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The Greatest Night in Pop movie review

February 10th, 2024 · 20 Comments · Movies, Music

“The Greatest Night in Pop” is The Greatest Documentary About Collective Creation

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The Greatest Night in Pop (Netflix, 2024) directed by Bao Nguyen, is a spectacular riveting colorful fun documentary about the behind-the-scenes making of We Are The World in 1985 with footage of everybody who was involved.  This is not only one of the best music documentaries ever made, it’s one of the greatest cinematic portraits of master artists collectively creating a masterpiece.

The documentary shows how this historic event was sparked by Harry Belafonte and coordinated by Ken Kragen, then led by Maestro Quincy Jones, with songwriters Michael Jackson & Lionel Richie writing “the script.”  Historic footage includes (in alpha order) Dan Aykroyd, Lindsey Buckingham, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Shelia E, Bob Geldof, Darryl Hall & John Oates, James Ingram, a bunch of the Jackson siblings, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Steve Perry, the Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick & Stevie Wonder.  New interviews include Lionel, Smokey, Dionne, Bruce, Huey Lewis! Cyndi, Kenny Loggins, Sheila E., the studio engineer, and the super-cool vocal arranger Tom Bahler who Q first connected with in 1973.

There was a documentary crew capturing the whole thing on four video cameras.  The footage was first used to create the original award-winning song video and a 1-hour TV documentary in 1985 narrated by Jane Fonda, but the footage then sat in a can untouched for 40 years!

There’s great details about Lionel & Michael writing and arranging the song — and how Quincy was the guy who snapped them to it:  “We got the cast.  Now we need the script.”  There’s even footage of the demo they cut before they had most of the lyrics which was then sent to the incoming singers so they’d have a sense of the song.

Running through the whole doc is how Q was the director.  Everybody from Michael on down followed his direction.  If there wasn’t a Quincy Jones, this never would have happened.  He made the legendary sign taped up at the studio entrance — “CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR”  It’s amazing for any music historian who’s heard the tale for 40 years to see actual footage of it!  As somebody mentions, Quincy was the most respected musician in the world.  He’s got Bob Dylan and Diana Ross following orders, fer gawd sakes!  🙂  It’s such a goosebump-raising treat to watch him conducting the greatest all-star choir ever assembled.

And there were no ‘plus ones’ in the studio.  All of the stars had to leave their significant others and handlers outside.  There’s a cute shot of Billy Joel having to kiss Christie Brinkley goodnight.  And with only artists in the room, everyone bonded.  Once again — this was a Quincy directive.

The recording of the song was done after everybody left the American Music Awards.  That show ended at 8PM L.A. time, and by 10:00 everybody was in place on the risers at nearby A&M Studios.  As Lionel says, “It was one night only to get this right.”  They finally got the last solo vocals done and left the studio at 8:00 the next morning.

An interesting detail was how they had the enormous choir we’ve all seen in the video for the basic track and footage, then they recorded each of the solo lines afterwards, so half the choir was able to leave.  And it was amazing how Quincy, Lionel & the vocal arranger mapped out every solo line and matched it to a voice, with a mind to create aural contrasts and flow.  I never gave it much thought — just figured they filmed the whole thing then cut to different people in post-production.  But no — this was scripted down to the minutest detail — all put together in a couple of days.

There’s a great moment at the end of the initial full choir session where Quincy does a shout-out to Harry Belafonte for being the catalyst of the whole thing, then Al Jarreau breaks into an impromptu Day-O, joined in by the entire all-star choir singing their love to Harry.

Plus, like any great drama, humor is sprinkled throughout to keep the audience buoyant.  As Kenny Loggins recounts Paul Simon saying in the studio, “If a bomb lands on this place, John Denver is back on top.”

Or when Stevie Wonder’s improv singing next to Ray Charles, “I drank too much, I have to say, but you have to be driven home by me or Ray.”

And for anyone who loves the singing human voice — boy, are there some gem vocal isolation moments that’ll make you melt. 


Stevie Wonder & Quincy Jones coaching Bob on his solo

This is one of those documentaries where the beginning is as good as the climax, where after you know it, you can dip in at any point and the quality of the storytelling is equally as compelling.  And this could be up for a Best Editing Oscar.  It is really smart, vivid and creative filmmaking.


Bob and Quincy hugging after nailing Bob’s solo

Some other cool tidbits —

When Michael Jackson learned to drive a car, the first place he drove to was Lionel Richie’s house!

There’s a great story recounted about how Diana Ross asked Darryl Hall for his autograph!  Yes . . .  Diana Ross asked Darryl Hall for his autograph!  But that then kicked off everybody signing each other’s music sheets!  It’s so cool seeing all these mega-stars asking each other for autographs.

It was also cool to see how Journey’s lead singer Steve Perry was not only so highly regarded by his peers, but that he’s also seen helping some of them with their parts.  He was almost an assistant coach under Quincy.

There’s a great moment where Stevie Wonder is teaching Bob Dylan how to sing the line like Bob.  🙂  And there’s another great short shot of Quincy teaching Bruce how to sing his line.

As I submitted to IMDb — “The song Lionel Richie bangs out a cappella (starting at 10:58) when talking about writing We Are The World with Michael is Rule, Britannia! (a British anthem written in 1740) which Lionel follows with, “There it is.  There’s your template.

At the end of the doc they show a bunch of different live versions of the song being played over the years and I was a little stunned they didn’t include Bill Clinton’s historic first inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial which I was at in January ’93 featuring originals Michael, Stevie, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, James Ingram . . . plus Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Melissa Etheridge, Reuben Blades, Stephen Stills . . . all with Quincy Jones conducting.  Kinda weird this didn’t get a 10-second appearance.

