By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010; C02
"We Are the World" got a bad rap. Not the original charity anthem recorded in 1985, but the 25th-anniversary remake that debuted Friday night during coverage of the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The updated take was horribly oversung, but it was largely faithful to the original tune written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie -- save for the 21st-century rap verses added toward the end of the track. One group rap-along, penned by Will.I.Am and led by LL Cool J, ends with a particularly platitudinous couplet: "We are the world connected by a common bond: Love! The whole planet is singing along."
Just probably not to this version. The remake starts with a slew of well-endowed vocal cords hyperextending themselves during precious seconds in front of the microphone.
Guilty parties from the opening verse include Jennifer Hudson, Justin Bieber, Josh Groban and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, each of them cramming too many notes into not enough syllables. Take it easy, guys.
If the original cast assembled by producer Quincy Jones were "the children," this new ensemble that Jones and Richie summoned the day after the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles are the grandchildren. It's a sprawling extended family of singers -- more than 80 altogether. That's almost twice as many as the first cast, handfuls of them not even born when the original was recorded.
But despite the maxed-out guest list, quite a few future legends were absent. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Rihanna and Mariah Carey were some of the biggest names not at the recording session. Also, there were too few voices from the country, rock and Latin music communities.
And that's really what's most disappointing about this overblown redux. Nobody can argue with its worthy cause -- the song's latest proceeds will go to earthquake relief in Haiti -- but the recording's original thrill was due to the panoply of voices gracefully working together: a reedy Willie Nelson, a roaring Bruce Springsteen, an angelic Michael Jackson.
On the new version -- its video will be simulcast around the world Saturday -- Jackson's original vocal contribution was wisely left intact.