Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie are credited with co-writing the 1985 anthem meant to raise money for famine relief. It was recorded by an all-star "supergroup" ensemble, USA for Africa, in Los Angeles and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian. Following its March release, it charted at number one and won numerous awards. Most importantly, it raised over 63 million dollars for African relief.
The opening two verses of the song point out that "there are people dying" and that it is wrong to think that someone besides ourselves will step up to solve the problem. A Christian perspective is offered with a reference to "God ... turning stones to bread" as an allusion to the miracle of alleviating hunger.
The song makes frequent use of the collective pronoun "we" to underscore the need for humanity to work together to alleviate global suffering. The lyrics exhort people to be generous and offers the reminder that together, we literally make up the world's population. By helping others, it proposes, we ultimately help ourselves.
The chorus is repeated nearly a dozen times; for practical purposes, it allows for solos by the famous artists involved in the project. The repetition also serves to drive home the point that "there but for the grace of God go I"—in other words, people do not seek to live lives of privation, but many are subject to this situation through no fault of their own.