Remember how you couldn't get the chorus of "We Are the World" out of your head? Remember how it still pops into your thoughts when you least expect it?
Meet the sequel.
Hands across America
Hands across the land I love
Divided we fall, united we stand
Hands across America.
In print, it's not particularly impressive, but over the next eight weeks, it's going to get mighty familiar.
"Hands Across America" is the theme song for the USA for Africa project of the same name that will try, on May 25, to create a hand-to-hand, coast-to-coast human chain to raise funds to fight hunger and homelessness in America. Yesterday, Washingtonians got a sneak preview of both the song and the project. It was Hands Across Pennsylvania Avenue (at least between 17th and 18th streets), as several hundred people gathered to hold hands, dance to a local band, revive "We Are the World" and start learning "Hands" under the tutelage of singer Jennifer Holliday.
A synthesis of corporate manipulation and humanitarian sentiment, the song will debut on thousands of radio stations across the country at 10:15 (EST) this morning. At least a dozen Washington stations are planning to participate.
Unlike its all-star predecessor, "Hands" features jingle singers and musicians under the name Voices of America (the lead vocals are by Joe Cerisano and Sandy Farina with backing from the New Jersey Massed Choir). It was written not by superstars Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, but by a trio of New York jingle writers.
Nevertheless, the song's bombastically heroic structure, keening lead vocals, sentimental verses, anthemic chorus and altruistic tone manage to evoke the sound and spirits of "We Are the World" (in general) and of Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Rogers and Tina ip,1 Turner (specifically) -- not to mention Plymouth's "The Pride Is Back (Born in America Again)" campaign. Not coincidentally, writers Marc Blatte, John Carney and Larry Gottlieb were responsible for the Plymouth campaign as well.
A rush shipment of 7,500 promotional copies of "Hands Across America" went out to about 8,000 radio stations yesterday. USA for Africa President Ken Kragen said the organization was hoping to duplicate last year's surprise publicity coup when thousands of stations simulcast "We Are the World" on Good Friday.
Yesterday's crowd -- made up of children from Shepherd Elementary, dancercise students, rugby players, construction workers, lawyers, retirees, secretaries and passersby swept up in the excitement -- represented exactly the kind of multiracial, multicultural, nonpartisan consensus that USA for Africa hopes will mobilize in May. The organization is hoping for a single line of 6 million to 10 million people, stretching from New York to Los Angeles, holding hands for one hour during the Memorial Day weekend. Participants are expected to pledge from $10 to $35 for the opportunity to stand in line.
The Washington kickoff had the feel of a political rally, complete with an impassioned speech from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, gospel songs from the cast of "Mama I Want to Sing," a rendition of "God Bless America" and a platform crowded with local politicians and corporate sponsors.
Local director Donna Brazille announced that Washington has already signed up enough sponsors for 7 1/2 miles of the 20-mile route through the nation's capital. (Six of those miles are feeder routes to the main one, necessary to include all eight city wards. About 1,320 people are needed per mile.) Brazille seemed part tour guide and part huckster, listing the 10 Metro stops, 10 historic landmarks, 20 embassies and 200 schools that line the way.
Numbers were all over the place yesterday, with intimations of future entries to the Guinness Book of World Records (the largest number of people to participate in one event, the largest number of entertainers and celebrities in one event, the largest number of voices joined in song or prayer, the largest number of portapotties used in a single event, and so on).
People are looking at Hands Across America in different ways, USA for Africa's national director, Fred Droze, told the crowd. "Yuppies see it as a return to '60s values; old folks see it as a return to neighbor-to-neighbor. Democrats see it as grass-roots activism, and Republicans see it as private-sector initiative. Parents see it as a way to bring their families back together again, and kids see it as the biggest party in the world."
And corporations see it as a chance to link their names to a Good Cause.
McDonald's is printing 300 million Hands Across America tray liners. Safeway is pitching in with 62 million shopping bags. Walt Disney is doing a video with animated characters and will have signups at its parks. Everywhere you go you're going to be finding entry forms and hearing or seeing public service announcements for the campaign.
Yesterday, Citicorp/Citibank joined the project as co-promoter with Coca-Cola, which has purchased the White House segment of the route.
Meanwhile, Droze said USA for Africa was thrilled at the response to the project and to the new song.
" 'We Are the World,' " he said, "will always be the song identified [with USA for Africa] -- there's no question about that. But we felt we needed a new song for this project."
"Hands Across America" arrives after a bit of backroom political infighting. It was originally performed last January by several dozen celebrities and residents of Taft, a small California town in the San Joaquin Valley. Their hand-to-hand performance on Taft's main street was videotaped and edited into a music video that was to have aired during half time on NBC's Super Bowl telecast.
But the video was scratched at the last minute after Michael Jackson, who had cowritten "We Are the World" with Lionel Richie, objected that the new song upstaged the original anthem. Jackson contended that "We Are the World" was a gift from God and ought not to be played down in favor of the new song.
"I don't think it's possible to ever match 'We Are the World' in singing and as a song," Droze insisted. "We didn't want to get in the position of even trying to match it."
Today's broadcast debut indicates a continued compromise, since "We Are the World" will be broadcast before "Hands Across America." In addition, the flip side of the single, to be released by EMI America in early April, also will feature "We Are the World" (which was originally released on CBS). Proceeds will be funneled into USA for Africa, which raised $45 million last year with "We Are the World." Organizers are hoping to double that figure through pledges for participation in the Memorial Day weekend event and sales of the new record.