As one of the most critically acclaimed musicians of the 1980s, Prince was at the top of the list of musicians that producer Quincy Jones wanted for the recording of “We Are the World,” a single recorded on Jan. 28, 1985, the night of the American Music Awards, for a charitable relief effort called USA for Africa.
Jones would not get his wish. He would, however, get more than 40 other voices, including Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross and Jones’ co-writer on the song, Michael Jackson.
“I was with Prince one day at his home studio, just the two of us,” says Susan Rogers, an audio engineer who recorded many of Prince’s early albums, “and he got a call from Quincy Jones asking him to come be part of ‘We Are the World.’ I only hear Prince’s side of the conversation—I was in the control room waiting—but he declined it. It was a long conversation, and Prince said, ‘Can I play guitar on it?’ And they said no, and he ultimately said, ‘Okay, well, can I send Sheila?’ And he sent Sheila. Then he said, ‘If there’s going to be an album, can I do a song for the album?’ And evidently, they said yes.”
Prince’s “no” took an unfortunate turn when, after the AMAs, he decided to take a limousine to the restaurant and nightclub Carlos & Charlie’s on Sunset Boulevard with Jill Jones and several bodyguards.
“As Prince and his entourage exited the restaurant at about 2 a.m., several paparazzi descended on him, and one audacious photographer jumped into his limousine,” writes Alex Hahn in The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988. Prince and his friends were frightened and outraged and bodyguards Lawrence Gibson and Wally Safford seized the photographer’s camera and ejected him from the limo. The police were called and Gibson was arrested for battery and Safford for robbery.
“Predictably, the confluence of these back-to-back events — Prince’s no-show at a high-profile charitable event, and a violent incident involving his security staff — brought down a hail of negative publicity,” Hahn writes. “Any nuances in either story were blurred, and Prince came off as self-centered, security-obsessed, and, most damningly, unwilling to drop his rock star pretenses for a charitable cause.”
The public relations debacle was compounded by the fact that Prince wasn’t speaking to the media at the time; it would be months before he would break his silence in the September 1985 interview with Neal Karlen for Rolling Stone. Prince recorded his side of the story in the song “Hello,” the B-side to “Pop Life,” and “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” was released as the sixth track on the compilation album We Are The World. But the public relations damage was done.
In his 2014 biography Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, author Alan Light spoke with Wendy Melvoin, guitarist for The Revolution.
“I wasn’t allowed to say the real reason” Prince didn’t show up, Melvoin says. “Because he thinks he’s a badass and he wanted to look cool, and he felt like the song for ‘We Are the World’ was horrible and he didn’t want to be around ‘all those muthafuckas.’”