Prince Donates His ‘Tears’ to USA for Africa: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
On "Hello," the Around the World in a Day-era b-side, Prince begins by singing, “I tried 2 tell them that I didn't want 2 sing / But I'd gladly write a song instead.” The “them” in question were the organizers of USA for Africa, the charity behind the star-studded powerhouse single, “We Are the World,” and the song Prince wrote was “4 the Tears in Your Eyes."
It remains a mystery if “4 the Tears in Your Eyes” was written specifically for the We Are the World album, or if Prince plucked it from the vault and donated it to the cause. While the hit single “We Are the World" was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in response to the famine in Africa, the other tracks on the album were likely donations from the vaults of other notable artists. Bruce Springsteen contributed a live version of Jimmy Cliff's “Trapped." Chicago’s single, “Good for Nothing” (co-written by Richard Marx), is their last official release with Peter Cetera. Steve Perry was also present, but without his Journey band mates.
“We Are the World”, the song, is notable for everyone who was present – just about anyone who was anyone in popular music in 1985 – and one person who wasn’t: Prince. The main cast portion of the recording took place Jan. 28, 1985, right after the American Music Awards. The environment seemed right up Prince’s alley -- an all-night studio affair - but for some reason he bowed out and sent Sheila E. as his ambassador.
In Per Nilsen's book, Dancemusicsexromance, Prince's former lighting designer, Roy Bennett, said, "(Prince) wanted to do his own thing. He didn't want to get lost amongst the crowd with everybody else, singing a Michael Jackson line in a Lionel Richie song. He wasn't snubbing the idea, but I think he felt he could give something better." Prince was much more modest, saying, "I would probably have clammed up with so many great people in the room."
Instead, Prince donated “4 the Tears in Your Eyes," a simple retelling of the Jesus parable that was way less emotional than “God" and way less anthemic than “The Cross." According to PrinceVault, it was recorded with the Revolution on Feb. 2, 1985, by a sound truck at the Superdome in New Orleans the day after the band performed there.
Nilsen notes, "While the 'We Are the World' team at A&M reportedly got through some $15,000 during their recording session, Prince put together his track with just some salami and cheese leftovers and a can of warm Coke that (engineer Susan) Rogers managed to scavenge from the Superdome's staff."
Prince, Wendy and Lisa re-teamed to record a slower “video version” in Los Angeles that was shown during the Live Aid concerts from London and Philadelphia in lieu of an appearance. Prince didn’t want to lip-sync to the original song, so he let the camera roll and delivered an emotional live take.
Also in Nilsen's book, Rogers described the video shoot. "He really needed to get psyched up to do the song with proper emotion. There were a few crew members there, which he hated but he had to have them there because it was a video shoot. He went off in a dark corner by himself to just sort of meditate on it, before going back in and singing it. I think this version is beautiful."
This version made the eventual Hits/B-Sides album while the original (along with the entire We Are the World album) remains out of print.
We Are the World quickly ascended to No. 1 on Billboard's album chart, where it stayed for two weeks, when it was replaced by Phil Collins' No Jacket Required. However, Prince soon regained the top spot with Around the World in a Day.