USA for Africa will likely never be eclipsed when it comes to supergroups. Its only song, 1985’s “We are the World,” is the fastest-selling American pop single in history. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie — and featuring 48 additional renowned artists such as Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner and Paul Simon — its global popularity helped raise tens of millions of dollars for humanitarian aid and went quadruple platinum.
But that same year 40 metalheads and hard rockers tried something similar, with somewhat less successful results.
Hear N’ Aid was the cobbled together vision of three Dio members, including Ronnie James, who desired a larger volume of devil horns thrown up for charity. They quickly wrote their own single, “Stars,” and put together a supergroup that included the likes of Rob Halford, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vince Neil, the guitarists of Iron Maiden, Ted Nugent and every member of the glam band Rough Cutt.
The song itself is fairly representative of what metal meant in 1985, as it features one bassist, two drummers and nine lead guitar soloists. In fact, despite 38 singers, of the seven minute run time, nearly three minutes is dedicated strictly to guitar solos that you’ll consider either an absolute treat (and will want to watch the outtakes of) or an unrestrained circlejerk where the winner is George Lynch from Dokken because he’s the only one who showed up to shred in a belly shirt.
It’s somewhat ironic that the metal community’s attempt to convert their successes into charity includes the mantra “We’re stars!!!” as though trying to convince listeners, if not themselves, that this project was as notable as the one which brought together Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson. While Blackie Lawless is a joy to watch, in the grand scheme his appeal is somewhat less than Bob Dylan. And while Dan Aykroyd is a conspicuous inclusion in the USA for Africa video, Hear N’ Aid chooses to include Michael McKean and Harry Shearer posing as their satirical Spinal Tap alter-egos. Even bringing in Journey guitarist Neal Schon ends up illustrating that this is a lower-rent affair since his fellow bandmate Steve Perry was popular enough to be recruited for “We are the World.”
Contractual issues hobbled the release of the song, which contributed to its severely muted impact, and later attempts to reissue “Stars” with a possible modern day update ran into “legal stuff” that has kept the song from ever truly reaching its full potential. And considering its intentions, it seems crass to poke fun at a song that, according to the Wikipedia page, raised at least one million dollars for humanitarian aid.
But it must also be pointed out that, also according to the Wikipedia page, the only evidence any poverty-stricken corner of the world ever benefited from Hear N’ Aid and their headbanging humanitarian efforts comes from Ronnie James Dio… on his Myspace profile.