Five highlights from Netflix’s ‘The Greatest Night in Pop’
(Credit: Netflix)


Five highlights from Netflix's ‘The Greatest Night in Pop’

In the annals of music history, one night stands out as truly momentous—the recording session that birthed the iconic charity single ‘We Are the World’, a song that has been parodied countless times over the years. The Netflix documentary The Greatest Night in Pop provides an intimate and behind-the-scenes look at the making of this historic song.

Directed by Bao Nguyen, The Greatest Night in Pop traces the making of the 1985 charity single ‘We Are the World’ for African famine relief. It became the ninth-best-selling physical single of all time.

Discussing the recording session that brought together 46 renowned artists—from Bob Dylan to Diana Ross—at the historic A&M Studios on La Brea Avenue on January 28th, 1985, Lionel Richie, who co-wrote the song with Michael Jackson, shared with the LA Times, “You have to understand: It was an impossible thing to pull off.”

The documentary highlights the chaos, camaraderie, and creativity that defined that unforgettable evening inspired by the UK-based charity supergroup, Band Aid and ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ which came out in December 1984.

Here are five moments from the musical documentary The Greatest Night in Pop that were a revelation.

Huey Lewis’ solo was meant for Prince

The documentary reveals that Huey Lewis’ solo in ‘We Are the World’ was originally intended for Prince. As the night unfolded, it became clear that Prince wouldn’t make it, leaving Lewis to fill the iconic shoes. The film captures the nervous energy as Lewis confesses, “It was just one line, but my legs were literally shaking.”

Tom Bahler, who created the vocal arrangements on ‘We Are the World’ notes in the documentary, “I love Huey [Lewis], but not every artist was going to sing a solo.” However, Kenny Loggins suggested Lewis, who was riding high after his recent hits ‘I Want a New Drug’ and ‘Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll.’

Michael Jackson’s many pets

The collaborative efforts of Richie and Jackson are well-known, but all wasn’t hunky dory during the process of writing the iconic song. 

In Netflix’s The Greatest Night in Pop, Richie recalled a chaotic writing session interrupted by Bubbles, Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, and a pet python that toppled albums. There was also a myna bird and a dog adding to the cacophony.

Diana Ross’ teary farewell

As the recording session stretched into the early hours, emotions ran high. The exhaustion was palpable, but so was the camaraderie. 

Diana Ross, shedding tears, expressed her reluctance for the night to end. As one of the last artists to leave, Ross had confessed to Quincy Jones (who had produced the whole shebang along with Michael Omartian ), “I don’t want this to be over.” Overall, the endeavour allegedly generated over $63 million to support humanitarian efforts in Africa and the United States.

Stevie Wonder helped lighten the mood

Richie had initially hoped for Stevie Wonder’s help in writing the song, but unanswered calls led the project to proceed without him. In the documentary, Richie explained when Wonder eventually reconnected weeks later, the song had already been written. Despite missing the songwriting phase, Wonder’s presence in the recording studio proved invaluable. Sensing the tension among superstar egos before the performance, Wonder unleashed his trademark sense of humour and even helped Dylan with his solo.

Still, there were early departures and ego clashes

There was a delicate balance of artistic collaboration. Not everyone stayed for the entire recording session. 

Creative disagreements led to Waylon Jennings departing when Swahili lyrics were suggested. Even Sheila E., expecting a solo, left disillusioned, suspecting she was just a lure for Prince. 

Sheila E. spoke about the night for the first time in the documentary, “It was getting late, and I was looking forward to singing one of the verses, but they kept asking, ‘Well, do you think you can get Prince here?’” She noted, “They never intended on having me sing a verse, which was a little bit heartbreaking.”

You can watch The Greatest Night in Pop on Netflix.