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There are some big problems in the world, and this song is here to remind you that you really ought to be doing something about them, with vivid descriptions of the problem and a call to action. Often the recourse of artists who feel like they should be using their worldwide fame to make a positive impact on the big problems faced by charitable organizations -- or in other cases, just a powerful subject for a good song.
A more cynical potential motivation that's often suggested/joked about is that the performers don't care as much (if at all) about the cause in question as they are about the goodwill this can engender with the public and press.
Don't be surprised if the music video has a number you can call to donate today, or if the publisher elects to donate a portion of all album proceeds to a relevant charity. Also a popular choice for commercials soliciting charitable donations. This type of song was particularly popular in The Eighties, when it was common to round up whole choruses of name musicians to sing one song in support of a cause; the hammy, earnest performances that often result can be Snark Bait. In fact, it may be on the verge of becoming a Discredited Trope: Todd in the Shadows pointed out in his review of the 2010 "We Are the World" remake that it was hard to take the whole production seriously since the original had been so often parodied after its release in 1985.
Compare Protest Song, which is generally a specific protest against some specific event or practice and is more about social or political change than encouraging participation in existing charity work.
- Michael Jackson: "Heal the World", "Man In The Mirror", and (to some extent) "Earth Song"
- Phil Collins: "Another Day in Paradise", "Colors", and "Long Long Way to Go"
- Genesis: "Land of Confusion" (the climax of the video, which features Spitting Image puppets, parodies the "all-star choir" concept with one made up of celebrity caricatures).
- Expose: "Tell Me Why".
- Declan Galbraith: "Tell Me Why" (different song from Expose's).
- Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is The Love?" and its Flight of the Conchords parody "Think About It".
- "Charity" from Peter Schickele's Go For Broke.
- "Do They Know It's Christmas?", co-written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (of Ultravox) and originally performed by Band Aid, was the first of the "celebrity chorus" songs.
- "We Are the World", which followed on from Band Aid's success, and likewise sought to help.
- Elvis Presley: "In the Ghetto".
- Bruce Hornsby and the Range: "The Way It Is".
- In France, the charity Les Restaurants du Coeur, which gives food to the needy, is indissociable of the song and concerts from the sort-of band Les Enfoirés (lit. "The Bastards").
- The Onion's A.V. Club took a snarky look at these with the Inventory list "14 Overblown Charity/Advocacy Songs Besides 'We Are the World'".
- "Room In Your Heart" is a song performed by Beaker and Dr Honeydew as they try to get Scrooge to donate to charity in The Muppet Christmas Carol. It was cut from the actual movie, but does appear on the soundtrack album.
- At the first Comic Relief USA benefit show in 1986, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Richard Belzer performed an original rap song, "Cut the Grief with Comic Relief", that humorously approached the topic of helping the homeless.
- Loreena McKennitt's "Breaking the Silence" for Amnesty International.
- "Tears are Not Enough", by Northern Lights, Canada's response to "We Are The World".
- "Stars", by Hear 'n Aid, Heavy Metal's response to "We Are The World" (which didn't enlist metal performers for its all-star chorus).
- "Doctor in Distress", by Who Cares?, a supergroup of mid-level celebrities unsuccessfully trying to save the original run of Doctor Who. (The profits actually went to cancer research.)
- There are several notable examples in Country Music:
- "Tomorrow's World" (1990), a multi-artist single honoring the 20th anniversary of Arbor Day. Notable for being co-written by Kix Brooks before he gained fame as one-half of Brooks and Dunn.
- "Hope" (1996), honoring the T.J. Martell Foundation for cancer research. It featured big names such as Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Trisha Yearwood.
- "What If", by Reba McEntire in 1997. Money made by the single went to the Salvation Army.
- "One Heart at a Time" (1998), a charity single for cystic fibrosis. It featured Garth Brooks, Billy Dean, Faith Hill, Neal McCoy, Michael McDonald, Olivia Newton-John, Victoria Shaw (who wrote it) and Bryan White.
- "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well" from The Simpsons's episode "Radio Bart", which featured Krusty the Clown, his good friend Sting, and a host of Springfield-associated luminaries such as Sideshow Mel and the Capital City Goofball.
- Saturday Night Live had two cold openings spoof these. Recurring characters of the period, led by Frankenstein's Monster (Phil Hartman), sang "Fire Bad!" in response to the Rodney King riots of 1992. When Michael Jordan first retired from basketball in 1993, the cast spoofed such acts as the B-52s and The Proclaimers with a medley of their hits rewritten to beg him to return to the sport; the real Aerosmith pitched in with a "Dream On" rewrite.
- They also did a parody of the new version of We Are The World and its overproduction: Amongst the group were Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, and Willie Nelson with others
- Another parody used the format (one of the singers was Jerry Garcia, played by Chris Farley), but the subject of the song was explaining the intricacies of Clinton's Whitewater scandal, so it was less charity-driven and more Public Service Announcement-driven.
- An In Living Color parody of "We Are the World" featured the cast as musicians who were either has-beens (i.e. Yoko Ono) or struggling with financial problems at the time (Willie Nelson); the song was asking the listeners to support them.
- The video for Pulp's "Bad Cover Version" is a parody of the "Do They Know It's Christmas" video, featuring celebrity impersonators of noted musicians performing the song.
- "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en" by North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative, a one-off supergroup featuring Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Feist, Beck, Karen O, Russell Mael, and Thurston Moore, among many others. Oddly enough, it's both a parody of charity singles and an actual charity single itself: All proceeds went to UNICEF.
- On Thirty Rock, Jack has a brilliant idea to record a generic charity song to have in readiness for the next natural disaster to scoop the other networks. Jenna touchingly sings "That thing that happened/was so sad/we can't believe it was so bad/when the stuff we know occurred..." Unfortunately they air it hurriedly on news of the devastation of a small island that turns out to be Mel Gibson's vacation compound.