‘The Greatest Night in Pop’ Film Documentary Review

In the music industry, the ‘80s was a very defining decade. Not only did it introduce Sony’s Walkman to the masses, but also there were congressional hearings regarding whether heavy metal was bad. Later on, Band-Aid recorded and released the UK tune, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” After hearing about its success, Harry Belafonte wanted to create a benefit to assist in the African famine relief and showcase the talents from America. In The Greatest Night in Pop, fans of this decade can learn how this man convinced Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to team up and write the song, “We Are The World.”

The story of how it was made is beautifully told in the new Netflix documentary. I’m amused that this release is offered a year before this song’s 40th anniversary. Perhaps it’s for the best, in that today’s musicians may be inspired to record something more current and relevant to assist in today’s global issues.

With this retrospective, viewers can finally learn about the challenges in getting the huge, diverse crew of talents together. Anyone who followed all the trends back then may simply recognize 1985 as the year massive celebrity singalongs were trending. We mustn’t forget Live-Aid and its substantial impact on famine relief.

Coming up with the song depended on finding a hook/chorus that everyone would understand. As for writing something truly deep, Bob Dylan used to care but in his words “things have changed” so it was left to Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, who did the best they could. The song is undeniably simplistic, but they are pop musicians after all, and the result resonated deeply with audiences around the globe. 

The evening was a great success. Diana Ross states that she didn’t want that night to end, and as for Richie, the narrator, he recounts the event as though it happened yesterday! As for what Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis, Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper have to add (amongst others), they were apparently nervous about their own performances, and uncertain as to whether the production could be accomplished in one night!

My favorite singer back then was Huey Lewis, who recalls that he was unprepared, since he wasn’t feeling well. Still, his participation meant a great deal to this viewer.

Although this song’s legacy is somewhat suspect, that’s for another documentary to address. The Greatest Night in Pop is concerned mainly with the difficulties in getting everyone together. Rehearsals form a major part of the film, although what isn’t stated is how many takes were needed to get the music video made. It’s unclear if the song was recorded in bits and pieces, only to be assembled later. Hopefully, there’ll be a follow-up that’ll add more to the discourse. This inquiring video editor wants to know!

Ed Sum

Ed Sum is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, BC. He has an avid interest in film, documentary projects, and music.

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