—I assume his nationality and star power gained him entry.
Besides the images of Haitian kids, the most poignant moment in this version is that upward motion of the camera slowly revealing Michael Jackson’s feet, legs, glove, and, finally, angelic face. His was the only solo from the original that was included, with sister Janet standing beside him singing along, through the wonders of film editing. It’s a heartbreaking moment, for obvious reasons—but that it’s one of the video’s highlights proves the original version is superior. That version bears the distinction of being the biggest-selling single of all time, with more than 20 million sold, raising over $63 million for humanitarian aid in Africa and the US.
There are some additions and word changes to the new version, including a fairly lengthy rap section—which is what got me sweating and howling upon first view. Upon second view and reflection, though, it’s not bad, and modernizes the music, which is, I suppose, the point.
My nitpicking, though, is insignificant; the goal and probable accomplishment of We Are The World 25 Haiti is to help that devastated country. Once again, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie, and the ghost of Michael Jackson achieve magnificence, by using their art and talent and celebrity for good, and showing the rest of us how it’s done.