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Here’s the actual song final video seen by billions worldwide  —

Here’s another excellent and related documentary on Netflix — 

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Here’s my Master Movie Page with over 850 other great movies sorted by Auteurs, Documentaries, Music Movies, Dramas, Comedies, Movies About Making Movies, Movies About Politics, Trippy Movies and other cool categories.

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by Brian Hassett

karmacoupon@gmail.com   —  BrianHassett.com

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —

https://www.facebook.com/Brian.Hassett.Canada

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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Carolyn Victoria Mill // Feb 10, 2024 at 6:23 PM

    Dylan is hilarious in this. Lionel is one hard working fella!

  • 2 Scott Docherty // Feb 10, 2024 at 7:10 PM

    Excellent review, Brian!

  • 3 Marianne Wade // Feb 10, 2024 at 9:25 PM

    Watched it last night it was great! Dylan not at his best.

  • 4 Brian Hassett // Feb 10, 2024 at 10:14 PM

    Marianne — Bob’s no choir singer, so couldn’t add a lot to that, but If you listen to the solo he finally laid down (with help from Stevie & Q) he really nails it.

    Here it is cued to his vocal solo —

  • 5 Carolyn Victoria Mill // Feb 10, 2024 at 11:03 PM

    Was quite something to see Stevie and Quincy holding Bob’s hand and coaxing him to get over himself and BE himself. 🙂

  • 6 Terri Jones // Feb 10, 2024 at 11:52 PM

    Thank you, Brian.

  • 7 Michael Aaron Petty // Feb 11, 2024 at 12:32 AM

    Great documentary. I didn’t know Waylon Jennings walked out until I saw that. Also didn’t know Al Jarreau was downing bubbly all night & was too drunk to remember his part. Lastly Huey Lewis, Cindy Lauper who was great & Kim Carnes were awesome with their parts. Saw a interview with Huey & he is basically deaf these days.

  • 8 Brian Hassett // Feb 11, 2024 at 1:23 AM

    Yeah, Michael — I was SO happy to see that Huey participated in the doc.
    For 40 years or more I’ve heard nothing but great things about him as a human being — just the nicest down-to-earth generous kind guy. It’s so sad what’s happened to such a good human being — but so beautiful to see him interviewed and laughing in the present time, and then how his beautiful buoyant light shined through in the studio surrounded by the biggest stars in the world.
    What a great portrait this is of him . . . within such an historic collective.

  • 9 David Michael Rich // Feb 11, 2024 at 9:37 AM

    It’s a great documentary about an amazing endeavor. I was privileged to have one of the guys who made We Are The World happen, the amazing Ken Kragen, as a mentor and friend for over 25 years. We lost him two years ago. I miss him dearly.

  • 10 Brian Hassett // Feb 11, 2024 at 10:42 AM

    Oh, man! What a GREAT person to have as a mentor and friend, David! Geez!
    You must have loved this doc — it’s such a great testament to him — and there’s so much footage and audio.
    I was in the music business in those mid-’80s years and he was definitely well regarded by all.

  • 11 Norine Cook // Feb 11, 2024 at 6:53 PM

    I have not yet seen The Greatest Night in Pop doc, but have watched the making of We are the World videos on YouTube many times.
    DylanHead that I am, just love the scene where Stevie is teaching Bob how to sing like Bob.

    Thanks for this review, Brian!

  • 12 Brian Hassett // Feb 11, 2024 at 8:03 PM

    Oh, cool, Norine! You’re gonna love this! Although, there’s a few moments where Bob is noticeably feeling out of place.
    Watching it again, I wondered, “What the hell is going thru his mind right now?” He’s completely disengaged from what’s going on around him . . . so, what the hell is going thru that crazy head of his?
    But it’s kinda funny and endearing since we never see that. Including because it probably rarely happens.

    Click the YT clip in the comment above — it’ll take you right to Bob’s line.

    I’m gonna try to grab an image of that Bob–Stevie–Quincy moment and add it to the review.

  • 13 Terry Morrissey // Feb 11, 2024 at 8:41 PM

    Saw it, was way cool. Thanks for the review.

  • 14 Rob Tobias // Feb 11, 2024 at 9:19 PM

    I really enjoyed this documentary.

    I did wonder why Ray Charles was not featured. They did not show his solo performance. It was also not played during the finished song at the end. They did show him in the choir when they all sang the chorus to the song. I suspect a contractual issue.

    Cyndi, Bruce and Huey were awesome. All really … to pull an all nighter and for the most part check the egos … amazing production.

  • 15 Debbie Walker Sterba // Feb 12, 2024 at 11:17 AM

    Thanks Brian. Great recommendation.

  • 16 Angela DeVito // Feb 12, 2024 at 1:56 PM

    It was so good! I have to say Steve Perry nailed his part! And, of course, Stevie Wonder hit it out of the park. They all did great! Quincy is a master!

  • 17 Sandi Weinfield // Feb 12, 2024 at 8:17 PM

    Very cool, Brian!!

  • 18 Herb Proske // Feb 13, 2024 at 11:04 AM

    Saw it last night. Definitely very cool!

  • 19 Beth Robertson // Feb 13, 2024 at 8:13 PM

    I watched it a couple of weeks ago – it was amazing! Thanks for this.

  • 20 Diane L. West // Feb 14, 2024 at 1:16 PM

    Watched it last night! Loved it!

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