“We only had one night to get this right”: new Netflix doc, The Greatest Night In Pop, to tell the story of the recording of We Are The World

If something interesting happened in the history of popular culture but there isn’t a documentary on a streaming service about it, did it really happen? We’re not going to debate that one here, but what we can tell you is that the story of the making of We Are The World, the charity single recorded by supergroup USA for Africa in 1985, is about to be told again in a new Netflix film, The Greatest Night In Pop.

Inspired by Band Aid’s 1984 single Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the project was the brainchild of Harry Belafonte, who sensed an opportunity for US stars to follow Bob Geldof and co's lead and create a song to raise funds for African famine relief. This ended up becoming We Are The World, which was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian.

Based on the clips we see in the trailer, Richie will feature prominently in the documentary - which is directed by Bao Nguyen - though there’s no sign of a new interview with Quincy Jones.

We Are The World sheet music

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of the genesis of the song, Richie says: “I’m at the house writing the song with Michael. He hums every part. Tapes and tapes of just… layered and layered of him… humming.”

A lack of lyrics is just one of the problems the production team seem to have encountered: “Stevie [Wonder] wouldn’t call me back,” says Richie at one point, later adding that “There’s a full-on fight going on, the clock is ticking, and we had so many disasters coming”.

Inevitably, the documentary makers will ramp up any sense of drama, but for sheer star power alone, it looks like The Greatest Night In Pop could be worth a watch. Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis and Sheila E are among the other artists to feature in the trailer, and you can also expect contributions from Smokey Robinson, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Loggins and Dionne Warwick.

Some of the musicians, engineers, and production crew who worked on the record have been interviewed, too, so hopefully we’ll get some behind-the-scenes technical goss.

The Greatest Night In Pop will land on Netflix on 29 January.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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