"We Are the World" is such a graceful, carefully orchestrated work that it's odd to think of it as being revolutionary. But the single is a breakthrough on two levels.
--Who would have imagined a year ago that it would be possible in the hectic, ego-conscious world of pop to get nearly four dozen artists of the commercial and creative stature of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan into the same studio for anything?
--Even more remarkably, who could imagine the artists then coming up with a record that could cut through the apathy and cynicism that seems to characterize the '80s? Yet "We Are the World"--whose earnings are targeted primarily for famine victims in Africa--has struck an emotional nerve around the world.
But what about the quality of the record?
"We Are the World" received such enormous exposure that it began sounding wearisome in the weeks after its March 7 release. Yet the voices--Jackson, Springsteen, Wonder, Dylan--seemed magical once again when I put the record on the turntable Thursday. It is clearly the record of the last six months.
In drafting my list of the best singles at the midway point in 1985, only records that appeared at least once on Billboard magazine's weekly list of the Top 100 best sellers were considered.
1. USA for Africa's "We Are the World" (Columbia)--Several factors are usually present in a distinguished single, including terrific production, compelling themes and/or arresting vocals. But the best records also step beyond those technical factors to summarize--or even shape--the social and cultural mood of the moment. The great singles in modern pop have done this, and "We Are the World" is one of them.
2. John Fogerty's "Centerfield" (Warner Bros.)--Today's two runners-up both utilize baseball backdrops, but from different perspectives. In this spirited exercise, the former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival celebrates the excitement and promise of a new baseball season. In doing so, he describes his own joy at regaining his rock 'n' roll powers after 10 years on the recording sidelines.
3. Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" (Columbia)--Where "Centerfield" salutes returning to form, this is a rollicking, good-natured expression by someone who has long been at top form, wondering whether he'll sit around and talk about the old days when he's no longer the Boss.
4. Lone Justice's "Ways to Be Wicked" (Geffen)--Tom Petty wrote this stinging tale about a hard-hearted lover, but Maria McKee, the brightest pop-rock talent to surface in Los Angeles in years, sings it with such assurance and power that you'd think she's lived every word of it.
5. Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You?" (RCA)--Annie Lennox too should be a cinch for a Grammy nomination. Hits like "Sweet Dreams" and "Love Is a Stranger" caused Lennox and partner Dave Stewart to be lumped in with Britain's techno-pop movement a couple of years ago, but writer-guitarist Stewart guides her through horn-accented American R&B; territory here with spectacular results.
6. Patti LaBelle's "New Attitude" (MCA)--This veteran performer can be too melodramatic at times, but she is in no danger of emotional excess in this tour de force from the best-selling "Beverly Hills Cop" sound track. Another odds-on Grammy favorite.
7. Paul Hardcastle's "19" (Chrysalis)--The disco textures in this reflection on the Vietnam War are distracting at times, but the message itself is hard to shake once it sinks in: In World War II, the average age of the (American) combat soldier was 26. In Vietnam, he was 19 ... 19 ... 19.
8. The Time's "The Bird" (Warner Bros.)--A playful and sassy dance-floor gem that's one of the best funk pieces in years.
9. Los Lobos' "Will the Wolf Survive?" (Slash)--Although it could use more punch, this is an endearing statement of survival and desire that shows why this East Los Angeles band is such a valuable and original new force.
10. Madonna's "Material Girl" (Sire)--Don't laugh. This is a witty and well-designed (by producer Nile Rodgers) record that helps define Madonna's teasing but far from simple-minded stance. The ultimate in pop ear candy.
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Sunday for Don Henley's Sept. 4-5 dates at Universal Amphitheatre. . . . The Pointer Sisters have added a fifth night (Monday) to their Universal Amphitheatre engagement. . . . Tickets will be available Monday for Ratt's Aug. 3 show at Irvine Meadows and for a Culture Club concert Aug. 18 at Pacific Amphitheatre.