Quincy Jones enlisted longtime business partner Thomas Bähler as the associate producer and arranger for the recording of We Are the World the classic anthem celebrating its 30th anniversary of release Saturday. Bähler, who already had impressive credentials working with Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Elvis Presley, was assigned the task of determining the bulk of the solos for the charity effort, which assembled a collective of 46 pop stars (dubbed USA for Africa) to raise money to feed the hungry.
Activist Harry Belafonte conceived the project and teamed with entertainment manager Ken Kragen to bring the project to life. Krager presented the idea to his client Lionel Richie, who ended up co-writing the song with Michael Jackson.
Bähler, who considers We Are the World his most significant project to date, shares some of his fondest behind-the-scenes stories about the recording session in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Music.
1. We Are the World mastermind Harry Belafonte stayed in the background.
“Harry is one of the great human beings of all time,” Bähler says. “Hes always been a part of helping people be better, and it was maybe Bob Geldof and him that went to Ken. Harry makes connections and kinda steps back. I barely remember him being there that night. I know he was, because we talked. I love that kinda power. That he could have the power and respect to put all those people together and then just stand back and let it happen. It is the truly great people that I find that are like that.”
2. Quincy Jones strategized an approach to make the process move as smoothly as possible.
“Quincy became the general. He mapped it out as if it were a war,” Bähler remembers. What could go wrong? How do we get this accomplished? What happens? We never had 50 major egos in the same studio. What can we do to keep things on track? And it was beautifully orchestrated in terms of what we were going to do.”
3. Diana Rosss humility shifted the mood in the room.
“Diana Ross is known as one of the big divas of all time, and shes the one that broke the ice,” Bähler recalls. “When I passed out the music, we put a dummy track on. We were listening to it, getting the feel of it, and while they were rewinding the tape, Diana went over to Darryl Hall and said, Can you sign my music? Im your biggest fan. And as soon as she said that, we all looked at each other and said, Oh my God. Look at who is here. We all went around to each other for the next hour-and-a half, signing each others music. By the time that was over, we were a family. There was a feeling of love. It was beautiful.”
4. They recorded the group chorus first.
“The way we dealt with it overall was to do the chorus with everybody first, and then excuse the group, and only the people that were singing the solos stayed,” Bähler reveals. “So there was no embarrassment for anybody who wasnt there who wasnt picked because they had already been notified.”
5. Cyndi Lauper recorded her line in one take.
“The only funny thing that happened was that Cyndi Lauper was singing at the end of the bridge,” Bähler explains. “We had them line up in a big horseshoe and had their names put on the floor so they knew where to stand. By the time we got around to Cyndi, wed been singing for a couple hours. When she sang her line at the end of the bridge, Quincy was in the booth. He said, Thats great, Cyndi. She said, Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Ive been waiting for two hours and youre going to let me sing this once? And Quincy said, Come on in here, baby, and listen to this. She went into the booth and heard it and said, OK. Im done. So why sing it over and over when you just killed it? It was sweet.