Lionel Richie was rightfully hesitant to rerecord “We Are the World,” the 1985 global anthem he wrote alongside Michael Jackson to fight famine in Africa.
More than 40 artists under the umbrella USA for Africa joined to record the tribute that raised more than $60 million.
Richie felt the song was iconic and should not be revisited, but he changed his mind after the recent devastation in Haiti following the tragic 7.0 earthquake in January that left more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced.
The new version, “We Are the World – 25 for Haiti,” and its video, which just premiered in advance of the broadcast of the Opening Ceremony for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, successfully takes on a new meaning.
From the moment the remake performed by more than 70 artists called Artists For Haiti was announced, speculation set in as people wondered how contemporary artists would interpret the song. Richie and producer Quincy Jones decided not to feature artists who appeared on the original version.
Comparing the original to the 2010 rendition is inevitable in a few instances. Those who remember the first version can’t help but think of Cyndi Lauper when they hear an emotional Celine Dion breathe new energy into the memorable, “well, well, well/let us realize, a change will only come” or when teen newcomer Justin Bieber takes on Richie’s opening lines.
But the covers are not what stick in your mind after watching the eight-minute clip that opens with remarks from Jamie Foxx encouraging viewers to “do more than just watch but to reach deep in your heart and give anything you can.”
For me, “We Are the World – 25 for Haiti” calls to mind the hopeful little boy in the sky blue T-shirt captured in the beginning of the video, standing on the roof of a dilapidated house, smiling and waving.
There is just enough footage of the Haitian people singing and rebuilding interspliced with the celebrity studio recordings to keep the video’s purpose.
It is not easy to rebrand such a well-known song, but they’ve done it.
Michael Jackson remembered
Michael Jackson is the only artist from the original version who appears in the remake. For his first verse, footage from his 1985 appearance is used posthumously and is joined by his sister Janet as the two sing as a duet. This was a request of their mother, Katharyn.
A bonus guitar solo
Oranthi, the young female recording artist in Jackson’s “This Is It” movie adds a guitar solo to the song. Jones said that Prince wanted to add guitars 25 years ago, but they did not want to add that element then.
Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, and Fergie did not attend the taping that took place at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles on February 1. They recorded their vocals later remotely and were spliced in.
Hip Hop Greek chorus fits nicely
I had my fingers crossed, hoping that the rap chorus would work in an otherwise classic pop ballad. And it does. Instead of forcing an in-your-face rap track into the song, the lead-in is a subtle, natural progression. Props to will.i.am who penned the additional bars that are introduced closer to the song’s ending. The Black Eyed Peas frontman is joined by LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Wayne, Swizz Beatz, and others. The lyrics tell the Haitian people to stay encouraged.
Lionel updates lyrics
Part of the verse originally sung by Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, and Al Jarreau was revamped with lyrics more relevant to the situation in Haiti. Enrique Iglesias and Barbra Streisand perform the revised lyrics.
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stones to bread
And so we all must lend a helping hand
So their cries for help will not be in vain
We can’t let them suffer
No we cannot turn away
Right now they need a helping hand