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Lionel Richie Recalls Sentimental Recording of “We Are The World”: “It Was Our Innocence”

Lionel Richie on the 'American Idol' red carpetPhoto by: ABC/Stewart Cook

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Lionel Richie is revisiting the sensational moment when they recorded the historic charity single “We Are The World.” The story behind the song is recently revealed through new Netflix documentary The Greatest Night in Pop.

Lionel Richie Recalls Recording Legendary Song “We Are The World” for The Greatest Night in Pop Documentary

The documentary film recently made its world premiere at the Variety Studio presented by Audible at Sundance Film Festival. Looking back nearly 40 years ago, Richie is emotional and amazed at the same time.

“Every segment of this journey, I cry,” he said. “It just brings tears to my eyes because some of us are not here anymore. Also it was our innocence. We actually were making a difference. So to see the naive version of ourselves, when we actually had an aha moment that we might take all this celebrity and change the world.”

According to the American Idol judge, he’s particularly sensitive about the film because “I get to watch my kid being born again.” Furthermore,  reminiscing the moment was stirring because Michael Jackson, his co-writer, wasn’t here anymore.

“There should be another guy sitting here going, ‘Lionel, what do you think we’re going to do?'” he said. “I need him here to tell you the funny parts about it because in all of this, we were just two creatives having the best time of our lives pulling from the universe.”

The Greatest Night in Pop was directed by Bao Nguyen and produced by Julia Nottingham. Opening up about the creation of the documentary, Nguyen said the output was specifically structured by moments of vulnerability. According to him, the film captured the pressure that Richie and Jackson felt behind the scenes.

“When we get into the recording studio, there’s so many moments where these icons of American music and pop culture — who are legends, who have sang the most iconic and famous songs — they are scared out of [their] mind for that one night,” Nguyen said.

Some of the Singing Stars Almost Didn’t Make It to the Record Session

To describe the journey of recording the song was nothing less than chaotic. In 1985, Richie, Jackson, and Quincy Jones gathered together for a marathon eight-hour recording session of the track. Interestingly, their schedule was set during a busy time, which was after the American Music Awards. Richie, who was one of the people primarily in charge of the recording, was even brave enough to host and perform at the AMAs.

Given that several artists should be at the A&M Studios in Hollywood for the recording, the logistics just wouldn’t smoothly cooperate. That day, Stevie Wonder was still in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen had just wrapped the first leg of his “Born in the U.S.A.” tour.

Dionne Warwick, who needed to be in Los Angeles, was hesitant to come at first because she had to be in Las Vegas. Interestingly, Lauper, who was already at the studio, was reluctant to record.

“Cyndi came to me during the (AMAs) and said, ‘My boyfriend heard the song and he doesn’t think it will be a hit, so I can’t come,'” Richie said. “I said, ‘Cyndi, it’s pretty important for you to make the right decision.'”

Years later, Lauper tried to make sense of the previous drama.

“Well, nobody knew (if it would be a hit)!,” she said. “It was a great group of people, but I was so punch-drunk tired.”

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