If an eighties kid hears the old fallacy, “Finish your dinner! There are children starving in Africa!”, she will automatically break out into the chorus of the 1985 Michael Jackson hit “We Are the World.” And in most cases, the opposite is also true: if she hears her child’s sixth grade chorus sing “We Are the World,” she immediately recalls a plate of cold peas, her mother’s admonitions to finish said peas, and her complete willingness to ship said peas to any child in Africa who might enjoy them.
While waiting to leave the parking lot after the concert, I decided to find the original recording of the charity single on YouTube. I remember singing it, possibly in the school chorus, when I was little. There are hazy memories of holding someone’s sticky hand while swaying unevenly in a circle. (“We Are the World” requires swaying. It is compulsory.)
The kids ignored me as I shouted out the names of the performers whose voices I recognized:
“That’s Lionel Richie! He wrote the “Hello” song that’s not by Adele. Maybe we should turn this song off and listen to just Lionel Richie.”
“WAIT! Paul Simon! That’s Paul Simon! I don’t hear Garfunkel.”
“That’s Chaka Khan!” (I got that one wrong. I confuse Tina Turner with Chaka Khan. Side note: I enjoy saying Chaka Khan. It’s very satisfying, phonetically speaking.)
“WILLIE NELSON IS SINGING WITH DIONNE WARWICK, PEOPLE. Where else could that happen but within a Michael Jackson charity song? Tell me, where else?”
“It’s Huey Lewis! I love Huey Lewis.” (It was Bruce Springsteen.)
“More Huey Lewis!” (It was still Bruce Springsteen.)
“Cyndi Lauper! What is she saying? I like her, but I never understand what she’s saying.”
“Bruce Springsteen!” (It was Huey Lewis.)
“Why did they let Bob Dylan sing so much? I don’t think he’s even trying.”
“Yay! More Huey Lewis!” (It was more Bruce Springsteen.)
“Stevie Wonder! Imagine Stevie Wonder right now, kids, singing about Africa while swaying his head. He’s the only one who understood that swaying is an essential part of this song.”
“Even MORE Huey Lewis!” (It was Bruce Springsteen.)
All in all, I did not do a very good job correctly identifying the singers who contributed to emotionally stirring song. I missed Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Steve Perry, among others. I am not entirely convinced that Bruce Springsteen and Huey Lewis are not the same person. Also, there were some glaring omissions: Whitney Houston, Madonna, Phil Collins, Neil Diamond, and Paul McCartney all hate Africa.
(First the Beatles flake out on Woodstock, and now this.)
Hearing “We Are the World” triggered a full evening of eighties music nostalgia.
When we arrived home, we of course watched the music video, which I don’t think I’d ever seen before. When Michael Jackson appears, the camera closes in on his sparkly socks and pans up to his iconic sparkly gloved hand. It was very moving. Also in the video: Cyndi Lauper jumps around a lot. Dan Ackroyd sings in the chorus. Bruce Springsteen is clearly very constipated. Bette Midler is there, but doesn’t have a solo, which is absolutely outrageous.
All of the hair is magnificent.
After 1985’s “We Are the World,” fans of charity singles had to wait six long years for the next inspiring charity song, 1991’s epic “Voices That Care,” written to support the troops fighting in Operation Desert Storm. Naturally, my children needed to see this video as well as it's full of historical significance. I’m all about finding teachable moments.
You remember "Voices that Care". Celine Dion sings, “You are the voice, you are the liiiiiiiighhhht!”
I’m sorry to say that when I tried to emulate Celine Dion, my children left the room. And that ended our little trip down charity song memory lane.
We ate a very late dinner. I was “forbidden” to sing at the table, which I think is a very stupid rule. I never enforce it, myself. I served chicken with a side of peas. Danny refused to eat his peas. And as we all know, when an eighties kid views a plate of uneaten peas, she’s gonna demand that somebody, ANYBODY, eat them, because she is all too aware that there are starving kids in Africa who would very much love to eat those cold, tasteless peas.
Then she will sing Michael Jackson’s 1985 charity single, “We are the World.”
And so it goes.