The Greatest Night in Pop

On the night of January 28, 1985, dozens of the biggest names in American music gathered inside A&M Studios in Los Angeles. As they arrived, each was reminded by event host and producer Quincy Jones to, “check your ego at the door.”

It was the night of the American Music Awards and what would eventually come out of the gathering was a song to benefit African famine relief that would alter global pop culture history. And fortunately for us, cameras were rolling.

What became of the footage from that night is The Greatest Night in Pop, an absolutely fascinating documentary film from Bao Nguyen that is currently playing on Netflix.

"an exquisite time capsule of melody and culture"

The Greatest Night in Pop emerges as not just a film, but an exquisite time capsule of melody and culture that celebrates the harmony of legendary stars thumping to the rhythm of passion and purpose. With sitting interviews from Lionel Ritchie, Huey Lewis, a few of the behind-the-scenes technical people who made the event happen, and the personable narration from Ritchie, we’re whisked through that memorable night to marvel at Quincy Jones's ingenious production guidance, as the event takes us on an emotional and awe-inspiring journey deep into the heart of music history.

The inspiration for the gathering came from Bob Geldof’s “Do they Know it’s Christmas” the year prior which sparked the idea for musician and activist Harry Belafonte to create an American benefit single for African relief. A couple of weeks and a few phone calls later, Jones, Ritchie, and Michael Jackson had a song in hand and a gaggle of musicians ready to lend a voice. Among them were Huey Lewis, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Steve Perry, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Cindy Lauper, and another dozen or two legendary figures.

What came out of the music event was a music video, a VHS, a special edition magazine, a simulcast, several books, posters, and shirts as well as a single which went on to sell 20 million copies and currently sits as the ninth best selling physical single of all time.

Some of the film’s most endearing moments are captured by the spontaneous interactions of the artists as they pause between takes. We can’t help but be charmed and amused when Stevie Wonder offers to help Ray Charles find the bathroom, or when Paul Simon, after looking around in awe at the assembled talent, quips “if a bomb lands on this studio, John Denver will be back on top of the charts.”The Greatest Night in Pop

One of the film’s most uncomfortable moments comes as we watch Bob Dylan, who is clearly our of his element, struggle to find his groove when it comes time for his solo. But Stevie Wonder, being the talent that he is, pulls Dylan to the side and belts Dylan’s solo in a voice that perfectly mimics Dylan’s conversational crooning style. It is a moment of pure delight!

And then there’s Waylon Jennings’ memorable “peace out” moment. At some point in the production, Stevie Wonder suggests singing part of the chorus in Swahili. Naturally Jennings was having none of that, and was seen heading for the door saying “Ain’t no good ol’ boy ever sung Swahili. Guess I’m out of here.” Ritchie notes, “we lost Waylon right there.”

At its core, The Greatest Night in Pop resonates with themes that extend beyond mere musical genius and starstruck spectacle —it's an emblem of compassion, unity, and the extraordinary effect of collective efforts for a cause greater than themselves. Something the world could use a lot more of right now. With his film, Nguyen captures an era when music wasn't just sound but a social rallying cry that echoed the sentiments of millions. It goes beyond entertainment—it's an enduring lesson in empathy and the boundless capacities of human spirit channelled through the universal language of music.

If ever the power of a tune was underestimated, The Greatest Night in Pop cements its significance with poise and profound grace.

5/5 stars

Film Details

The Greatest Night in Pop

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
96 mins
: Bao Nguyen

Lionel RichieHarriet SternbergWendy Rees
: Documentary | Music
The Untold Story Behind We are the World
Memorable Movie Quote: "Check your ego at the door."
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 29, 2024
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
Synopsis: On January 28, 1985, dozens of the biggest names in music convened at a studio in Los Angeles, checked their egos at the door and recorded a song to benefit African famine relief that would alter global pop culture history. The Greatest Night in Pop chronicles the massive undertaking to assemble the world’s most impressive supergroup in a world before cell phones and email.


The Greatest Night in Pop