Song of the Day: “We Are The World” by U.S.A. for Africa

When I was nine or so, my church had an opening for a choral day camp during the summer. My dad was an active member of the church choir, and so I somehow got picked for the camp. For some reason, I have a bunch of specific memories of this camp:

  • I made friends with a cool kid a couple years older than me. Let’s call him Tommy. We spent a lot of time talking about which subdivision in Ashburn was best. (I was about to move to Ashburn Farm; he lived in Ashburn Village, which he said was way better. This gave me a bit of an Ashburn Farm inferiority complex that took a few years to shake.)
  • We had an extended discussion at lunch about whether the category of beverage was called “soda,” “pop,” or “coke.” It blew my mind that there were people who didn’t just call it “soda.” But somehow, I let Tommy convince me that I should call all sodas “coke” to make me a “real southerner.”
  • There was another kid who came from my church, and he was SUPER into singing. I’ve never had much of a barometer for what is “cool.” But, even then, I could tell the way that he super earnestly and expressively sang — then wanted to spend breaks talking about singing — was intensely dorky.
  • The camp was actually a general arts camp broken into sections, and I was in the choir section. But this was right around the time that girls started to be a thing for me, and I remember noticing that all of the cute girls were in the visual art section of the camp, and wishing I was there instead of with Tommy.
  • The camp culminated in us giving a performance of “We are the World” for our parents and peers. I’ve known the chorus to the song ever since.

Anyways, I didn’t really thought much about the song in the 20 years afterwards. But that changed a couple weeks ago. I was listening to The Poscast, one of my favorite podcasts, starring sportswriter Joe Posnanski and comedy writer/showrunner Michael Schur. Every other episode they do fantasy drafts of dumb things.

In an episode with pitcher Brandon McCarthy as a guest, the three of them drafted singers in “We Are The World,” the 1985 single to raise funds for starving Africans. It’s probably the funniest episode of “Poscast” I’ve heard. You can listen here (the draft starts at about 44:00):

The Poscast: “We Are The World” Singers with Brandon McCarthy

I got a little way’s into the draft before I stopped to watch the video so I could have context as they drafted. Maybe just because of the context of how I rediscovered the video, but I was immediately hooked. I’ve probably watched it ten times since. (And I still get one of the lyrics wrong when I sing along because I misremember them from my choral camp performance.)

There’s an astonishing amount of star power in this video, yet there’s a feeling of “authenticity” — that these performers just came as they were, some ostentatious, others just regular Joes. It’s hard to imagine something this happening in 2018, not just because of the fracturing monoculture, but because celebrities are so conscious and controlling of their image. (Battle of the Network Stars is the same way.)

(Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie did produce a 25th anniversary edition in 2010 to raise money for starving Haitians. As expected, it doesn’t have a fraction of the charm or personality of the original. Though Celine Dion’s show-stealing is an unexpected treat.)

Once you’ve listened to the podcast and watched the video about five times, I also highly recommend you read Rolling Stone’s 30th anniversary special recap of the video. It’s full of absolutely fantastic anecdotes (Billy Joel hating the key of E might be my favorite).

Click here for the full list

Click here for the full list

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

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