5 Takeaways From the “We Are the World” Documentary, ‘The Greatest Night in Pop’

We all could bust out a few rounds of the chorus to “We Are the World.” The aid single, penned by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, was a massive feat upon its release–and continued to draw in money for world hunger years afterward.

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It’s not every day that 46 A-list musicians gather in one room, let alone record a song together. The list of talent Richie, Jackson, and producer Quincy Jones accumulated is almost too star-studded to believe. Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Wonder, and Steve Perry to name just a few.

The new Netflix documentary directed by Bao Nguyen, The Greatest Night in Pop, covers every second of that fateful night. From tight deadlines to world-class vocals to a not-so-comfortable Dylan, check out our five biggest takeaways from the doc, below.

[RELATED: Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind & Fire 2024 Sing a Song All Night Long Tour: How To Buy Tickets]

1. The tightest of deadlines

We understand working in a crunch, but the parameters for recording “We Are the World” were almost too pressurized to work. It was the night of the 1985 American Music Awards. Richie was tapped to host, putting him on double duty as he was also given the task of helming this project. Given that many of top stars would be in town for the AMAs, organizers of “We Are the World” decided to setup the recording to kick off as soon as the ceremony ended.

One can only imagine the workflow of 46 mercurial musicians exhausted from a sprawling award show and a little tipsy. Needless to say, it was a long night. The doc reveals that they left the studio around eight the next morning.

2. Stevie Wonder is a cut up

The number of times Wonder cracked a joke throughout the documentary was something. If this were a scripted project, he would have been the comic relief. One particular highlight came as he stuck in ad-libs in an impromptu performance of “Banana Boat (Day-O).”

At times, his joking got in the way of the recording process, but he made up for it by helping the train get back on track when his fellow musicians were struggling to find their vocal part (more on that later).

3. The most uncomfortable Bob Dylan has ever looked

When you’re as revered as Dylan is, it’s hard to imagine you’d ever feel out of place. Nevertheless, The Bard looked markedly uncomfortable throughout the recording process for “We Are the World.” While the whole group was recording the refrain, Dylan looked like many of us in chorus class, mumbling along to the melody while looking around to see if anyone can tell.

When it came time to record his solo in the bridge, he stepped up to the mic and quite literally whispered his lines. It wasn’t until Wonder got on the piano and did his best Dylan impression that he felt comfortable enough to sing his solo. It’s nice to know that even Dylan gets a little tongue-tied at times.

4. Waylon Jennings wasn’t into singing in Swahili

Midway through recording the chorus, Wonder suggested they add in a few lines of Swahili. It was a notion that was quickly shut down by the whole group, but not before Waylon Jennings up and left the recording studio.

He reportedly told the artists next to him that No good ole boy sings in Swahili” before promptly exiting the room.

5. The artists involved had some of the best voices ever

Now this didn’t come as a shock. It has been well-documented that these musicians were and are top-of-the-line. But, seeing them perform live reminded us just how stellar they truly were. Hearing Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Perry, and Daryl Hall back to back was a mind-blowing thing. Not to mention Ross, Jackson, Lauper, and Kim Carnes belting out their lines. It was truly a masterclass in individualism and excellence.

(Photo by Lester Cohen/ Getty Images)

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