“We Are the World”



“There’s a choice we’re making / We’re saving our own lives / It’s true we make a brighter day, just you and me”. That’s Bob Dylan’s part on “We Are the World”, the charity mega-hit from 1985. Here’s the video (Bob starts at 3:49):

I had to read all about this song this morning, as I’d pretty much forgotten all about it. I mean, I never forgot it – it got so much radio play when I was about 16 it is probably eternally etched in my head – but I hadn’t heard it in almost thirty years. It is really quite the archive of a certain time and place.

One thing that is striking is just how many of these singers are still incredibly familiar. Yes, some of them went on to have very limited careers (James Ingram and Steve Perry may now be the least famous of the soloists), but for the most part these are 80s icons. It was easier to be an icon in those days. Musical tastes were so much more limited by commercial radio and MTV – it was nearly impossible to escape from a Michael Jackson or Huey Lewis even if you were a punk rock listening kid. They were completely ubiquitous, and “We Are the World” is a cloying celebration of that ubiquity.

Everyone knows that Quincy Martin famously wrote “Check Your Egos at the Door” for this session, but some of the egos needed to be more front and centre. In retrospect it is remarkable that Harry Belafonte, Bette Midler, and Smokey Robinson are all reduced to the chorus, while Kenny Loggins and Daryl Hall get solos. It was a messed up time, the eighties…

The best thing that I found today is this video of Dylan recording his three lines. It runs about nine minutes and you get to hear a somewhat confused Dylan trying it several different ways, and also get to see Jones and Stevie Wonder sort of massaging him through it. It is a really fascinating document about working with big egos in a setting like this. I may not like this song at all, but I do admire the ability of Jones to simply get the thing done with all of those type A personalities in one room.

1985 will be the year of Dylan and the benefit – he will close Live Aid, help launch Farm Aid, and tell the world that he “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City”. But this is the one that kicks it all off.

The 1984 Tour



The travel itinerary (and bad wifi at the Hyatt Regency in Denver) played havoc with the Dylan schedule this week, so I’m posting some final thoughts on the 1984 tour on the first morning of 1985 – you’ll have to forgive me.

First and foremost, the 1984 tour is fairly well-captured on Real Live. That’s the easiest way to access this material, even if the album is too short to give a real sense of what the band was doing. But it’s a good start.

The tour was 27 dates across Europe with Carlos Santana, and, for a few dates, Joan Baez. Baez would open with about ten songs, and then Santana would play for about ninety minutes. Dylan’s set was pretty consistent: seven songs with his band (including Rolling Stone Mick Taylor on guitar), a song by bassist Gregg Sutton (most of the bootlegs I’ve listened to include Dylan’s introduction of Sutton then cut the song off. Tough to please those bootleggers!), a couple of acoustic songs, then the band returns for about six songs, Dylan introduces them during “Like a Rolling Stone”, they leave, and then a long encore – often up to eight songs, with Santana playing guitar on about half of them. As I mentioned before, lots of hits, lots of 1960s material. What they do is good, but it is also repetitive, so this is not a tour that benefits from having a large number of bootlegs.

A few shows of note: In Hamburg and Munich Baez sang with Dylan in the encore (“Blowin’ In the Wind” on the first show, that and “I Shall Be Released” on the second). It

At the Paris and London shows Van Morrison joined Dylan on “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. Here is a copy of that. I think that this is the Paris version – I don’t have that to hand. It’s definitely not Slane, which is the best Van performance (though Bob gets lost in the lyrics late).

Chrissie Hynde played harmonica and sang back-up on a few songs at the London show. Oh, and some guy named Clapton shows up to play guitar. That’s pretty good.

I think that the best show that I heard is the last one of the tour at Slane Castle in Ireland, where Dylan did 27 songs. Van the Man is back for a rollicking “Baby Blue” and also does “Tupelo Honey”. Later in the encore they are joined by “Bono from U2”, as Dylan introduces him, who sings back-up fills on “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat”. The version that they do is sort of suggestive of the collaboration that Dylan will have with U2 during the Rattle and Hum period. U2 were recording The Unforgettable Fire at Slane at the time, so they were just about to break really big. It’s probably one of the last times someone would have needed to add “of U2” to Bono’s introduction. Sadly, that song is not that great – Van Morrison shows him how to jam with Dylan.

Here’s Dylan with Bono doing “Blowin’ In the Wind” at the end of Slane. This is one of the worst versions of this song that you will EVER hear. The Bono verse is just, god, I don’t even know what to say.