I never listen to the radio. Never. I haven’t owned a car since 1991 and even when I did, I listened to tapes as I’m a pain-in-the-ass about music. So while I may have heard the song in backgrounds and bars and karaoke, I haven’t really listened to We Are The World in years. Until tonight. Our taxi driver cranked it up as we were driving back from dinner. As it was a welcome break from the barrage of Calypso, Reggae and Steel Drums I’ve been exposed to over the past week, I sat there and listened to it. Really listened to it. And as the lyrics started, I found myself flashing back to junior high as I began playing the familiar We Are The World game: “Who’s singing this part?”
You know what? I couldn’t do it. Nope. And I felt really bad about it. I’d let myself down.
You see, in sixth or seventh grade, whenever it was the song first debuted, you weren’t cool if you couldn’t name everyone who sang on the track. This was a time when the coolest kid in school was the kid who knew the names of the most bands. And I don’t know why, but for me, I remember clearly that this status quo came into being in fifth grade. We all had those blue binder notebooks and tried to scribble the logos of as many band names as we could on them in blue ballpoint pen. The most common ones at school at that time were VH (for Halen, of course), AC/DC, Styx, Asia and Pink Floyd. But the kids with older siblings were always the ones with newer and hipper logos on their notebooks as they got their music information faster. This was technically cheating, but was accepted. So we searched where we could for band names and logos. And the one logo moment I most clearly recall was one day in the front of the lunch line. We were showing off our notebooks and mine was getting some hype as I had all kinds of band names from I don’t know where. Just then John Roberts walked over, looked down at my notebook, and took the wind out of my sails with one question: “Can you name five songs Black Sabbath sings?”
I looked down at my notebook knowing I was in trouble.
Yup, there was the Black Sabbath logo on my notebook.
Nope, I didn’t know a single Sabbath song at that point in my life.
So I reacted as any 12 year old kid would when cornered, I tried to turn it back on John. “No. But can you?”, I shot back with as much bluster as I could. And what did John do? He proceeded to name five songs and kept going. I had to ask him to stop. See, John was one of those kids with an older brother, a brother very much into music. John sealed his coolness right then and there as the lunch ladies hooked us up with Sloppy Joes and Jello. I looked like a chump.
And that’s the day the rules of the game changed. From that day forward, any band you wrote on your notebook… you had to be able to name at least five songs they could sing. We had taken things to the next level.
We Are The World up the ante even more.
Yes, it was only one song, but it was a popular song, and you had to name every voice that appeared on the song as they came on. What’s more, there was a video to go with it, so you had to know what each and every singer looked liked and name them all as they came on screen. (Wait a minute, was Dan Akroyd in that video?)
And I could do it. I could name every single voice and every single face, backwards and forwards. As sad as that sounds, it was the coolest thing a kid could do at that time... for all of a week. (Or did I just grow up in a lame town?)
But I can’t anymore. I know the lyrics but not the voices. Does that mean I’m no longer cool?
Some are still easy. Michael Jackson. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Stevie Wonder. Steve Perry. Cyndi Lauper. I even got Willie Nelson. But who else was big in the 80s’ that contributed? I’ve been racking my brain out thinking back on the song trying to put my finger on the voices I know I know.
When was the last time you heard the We Are The World song? Can you name all the artists? Try it. Seriously, next time you hear the song, listen to it and try to identify everyone by voice alone. It’s harder then it sounds.
That’s all I really have to say on the subject. I have to go see if it’s available on iTunes now.