The Greatest Night in Pop (2024)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 6, 2024 @

Have I got a film for you.

The Greatest Night in Pop (Netflix) is an extraordinary documentary about a phenomenal event.

It may be the best film about the creative process ever on the screen.

The Greatest Night in Pop - with both contemporary footage and footage from nearly 40 years ago - tells the compelling story of the creation and recording session of "We Are the World," with a collection of more than 45 of the best, most popular singers in the country. It was a recording to raise money to feed the starving in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia.

The recording session started the night of January 28, 1985 at A+M Studios in Hollywood. It was possible to arrange for the singers to take part since that was the night of the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, and most would be in LA. Lionel Richie hosted the awards and was instrumental in creating the other session.

The session had to be a secret, because if people knew who was going to be there, it would have drawn a huge mob.

Richie and Michael Jackson had 3 weeks to write the song. They continually tried to contact Stevie Wonder, but never were able to reach him. They were on their own.

The indomitable Quincy took crucial control. At the A+M studio, he posted a handwritten note on the wall, "Check your ego at the door."

Even though there were no cell phones Quincy and Richie were able to contact the singers. In the session the singers all were alone without agents, representatives, et al. They were on their own, one on one. They developed a special camaraderie.

An exhilarating scene is when the whole group of singers break into "Day-O" to honor Harry Belafonte, who is subtly moved by the gesture.

There are moments of humor. Paul Simon says if there is a bomb set off in the studio, then John Denver - who is not there - will be on top. Another memorable scene is when Ray Charles says he has to go to the bathroom. Stevie Wonder says he will take him. "The blind leading the blind."

Only Prince avoids the invitation, and Waylon Jennings exits when he has to sing Swahili.

An incredible aspect of the venture was that Lionel Richie, Ken Kramer, and Quincy Jones were able to recruit such an assemblage of different talents. As soloists there were the artful screamers like Cyndi Lauper, and the raspers like Bruce Springsteen, Dylan, and Kim Carnes. There was the raw voice of Willie Nelson, who sang with the cool Dionne Warwick.

It was a challenge, especially because there was such a range of dissimilar voices, and some were under duress.

Dylan didn't seem to know what was expected of him. At times, he seems like Where's Waldo as the group sings around him. But Stevie Wonder jokes with him, and he responds affirmatively.

Huey Lewis is challenged when he replaces Prince for one crucial line. The high notes he had to reach were an obstacle, which he met.

Springsteen - who flew from a concert in Buffalo on tour - is tired and has a strained voice. But he is able to find emotional truth in his solo.

Director Bao Nguyen is able to blend energy and personality in his film.

The Greatest Night in Pop captures the illusive spirit of creativity. Pursuing creativity is frustrating, tenuous, exhausting, and exhilarating.

The magical quality of the film is its vision of trying to do good.

There is a rare, palpable affinity among the singers. Bob Geldof tells them what their efforts will accomplish in raising money to save lives. His words bring them together in a common purpose.

A diverse group of singers get together to do good, just for the sake of good.

What a concept.

What a film.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin