One of the few criticisms I have regarding this film pertains to its title. While many of the participating artists hailed from the pop genre, the event itself marked a pinnacle moment in music history. Stemming from the release of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by the UK-based group Band.Aid in December 1984, Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen began efforts to organize a benefit single for African famine relief. "The Greatest Night in Pop" chronicles the creation of "We Are The World," a landmark benefit single recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa in 1985. This historic recording session took place on the night of the American Music Awards at AMA Studios in Hollywood, CA. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, the track garnered sales exceeding 20 million copies, making it the ninth-best-selling physical single of all time.
I’m putting this documentary in “The Last Dance” tier. I understand the weight of that statement, but The Greatest Night In Pop wears it well. Director Bao Nguyen sets the scene up nicely. The music industry is at new heights—the stars, opportunities, the hunger. Communication doesn’t move as fast as you want it to. Everything isn’t broadcast to the public, which makes personal interactions with peers and rivals very significant, especially when it’s ego-driven. Influence has shaped culture, but does it still extend to famine relief and social change? I learned a lot from this movie, one of the first lessons being that JONES, JACKSON, and RICHIE ain’t no joke—they put the production on their backs. Quincy Jones, being a master orchestrator, ensures a quality product while being a professional master. Michael Jackson cares deeply about the record, who’s there, and how we are spending his time. I saw a young black man, with eyes always on him while he had his eyes on everyone, including himself. Lionel Richie is flourishing and being treated as such. Not only transitioning away from the Commodores musically, but he’s also afforded the opportunity to host the AMAs, write the single, go on tour, and tend to the hands and feet of super babies.
The pool of production is deep. I enjoyed hearing perspectives from Sheila E, Bruce Springsteen, "LIONnell," Cyndi Lauper, the audio and visual teams, Quincy, and Michael. You feel like you were in the room. The archival footage looked really good, à la The Last Dance. Al Jarreau was drinking entirely too much, with cups appearing in multiple shots. The zooms on Bob Dylan's mumbles and Michael's mascara were notable. The only thing we're missing is Lionel eating chicken. (side-eye at that chicken comment) When the song was produced and released, you had no clue that Cyndi Lauper's earrings were singing just as loud as her. Producing a song is truly a talent. The raw footage of Bruce and the final are two different takes. That's why he's called The Boss. Despite coming off the biggest tour of my life and not being at 100%, my voice is still passionate, and Quincy knows how to tailor it just right. Huey Lewis did so well, yet now I want to hear the AI Prince version. I know... I know.
I want a sequel. It should be called “More Great Nights”. They should talk about the 2010 single benefiting Haiti. I want Lionel Richie there, Jamie Foxx, Quincy, Blige, Bieber, Bebe, and Harry Connick Jr. What was the impact of the first single? Quantify the famine relief. Discuss how artists use their platforms. I highly recommend this film; not only will it teach you a lot, but the sounds are heavenly. These artists are arguably in their prime, some of the most talented musicians of the last 100 years. It should be called the Greatest Night in Music because they collectively came together to work on one project. The depths and contrasts to even fathom that now make it such an incredible feat. Netflix, double-down on the documentaries.