September 9, 2007

Goodwill Hunting: We Are The World

The first post from my other blog, The Battle of Hastings:

Goodwill Hunting:
Record Reviews of Actual Records!

My studio apartment doubles as a library, with hundreds of DVDs, CDs, and books – and now, even records, actual records, warped and dusty, but surprisingly playable. For just one dollar, sometimes less, I can add whole albums to my music collection, a bargain too good to be anything but true.

With prices so low – they must be crazy! – I’ll gamble on a record, or two, or a dozen, where maybe I wouldn’t on a higher-priced CD (even though thrift stores sell them, too, often for less than $2.99). I’ll double up on albums I already own, just so I’ll own them in their older, cooler forms. I’ll even buy albums I’ve only slightly heard of, or albums I suspect will suck, just because there’s nothing to lose, except space.

And some people wonder why I don’t have an iPod. Ninety-nine cents for just one track?! Apple’s treasure is this man’s trash; Goodwill’s trash is this man’s treasure. St. Vincent de Paul is my rock (or my source); armories of misfit Toys in the Attics are my salvation.

But anyway, here’s a fossil I found:

USA For Africa, We Are The World

Like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album often named by music magazines and the Sgt. Pepper liner notes as the greatest of all time, the cover of USA For Africa’s We Are The World features a group photo of musicians and melty-faced wax statues (no less than six Jacksons took part in this “historical recording”!) for future pop-cultural historians (um, me, I guess) to struggle to identify. Thankfully for me, there’s a list of names on the front. Sadly for the members of Huey Lewis’ backing band, “& The News” is listed collectively.

Some of the faces are obvious today. Others are James Ingram and Jeffrey “Definitely Not Ozzy” Osborne. But peep this collection of mid-‘80s talent! Dylan, Springsteen, (Lionel) Richie... that Geldof dude who organizes benefits (he also played Pink in Pink Floyd’s The Wall!)... two token blind guys (and four other posers in sunglasses, indoors)... and, leading off the alphabetical lineup, Dan Aykroyd, representing all the white people who ripped off black people’s music, I guess. (In 1985, when this record was released, the Sgt. Pepper-suited Michael Jackson was still identifiable as a member of the latter race. The banana-suited LaToya, however, is as white as Kenny Rogers’ USA For Africa sweatshirt and matching beard.)

But more than merely a “We Are The World” single, We Are The World is an album, you see. Sure, there’s the song that everyone knows, but then you discover the deep album cuts: “Nine Previously Unreleased Songs,” according to the back cover, or “Nine New Superstar Songs!” according to the front (exclamation point mine). Here’s the tracklist in decreasing superstardom: Prince & The Revolution, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (so far, so good), Tina Turner, Chicago, The Pointer Sisters (good at one time, or so I’ve been told), Huey Lewis & The News (great in Back To The Future), Steve Perry (solo), and Kenny Rogers (ugh).

The ninth superstar is Northern Lights, a supergroup you’ve never heard of, even though you’ve heard of some of its members. Unfortunately for actual superstars Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, the list of Canadian recording artists (Northern Lights, get it?) is alphabetical, so higher billing goes to the artists you’ve heard of either slightly less or possibly not at all: Bryan Adams, John Candy, Corey Hart, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Aldo Nova (who?), Oscar Peterson (um?), and Mike Reno (who’s probably not even real). “And Others” also appear.

But wait! There’s more! Holy pop-cultural artifact, Hatman (my new nickname for the goofily hatted Steve Perry)! The record sleeve is an ad for even more outdated USA For Africa products: books, buttons, pins, posters, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and muscle T-shirts! USA! USA!! USA!!!

Tragically, this offer ended Feb. 1, 1986.

Before I even played this record, I knew the following statements would be true:

1. The title track is gonna be treacly.

2. The superstar B-sides are gonna be bad.

3. This is where Quincy Jones jumped the shark.

After one play, I knew I was right. This processed cheese is why I hate the ‘80s. (The Prince and Bruce cuts aren’t too bad, thought.) Also, although we might be the world, we actually harmed the world with this music. (And Steve Perry, please, just reunite with Journey.) I’ll file this record as a conversation starter, not as something I’m going to play.