“We Are the World” and its Haiti-benefiting remake both brought a galaxy of pop stars under one roof for charity. Put the two songs side by side, and you can see why certain singers were offered verses that were originally laid down by some of the 1980s’ most prominent musicians.
The most talked-about torch-passing in the days leading up to the song’s release was Lil Wayne being given a verse originally ad-libbed by rock icon Bob Dylan. Wayne and Dylan’s voices share a distinctly buzzy quality, although in the finished product Weezy’s delivery was smoothed over by Auto-Tune and backed by Carlos Santana’s furious guitar playing.
But from the first verse — in which Justin Bieber takes over for “We Are the World” co-writer Lionel Richie to sing “There comes a time/ When we heed a certain call” — to the song’s ending, in which Wyclef Jean toasts Haiti over the song’s chorus fading out, there are other notable vocal parallels.
Jennifer Hudson more than ably performed a verse originally sung by Stevie Wonder; Pink, singing a line originally taken on by former Journey lead singer Steve Perry, played up the rock elements of her gritty voice; and Mary J. Blige paid tribute to pioneering R&B singer Tina Turner with her take on Turner’s 1985 performance.
The big-voiced Celine Dion was given a verse originally wailed by outlandish pop star Cyndi Lauper, who ad-libbed an octave-leaping “whoa, whoa, whoa” in the lead-in to her verse, and Dion paid dutiful homage to that iconic vocal run.
Barbra Streisand stepped in for a fellow diva, Diana Ross, on the lines “There’s a choice we’re making/ We’re saving our own lives/ It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.” And Miley Cyrus sang a line originally performed by Dionne Warwick with pitch-perfect inflection.
Two singers paid homage to vocalists who appeared on the 1985 version of the track: Adam Levine used his verse to channel Stevie Wonder (Levine’s verse was performed originally by pop/rock singer Kenny Loggins), and Jamie Foxx re-created some of the ad-libs performed by soul pioneer Ray Charles. That’s nothing new for Foxx, since he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the pianist/singer in the 2004 film “Ray.”
Finally, the late Michael Jackson’s vocal contributions to “We Are the World” remained intact, with his sister Janet singing along to the tracks he laid down for the song’s original release. Jackson co-wrote the song with Richie in 1985.