When you think of singles recorded for charity, you most likely think of hits like “We Are The World,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “Voices That Care.” But for heavy metal fans in the 1980s, there was a more resonant charity recording in “Stars” by Hear ’N Aid. Featuring members of dozens of key hard rock bands — Judas Priest, Queensryche, Dio, Journey, Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Dokken and Iron Maiden included — “Stars” is full of higher-register vocals, guitar-shredding and quotable lyrics.
Recorded at A&M Records Studio in May 1985, “Stars” was helmed by Ronnie James Dio to help raise money for famine relief in Africa. While “Stars” is what most people think of when the name Hear ’N Aid is mentioned, “Stars” was only one song on the project’s compilation album; then-unreleased tracks from KISS, Motörhead, Rush and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were also included. “Stars” was also featured on a documentary, Hear ’N Aid – The Sessions, a home video release. Ultimately, Hear ’N Aid raised $1 million within a year of release.
While the Hear ’N Aid video and album have been out of print for decades, they are still remembered with fondness by a lot of people. Happy to offer memories about “Stars” were a variety of personalities, including six musicians who performed on the 1985 classic:
• Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma
• Y&T singer and lead guitarist Dave Meniketti
• Former Dokken (and current Foreigner) bassist Jeff Pilson
• Rough Cutt guitarist Chris Hager
• Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali
• Former TNT vocalist Tony Harnell
• Bowling For Soup frontman Jaret Reddick
• Singer/songwriter (and Verve Records A&R guy) Mike Viola
• Producer and singer/songwriter Linus Of Hollywood
• OK Go drummer Dan Konopka
• Nerf Herder drummer Steve Sherlock
• Comedian, author and Valley Lodge frontman Dave Hill
• Longwave and Hurricane Bells singer Steve Schiltz
• Iridesense guitarist/vocalist Rick Eberle
• Singer/songwriter Lucy Woodward
• Music licensing specialist James Lance
• Actor and Common Rotation singer Adam Busch
• Killingsworth Recording Company CEO and Diffuser frontman Tomas Costanza
• Porter Block frontman and In A State host Peter Block
• Lojinx owner Andrew Campbell
• Metal Sludge editor Gerry Gittelson
• Sea By The City blogger Anthony Dalto
• Analog Spark label head Mark Piro
• Veteran A&R executive Stu Fine
Check out “Stars” by Hear ‘N Aid:
How would you describe “Stars” to someone who hasn’t seen or heard it before?
Tony Harnell: An 80’s hard rock “We Are The World.”
Jaret Reddick: I always describe it as a “hair metal ‘We Are The World.’” I guess that doesn’t do it justice, because Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and such aren’t hair metal. Also, and I mean this with the most respect possible, what the hell were Blue Oyster Cult doing there?!
Linus Of Hollywood: “Stars” was like the “We Are The World” of the heavy metal world. It was a song for charity that featured a veritable who’s who of the metal world. Like most things metal, it was awesome and it was silly.
Steve Sherlock: It’s a smorgasbord of well-balanced, metal madness. Eat it up…but try to avoid getting any hair stuck in your teeth.
Tomas Costanza: The ultimate culmination of the most iconic heavy metal artists the world has ever known.
Mike Viola: Even if you don’t like metal, hard rock, or hair metal, you’ll enjoy this tribute for its chaos and confusion alone. Is this for famine relief? Or just a cry for some metal attention in the night?
Steve Schiltz: ”Stars” is on one hand, a heavy metal version of “We Are The World” or Band Aid, dedicated to help relieve famine in Africa. “Stars” is also a ridiculous gathering of heavy metal talent and egos in the mid 80s, with varying questionable involvement. Was Vince Neil there to satisfy a parole/community service requirement for his role in Razzle from Hanoi Rocks’ death? Does it matter?
Check out behind-the-scenes footage from the “Stars” session:
James Lance: On the surface, musically, it’s classic solo-era Dio in various levels. Musical composition, rhythm, key, lyrics — it’s all the hallmarks of that Holy Diver/Last In Line-era. As for the “Stars” video, oh, where to begin. You know how Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years encompasses all the so wrong/so right touchstones of 80s rock/metal/scene/excess? Why sit through a feature-length when you have it ALL and THEN SOME in a video under seven minutes…Geez, I could do 15 minutes of dynamite material on <Geoff Tate’s hair, sunglasses and white jumpsuit ALONE. Neal Schon’s guitar faces? Boom, another 10 minutes of bits. [Kevin] DuBrow just absolutely committed and going for it all the way on the vocal delivery — YES!
Dave Hill: It’s kind of like “We Are The World” and Band Aid only with way more guitar solos, hair spray, and — I’m guessing — cocaine. Also, Dio was there, which instantly makes it the best charity music thing that has ever happened ever.
Mark Piro: Heavy metal’s answer to “We Are The World.”
Adam Busch: It’s like Spinal Tap, only they are not kidding.
Lucy Woodward: A healthy smorgasbord of male vocalists who all think, but not say, this: “Oh yeah, he hit that note? Well, I’m gonna hit THIS note!” But ya know, for charity.
