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We Are The World’s vocal arranger offers his take on why Prince didn’t appear on the USA for Africa single, and suggests that he may have been “afraid” of Michael Jackson

 Prince 1985.
Prince 1985.

The release of Netflix documentary The Greatest Night In Pop has once again cast the spotlight on the making of We Are The World, the 1985 charity single that was recorded by a galaxy of stars under the name USA for Africa. 

As previously discussed, one of the bigger mysteries is why Prince, who is known to have been in Los Angeles for the American Music Awards on the night that the song was recorded at A&M Recording Studios in Hollywood, didn’t appear on the record, and now Tom Bahler, the man who Quincy Jones tasked with arranging the vocals on the record, has posited his theory.

“We were going to put Prince in there,” Bahler told Rolling Stone's Music Now podcast, “but I had a feeling Prince had a problem with men. With him, everything was with women. It made him feel good.”

History suggests that Prince declined the opportunity to sing on We Are The World, with Quincy Jones refusing to take him up on the offer of playing guitar on it instead. Also speaking to Rolling Stone, Prince associate Sheila E - who does appear on We Are The World - claims that, once she got to the studio, she was asked to try and get Prince there as well.

“Lionel [Richie] and Quincy kept saying, ‘Why don’t you call Prince,'” she says. “Everyone took turns trying to get me to call him back and have him come down... I just thought, wow, they were all my friends. That’s cold-blooded.”

There’s a little more to this story, too; this was also around the time that Michael Jackson was working on his Bad album, which would ultimately be released in 1987. Rumour has it that Jackson wanted Prince to duet with him on the title track, but that the Minneapolis man wasn’t comfortable with singing the line “Your butt is mine” (or, indeed, having it sung to him).

“I think that was one of his excuses,” says Bahler of the reason that the collaboration never happened, “but I think if anything, he was afraid of Michael. This is pure conjecture on my part. Michael was not afraid of him. Michael wasn't afraid of anybody. He loved everybody.”

Bahler’s relationship with Jackson stretched back to 1979, when Jackson released Bahler’s She’s Out Of My Life - a song that Quincy Jones originally intended to be sung by Frank Sinatra - as a single from his Off The Wall album.

Going into the We Are The World project, Bahler says that Quincy Jones made only two requests of him. “One is, Lionel was the first one to write this. So he should be the first voice we hear. And then because Michael came in and they finished it together, Michael should sing the first chorus."

Bahler also reveals that, when he showed Jones who he had down to sing each line, there was only one choice that he questioned.

“With Tina Turner, I wanted her lower range, which was so warm and so rich. So I wrote her down on her line and Quincy's looking at the chart and he says, ‘man, I don't think Tina can hit that." And I said, ‘she can, trust me on this one.’”

The Greatest Night In Pop is available to watch on Netflix now.