It’s only a matter of time before Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones recruit a cavalcade of stars to churn out natural disaster-influenced prose, chocked-full of over-schmaltzy, digression-filled ramblings in wake of the massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean that galvanized sea surges, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of individuals residing throughout Eastern Asia.
[lighter] Now, the first overproduced ballad, instigated by R&B crooner Brian McKnight and P.O.D. vocalist Sonny Sandoval, will raise funds for the tsunami victims. The duo has enlisted the assistance of a handful of musicians in assembling the track, “Forever in Our Hearts.” (Godhead guitarist Mike Miller and Trapt’s Simon Ormandy will be accompanied by bassist Marty O’Brien of Disturbed, as well as drummers Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction and Josh Freese of A Perfect Circle.)
Kelly Downey, a recent MSU graduate and modern rock connoisseur at 89X radio in Detroit, said she’s fine with the tribute lineup. “That’s not so bad. They’re artists from well-known bands who are just trying to incorporate music and songs into our lives after a tragedy.”
However, there is one caveat to the all-star lineup of artists lending their musical expertise to the “Forever in Our Hearts” production. Surprise, surprise: a few less than talented individuals have been added to the list of vocalists, many of whom are ‘80s & ‘90s rock and movie stars who’s brief stint with stardom ended years ago.
Nuno Bettencourt, (true ‘90s-music devotees should remember the band Extreme for their sexually-charged love ballad “More Than Words” that gave thousands of hormone-crazed middle-schoolers the go-ahead to grope their crush for the first time at a dance), Ming Na (better known for her 1995 role on NBC’s E.R. as “Dr. Deb Chen”) and, prepare yourself for this one, Corey Feldman (you know, “Mouth” from The Goonies) will all lend their vocal chords for the tribute.
After revealing slated vocalists for the tune, Downey interjected. “I retract my previous statement.”
Leave it to musically-challenged rockers and washed-up movie stars to hitch a ride on the tribute song bandwagon, in one last attempt to snag a Grammy nomination or jumpstart their nose-diving careers. Not surprisingly, the music industry is the first called upon, and the most eager, to respond with shameless, over-publicized and artistically awful ballads when disaster strikes. The AIDS epidemic, African famine, September 11th, teen pregnancy rates, hell, even the death of former first lady Barbara Bush’s Springer spaniel, Millie – you name it, a tribute song has not only been written about it, but it’s also been picked up by a record label.
And it doesn’t stop at Hollywood icons and rock stars. There are thousands of weepy, lackluster lyricists who think that their stairway to musical stardom lies in a tribute song.
Actively avoiding T.V. and radio airwaves is the only conceivable way anyone could have missed the overabundance of tribute songs released throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and even today, slated to heal the wounds of the world. Characteristically, tribute songs are tunes that have been written and recorded over the course of a few days, featuring a star-studded cast that belts out a chorus filled with sappy and intermittent news clips intended to make a tear roll down the listener’s cheek. Of course, immediately following a tribute song’s release, a 2-disc CD/DVD including “rare footage” of the recording sessions featuring the project’s contributors diligently composing the ballad in a team effort is made available for purchase (for only $29.95!).
[weare] The 1984, British charity ballad “Do They Know It’s Christmas” instigated the onslaught of the all-star tribute song formula now rampant in the United States. The melody even won a 1985 Grammy award-winning song of the year “We Are the World.” (But, remember, a Grammy does not signify talent.) Orchestrated by Quincy Jones, and featuring the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and Michael Jackson, “We Are the World” was released to generate funds for famine in Africa. While the notorious charity song raised millions for hunger and even snagged academy accolades, the reality is that this and the majority of charity songs are devoid of artistic merit.
It’s not uncommon for talented musicians featured on a charity track to voice their opposition to the flat, artistically awful lyrics they are asked to chant, and some fear that collaborating on a charity song will compromise their credibility.
Think about it: as a musician asked to sing the lyrics for psychic-advocate Dionne Warwick’s ‘80s tribute ballad, “That’s What Friends Are For,” you will inevitably be making an appearance on any one of the multitude of the “we’re rich and famous, but we care” ballads, bobbing your head to the tune with their eyes closed as you hold onto the side of a gigantic pair of headphones to make it all look real, while standing next to former child star, Dustin Diamond (aka “Screech” from Saved By the Bell). At this point, you would probably question the song’s generic sentimentality.
“For good times, for bad times/
I’ll be on your side forever more/
That’s what friends are for…”
Wow – that’s, um…uh…very enlightening.
But tragedy after tragedy, these musicians keep the songs coming. Even more sadly, the public devours and digests the over-processed tripe fed to them: we stand 20 minutes in line at Best Buy to purchase the new release, along with the digitally re-mastered subsequent re-releases, only to have them collect an inch of dust three weeks later. Why? Because, we fear the wrath of the music industry who urges us to contribute in the name of charity.
The question here is not whether the tribute songs are a blatant self-promotion of the music and movie industries—this is quite evident—but rather if these tributes should be received by the public simply because they have been released for a “good cause.”
I see no problem with artists establishing charities intended to collects funds from individuals interested in contributing. Take for example Linkin’ Park’s response to the recent tsunami. Instead of joining the masses and re-releasing a less-than-heartfelt rendition of “We Are the World” with the potential to generate millions, the band set up the Music Relief Fund that funnels donations contributed by fans to the Red Cross. The band is making a difference by resisting the urge to contribute yet another tribute song that will share the headlines of yesterday’s news with the Ugg Boot craze.
And I’m not implying that tribute songs can’t peacefully exist within the music industry and be played across the airwaves. And I know there are musicians gifted enough to dedicate an emotive tribute song exuding passion and dignity– hello, John Lennon (“Imagine”) and Bob Marley (“The Redemption Song”) did it.
I only ask that artists refrain from generating less than poignant songs lacking artistic vision with out-of-the-frame stars. Please, haven’t the victims suffered enough?

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