What is your favorite part of the “Stars” song?
Linus Of Hollywood: Geoff Tate’s first line always cracks me up: “We are calling you, calling youuuuuuu.” So over the top and so Geoff Tate. He kinda looks like a rooster in the video. I also like the five-minute guitar solo where they put Buck Dharma in the same room as Yngwie J. Malmsteen.
Steve Schiltz: It’s obviously a toss-up between Geoff Tate’s verses and George Lynch’s guitar breaks — Mr. Insania vs. Mr. Scary!
An interview with Ronnie James Dio from MuchMusic:
Jaret Reddick: That is a tough one. I am fairly good at impressions, so I can pretty much sing the song and mimic everyone’s voice. I would say it is a tie between Geoff Tate’s “We are forever you and IIIII-HiiiiHiiiiiieeeeeyyyy” and Paul Shortino’s “Forever we will Shi-hiiiine YEAHHHHH.”
Mike Viola: When Paul Shortino sings “and we all want to touch a rainbow.” Painfully sad and kind of gross.
Lucy Woodward: Paul Shortino singing “and we all want to touch a rainbow” in the second verse. SUCH conviction. I believe him.
Tomas Costanza: I never knew who Paul Shortino was until I heard this song. I absolutely love his vocals on this track. I think his style and delivery shine through most of the other vocalists. I also feel like Don Dokken and Geoff Tate have unique vocal performances as well.
Rick Eberle: The look in Kevin DuBrow’s eyes, and of course the hero worship of Dio.
Peter Block: My favorite part of the song is the face-melting solo section where every lead guitar player from each band gets a chance to melt your face with hyperbolic scales and tone. Interesting to see all Stratocasters and strat-type guitars. Not a Gibson in the whole bunch.
Steve Sherlock: When I was a teenager, it was all about the guitar solos. My friends and I would have endless debates on who had the gnarliest lead part. I always favored George Lynch’s leads. Now, as a “grown-up,” I lean more towards the fact that Dio was the mastermind behind the project, and the song was unmistakably his. It was truly crushing when the world lost Ronnie.
Dave Hill: Whenever Dio sings is awesome, of course, but the guitar solos are pretty incredible. I’m glad all the shredders could set aside their differences and rip some sweet solos together in the name of starving children and stuff, if only for a day. I’m still a little disappointed that Warren DeMartini from Ratt wasn’t there, but if I remember correctly they let Yngwie rip two solos, which kind of makes up for it. “Here you go, starving children — this one incorporates Paganini!”
A 2010 Manitoba tribute to “Stars”
Andrew Campbell: Retrospectively, the incredible amount of earnest vocal vibrato and the hilarious guitar solos.
Mark Piro: The guitar solo. Particularly the feeling that it should have been over a long time ago, and yet it keeps going.
Anthony Dalto: The guitar solos. The way music in general has evolved, we will never have a guitar ego showcase like this again.
What about the video? Is there a highlight for you?
Andrew Campbell: I didn’t get to see the video at the time as it wasn’t widely accessible in the U.K.; very few homes had MTV. Looking at it now, I remember how much I longed for such awesome hair. It’s the most 80’s metal thing you will ever see.
Dan Konopka: My favorite aspect of the video is the behind-the-scenes view of them recording the song in the studio. Each guy getting their sound, twisting amp dials and finding their voice. I love old Hollywood recording studios. I wish I could’ve been there to watch these guys cut solos. They’re rock pros!
Anthony Dalto: Michael McKean, who played David St. Hubbins in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. Just seeing him in the middle of the crowd wailing away just makes me so happy.
Jaret Reddick: I had the making of “Stars” on VHS. So I love how it is cut together for just random stuff happening throughout the day. It’s pretty amazing to see Spinal Tap on there in character. But I think the long version with guitar solos has to be the best bit.
Steve Sherlock: My favorite video part was actually from the making-of VHS called, The Hear ’N Aid Sessions. It was the short Spinal Tap interview, where David St. Hubbins threatens to turn his guitar into a coffee table after hearing Yngwie play. Hubbins then quips about how Yngwie uses his middle initial so you won’t “confuse him with all the other Yngwie Malmsteens in the business.”
A Korean tribute to “Stars”:
Dave Hill: I love the Spinal Tap cameos and I also find Blackie Lawless oddly-compelling when he appears to be giving vocal direction to no one in particular at one point. Seriously though, how much cocaine do you think was in the building that day? I also like how many dudes in he video just can’t be bothered with sleeves.
Linus Of Hollywood: It’s fun to look at all the hair. So much Aqua Net. If someone lit a match in that room, heavy metal would’ve ceased to exist that day.
Mike Viola: Just the little glimpses of anger and righteousness in Dio’s eyes across the whole video.
Stu Fine: The guitar players…and the Carmine Appice cameo.
Lucy Woodward: Delightful seeing the Spinal Tap cameo.
Steve Schiltz: Ted Nugent and Spinal Tap, in the same room, which looks surprisingly like a room that could have been used a few years later for the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.
