…in 1985, David [Foster] returned to Vancouver for a year. He and his wife Rebecca bought a house in the same neighbourhood where Bryan Adams and I lived, but we didn’t see much of them. One day I ran into David in the lobby of Little Mountain Sound Studio, where he was producing an album for Paul Hyde and Bob Rock’s group, The Payolas. He approached me in a panic and said, “You have a home studio, right?” I replied that I did.
Visibly excited, David told me he’d just got off the phone with Quincy Jones, who’d just finished recording a Michael Jackson / Lionel Ritchie song for African famine relief called “We Are The World”. Quincy played the song for David over the phone, and said he wanted David to record a Canadian song for Africa — and it had to be finished in the next week or two so it could be included on the U.S. album release!
“We Are The World” was written in response to Bob Geldoff’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, recorded and released the year before (1984). Geldoff’s song raised millions of dollars for Africa, and had already made a significant difference to those suffering from drought and famine. Quincy hoped that a Canadian song might help make a difference too.
David already had a melody, borrowed from a song he’d been working on, and he had a title, “Tears Are Not Enough”, which had been provided by Paul Hyde and Bob Rock. It was nearly twenty years later (2004) when I finally heard the story behind the “title”:
Paul and Bob had been in the studio with Foster on the day that Quincy Jones called. Several weeks earlier they’d written a song called “Tears Are Not Enough”, and after the call from Quincy they played their song for David, thinking it might be suitable for the Famine Relief recording. “So, what do you think?” they asked, when they’d finished presenting the song. “Nice title”, David replied.
The next morning (Friday, February 1, 1985) David arrived at my home studio. He played me his melody on the piano. It was a pretty ballad with an interesting, circular chord progression. He also mentioned Paul and Bob’s title, “Tears Are Not Enough”, which I thought was excellent.
With the melody and the title we had enough to get started, so began recording the track right away. Using his Emulator synthesizer David laid down a piano, followed by a Moog bass, then a bell sound. I added drums and percussion. An hour or two later we had a “basic track” (it was only intended to be a quick “demo” recording, but it worked so well we ended up using it for the final recording).
Then we started working on the lyrics:
We can close the distance
Only we can make the difference
Don’t you know that tears are not enough
It was a good start, but David had to rush away for a session with The Payolas, promising to return the following day. I continued work on the lyrics while my wife Rachel [Paiement] wrote a few lines in French — after all, it was a Canadian song for Africa!
The next day Bryan Adams arrived from Los Angeles and hurried over to help. He looked at the lyrics I’d written so far and immediately suggested an improvement. “How about ‘we can BRIDGE the distance’?”, he said. It was perfect, and with that we were off and running.
We finished the lyric later that evening, then Bryan and Rachel recorded the vocals. The demo was completed at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.
Meanwhile, David enlisted Bryan’s manager Bruce Allen to help assemble a roster of performers. Bruce was well-connected in the music industry, and in quick succession Joni Mitchell and Neil Young agreed to participate. Then Kim Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. Burton Cummings came on board, and so did Geddy Lee and Corey Hart.
Comedians John Candy and Catherine O’Hara offered their services, along with legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and David Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer. Dan Hill, Jane Sibbery, Sylvia Tyson, Robert Charlebois … the list of participants grew by the hour.
I suggested we record the vocals at Manta Studios [in Toronto], where I’d recorded Bryan Adams’ first album (and also Barney Bentall, Lisa Dal Bello and Cano). The room was big enough to accommodate a large group, and I also knew that veteran engineer Hayward Parrott could handle the complex task of recording 30 soloists … plus a chorus of 50!
Michael Godin (A&M Records) contacted Manta owner Andy Hermant, who generously donated the studio. On Saturday (February 9, 1985) we flew to Toronto to prepare for the mammoth recording session planned for the following day.
During the flight we reviewed the lyric sheet and the list of artists and determined who would sing which line. We decided the song should begin with Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot (“As everyday goes by …”), then move to Burton Cummings (“How can we close our eyes …”), then to Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, and so on.
The session took place on Sunday, February 10, 1985. It was a bitter cold day, but hundreds of fans gathered outside Manta to watch the “stars” arrive. Gordon Lightfoot drove himself to the studio in a pick-up truck. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell arrived by taxi. Platinum Blonde arrived in a white stretch limo.
Just as Quincy Jones had done in Los Angeles, Foster taped a poster in the studio lobby that said, “Leave your egos at the door”. Everyone gave 200 percent, and at the end of the day we had the makings of a magical record.
One of the funniest moments happened during Neil Young’s performance. He’d sung his line once or twice already, but Foster still wasn’t happy and asked Neil to try again. When Neil asked why, David told him he was out of tune. “That’s my style, man”, Neil shot back.
For me, one of the highlights was sitting on the studio floor a few feet from Joni Mitchell while she carved graceful lines in the air with her hands as she sang. Another special moment was meeting Richard Manuel, singer and pianist for “The Band”. In fact, Joni Mitchell and “The Band” are two of my biggest musical influences. I was in “fan heaven”, meeting them and hearing them sing lyrics I’d written!
After completing the vocal session in Toronto, David and I returned to Vancouver and booked time at Pinewood Studios and Little Mountain Sound where more instruments were added to the track, including Loverboy’s Doug Johnson and Paul Dean, who contributed keyboards and guitar. Steven Denroche, a member of the Vancouver Symphony, was called in to play French Horn…
One important Canadian artist unable to attend the Toronto recording session was Bruce Cockburn, who was performing in Germany at the time. Cockburn ‘s manager, Bernie Finkelstein, wondered if there wasn’t a way Bruce could record his vocal at a studio in Germany and have it edited into the finished product at a later date. It was a nice idea, but to meet our deadline Bruce’s contribution would have to be filmed and recorded sometime in the next 48 hours. In a moment of weakness I volunteered to fly to Germany!
The good news is, Air Canada provided a free ticket. The bad news is, there were no direct fights — so I had to fly from Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to London, London to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Hamburg … a 44-hour round-trip. I arrived in Hamburg just in time to catch Bruce’s performance at a club on Tuesday evening. I met him backstage, for the first time, after the show.
I’d brought a cassette tape of the song, which Bruce hadn’t heard yet. But before I could even play the tape, Bruce dropped a bomb. He said he hadn’t yet decided if he wanted to participate in the project!
Bernie had neglected to tell me that Bruce hadn’t made up his mind yet — and I’d just spent 22 hours on a #$&@ airplane! In my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged stupor my first reaction was to reach across the table and grab Bruce by the throat with both hands. Instead, I used every ounce of diplomacy I could muster. I told Bruce how magical the session in Toronto had been … how it was truly a special project, and that everyone was looking forward to his involvement, which was true!
Bruce eventually came around, and he agreed to meet me at a Hamburg recording studio the following morning. It took less than an hour to complete Bruce’s audio and video recording, then it was back to the airport for the 22-hour return flight to Vancouver (via Frankfurt, London and Toronto).
I met one of the film people at the airport in Toronto during my two-hour lay-over, and I handed him the Cockburn footage to edit into the video. After spending a much-needed night in my own bed in Vancouver, I flew to Los Angeles the next morning to deliver Bruce’s audio track. Foster and his assistant Chris Earthy met me at the airport, and we rushed over to Kenny Roger’s “Lion’s Share” studio where Cockburn’s vocal was edited into the audio mix that engineer Humberto Gatica had nearly completed.
“Tears Are Not Enough” reached #1 on the Canadian charts and helped raise more than $3-million for African Famine Relief.