How Huey Lewis Sang the ‘We Are the World’ Line Meant for Prince
When Prince bailed out of the "We Are the World" recording session in January 1985, Huey Lewis jumped in to take his place on the line meant for him.
Speaking to Questlove on the Questlove Supreme podcast, Lewis said, "I got Prince's line. Prince didn't show on the whole deal."
Lewis went into detail on the session. "It was unbelievable," he said. "You don't get to meet all those people in a lifetime or a career. And Ray Charles was there! I couldn't even introduce myself to Ray Charles. I just hung back and watched him. I'm just totally in awe of Ray Charles. ... I couldn't stop my leg from shaking I was so nervous."
He remembered the night began at 10PM, after the American Music Awards, and going all night, with Bob Dylan recording his part around 6 or 7AM. They started with the background vocals, which took about two and a half hours. Then it came time to do the solos.
Thinking he was done, Lewis was in the green room when he heard that producer Quincy Jones wanted to see him. "I come walking back into the studio, [Jones] goes, 'Smelly, sing him the line.' He calls Michael [Jackson] 'Smelly.' Michael sings the line. Then I sing it. He goes, 'Good, you got it.' And it was Prince's line that I got."
The lyric, "But if you just believe, there’s no way we can fall,” comes in the bridge, between Jackson and Cyndi Lauper. It didn't matter to Lewis that the line was at the top of his vocal range. "I just went for it," he continued. "He sang it. I sang it back. That is kind of like a fog for me. I was so nervous. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles."
Producer Quincy Jones and engineer Humberto Gattica had hoped to get all the individual performances recorded live, rather than overdubbing, because of the possibility for vocals bleeding into the other live microphones. But it kept breaking down before it came time for Lewis' line. They eventually got through it, and then Jones came up with the idea of having Lewis harmonize with Lauper, a prospect which initially scared him, although "it worked out. I don't even know what I did."
Lewis also recalled that Wonder had lobbied for the background vocals to be in Swahili, a story that Questlove had previously heard. So they found a pair of African women to translate the lyrics, but the tongue-clicking consonants used in the language made it impossible. Then Ray Charles joked, "Ring the bell, Quincy. Ring the bell."
Prince never explained why he missed the "We Are the World" session. The closest he came was in "Hello," the b-side to "Pop Life," where he sang, "I tried to tell them that I didn't want to sing / But I'd gladly write a song instead."
Over the years, people have speculated that it could have been due to his desire for complete control, a possible rivalry with Jackson or even that he didn't like the song, all of which were brought up by Questlove and his co-hosts. Through his manager, he offered to play guitar, but Quincy Jones shouted back, “I don’t need him to fucking play guitar!"
Instead, he offered a track of his own, "4 the Tears in Your Eyes," for the full-length album that was released six weeks after the single.