Mark Piro: Imagining what that group sing-along must have sounded like in the room.
Tony Harnell: What does hit me when watching it is that unlike “We Are The World,” there’s definitely a sense of competition among the performers I don’t recall seeing in Michael Jackson’s video.
A tribute to “Stars” from Kiel, Germany:
Tomas Costanza: Rob Halford looks like his head is going to explode in the group vocal scene. I actually think I can hear his voice in the higher-octave piercing through the track when I watch the video. I also love watching Yngwie and George Lynch shred. In my opinion, those two have the best solos in the song. Do all the bands go to the same hairstylist?
James Lance: Why this video is not on eternal best-of lists and a benchmark of 80s culture is beyond me. Doesn’t matter how many other 80s culture subjects there are that can be anthropologically discussed — THIS video is classic, PERIOD.
Peter Block: The video highlight is to see all those meatheads sing the two-note chorus together. The second time they sing the chorus, the note changes, and they all seem proud of themselves that they handled the simple melodic change.
Adam Busch: When it actually cuts to the members of Spinal Tap and they look less like satire than the musicians.
Rick Eberle: Every high note is a highlight.
Having been involved with the recording, what was your favorite part of the “Stars” experience?
Eric Bloom: The best part of the experience was the hang with the other musicians. Some of whom we knew, others we met for the first time, all for a good cause.
Buck Dharma: My hat is off to
Dave Meniketti: My favorite part was also the most nerve-wracking – being the first to sing the entire “Stars” song, in front of Ronnie Dio at 9:00 AM the day after the crowd-singing extravaganza. Ronnie was great and totally in control both days. It all turned out to be an adventure to remember.
Chris Hager: I think my favorite aspect of the “Stars” was the camaraderie that I — and I think everyone — experienced the day we all came together in the studio to perform the chorus line. Not only did I get to meet a few of my biggest influences in music, but there was a palpable feeling that we were all there together for a purpose larger than ourselves. There was very little ego involved on anyone’s part, and it was a unique and exciting experience. Naturally with being so closely involved with [our manager] Wendy and Ronnie Dio made the experience even more special for me and the other members of Rough Cutt.
Jeff Pilson: My favorite part of doing “Stars” was actually the only thing I was involved with, which was choir day. My god that was fun. Too many laughs to count. The funniest part was Michael McKean, who stayed in Spinal Tap character all day. He was standing right behind me cracking jokes the entire time and it was like being one of a handful of people experiencing a Spinal Tap sequel! He was funnier than I could ever describe. What a genius! And then just the camaraderie of everyone. We all loved and respected Ronnie so much that it was very smooth, organized and fun. HUUUUUGE party at Kevin DuBrow’s house afterward which went beyond the wee hours!
Finally, in your opinion, has there ever been a charity recording as great as “Stars?”
Mike Viola: “Great”? No, definitely not.
Stu Fine: Never.
Lucy Woodward: I don’t think so. I wanna say “We Are The World,” but you could never make an hour-long guitar solo in that song work.
Frankie Banali:: I can’t say that I know of many. I think that if it’s a legit project for a legit organization, it’s a positive experience for the musicians, fans and the charity.
An Italian tribute to “Stars”:
Eric Bloom: Of course Hear ‘N Aid was patterned after the “We Are The World” sessions. However, I think Ronnie Dio and his people did a great job both technically and creatively to make a memorable event. Raised lots of money, too.
Dave Meniketti: Not in rock, at least not that I’m aware of. I think Dio’s “Stars” was the biggest and most talked about. Of course, Michael Jackson’s “We Are The World” was much bigger in terms of world recognition.
Buck Dharma: As for the relative quality of “Stars” compared to other charity recordings, I don’t know. I suppose it’s at least as good as any of them. I’m not a huge fan of “We Are The World,” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” “Stars” has more guitar playing, that much I do know. Certainly the “Stars” sessions and recordings will be an important thing Ronnie Dio will always be remembered and admired for.
Jared Reddick: I certainly can’t think of one. Though I don’t hate on the Band Aid song like most people. I feel like all three of the big ones capture the genres at the time perfectly. But lyrically and performance wise, “Stars” is on another level!
Linus Of Hollywood: No way! Metal rules!
Dan Konopka: I honestly can’t say there is a better charity recording than “Stars.” I think we’re due for one, but I don’t think we’re gonna get even close to what “Stars” is.
Gerry Gittelson: There will never be anything like it ever again…I hope it comes out on CD. It is a shining example of people coming together and helping others — something that should be our primary purpose in life.
A remotely-recorded, international tribute to “Stars”:
Andrew Campbell: It did seem incredibly exciting at the time…The list of names on the sleeve notes was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen!
Anthony Dalto: Music at that time was so much fun. “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” was an alternative one that came out in 2005, but there is something too serious about it. I wish all the acts for 12-12-12 came out and did something similar for Hurricane Sandy relief. Can you imagine a song written and performed by The Who, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones?
Rick Eberle: Farm Aid is a close second.