While the documentary delves into the creation of “We Are the World” almost four decades ago, its rich collection of anecdotes makes it a delightful watch for viewers of all ages. Lionel Richie assumes the role of our de facto tour guide, ensuring that this trip down memory lane not only fulfills its promise to make our day better but also encapsulates around 90 minutes of captivating storytelling.
For those unfamiliar with the historical context, “We Are the World” was a song and video crafted in 1985 to aid famine-stricken Africa. It cleverly brought together nearly forty of the era’s musical luminaries who had just performed at the American Music Awards. Recognizing the urgency of their mission, organizers, led by producer Quincy Jones, hung a sign outside that famously read, “Check your ego at the door.”
The documentary reveals that the assembly of talent was so remarkable that Kenny Loggins, reflecting on that night, humorously recounted Paul Simon’s quip: “If a bomb lands on this place, John Denver’s back on top.” While egos mostly stayed in check, the logistical challenges were considerable, ranging from Michael Jackson’s rivalry with Prince to Al Jarreau struggling with his part due to a slight intoxication.
Directed by Bao Nguyen, known for the Bruce Lee documentary “Be Water,” the film is enchanting, drawing on extensive footage from that night and featuring interviews with musicians and the production crew. The documentary offers fly-on-the-wall moments, revealing entertaining details such as Stevie Wonder guiding Ray Charles to the bathroom, an impromptu sing-along tribute to Harry Belafonte, and Diana Ross asking Daryl Hall for his autograph, triggering a cascade of performers unleashing their inner fans and collecting autographs.
In addition to Richie and Loggins, the documentary includes reflections from artists like Cyndi Lauper, who describes the experience as “otherworldly,” as well as Huey Lewis, Smokey Robinson, Bruce Springsteen, and Dionne Warwick.
While it’s tempting to bask in the pure nostalgia of “The Greatest Night in Pop,” the documentary also provides an uplifting glimpse into these stars uniting for a common cause. It underscores that, regardless of their individual achievements, they share a deep appreciation for the work of their contemporaries.
The only potential downside to watching is the inevitable humming or singing of “We Are the World” for the next several days. Yet, considering it a small price to pay for a front-row seat to this extraordinary gathering of musical royalty and the magic that unfolded during that one unforgettable night when, at Quincy Jones’ urging, they (mostly) left their egos outside. “The Greatest Night in Pop” is set to premiere on Netflix on January 29.