Toto and ‘Us': The Unlikely Horror Movie Connection
The new horror movie Us is impressing theater audiences with a story hinging on an ‘80s charity event that had a soundtrack provided by Toto.
The unlikely connection between the band and the film that's just enjoyed the best-ever opening weekend for an original horror feature is the Hands Across America project, which organizers hoped would bring millions of Americans together to hold hands to make a line from New York City to Long Beach, Calif., on May 25, 1986. It was also hoped that $100 million would be raised to help the homeless.
In Jordan Peele’s Us, the campaign is used to illustrate the idea of hypocrisy, as a divided society tries to pretend it’s actually united in spirit and focus. In reality, Hands Across America failed to achieve its goals for several reasons – not least that there was too much division to make it happen the way it had been planned.
In the mid ‘80s, charity singles had become a major feature of the music scene, following Live Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and USA for Africa’s “We Are the World.” It seemed natural that the new endeavor should have its own theme tune, and so “Hands Across America” was written by jingle creators Marc Blatte, John Carney and Larry Gottlieb and recorded by singers Joe Cerisano and Sandy Farina with the New Jersey Mass Choir. Toto’s Steve Lukather, Mike Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro and David Paich provided the backing music. The artists went under the banner Voices of America.
Listen to Voices of America's 'Hands Across America'
Unlike its predecessors, the single was a relative flop, reaching only No. 65 on the chart. Part of the problem was that no mainstream stars were featured on the track. Another problem, as Thrillist noted, was that it sounded “nowhere nearly as catchy as ‘We Are the World.’” Worse, “it also drew the unfortunate participation of President Ronald Reagan the same week that he blamed the country's hunger problems on the poor, brainlessly claiming that no one ‘is going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them,’ but because there was ‘a lack of knowledge on the part of the people as to what things are available.’”
The entire Hands Across America project was a similar disappointment. Even though around 6.5 million people took part, that number was far less than had been anticipated. The dream of a human chain across the continent was not fully achieved, with some gaps remaining open – though if the number of people involved had all been in single file, the full link could have been made. In addition, USA for Africa had organized a second large-scale event on the same day, a charity run, which meant media attention was divided.
In the end, around $34 million was raised from the hoped-for $100 million target -- nearly half of that amount had already been used for the promotion and marketing campaign around the event. Around $15 million eventually made it into to charity coffers.
In a new interview with Uproxx, in which Hands Across America was described as “a dumb ‘80s thing,” Us creator Steele said, he "wasn’t even in touch with some of the deeper meanings of what this movie is about until I stumbled upon a Hands Across America commercial for MTV. … When I saw it, it scared me. The tone of this commercial just had that sort of ’80s ‘Everything’s Great!’ quality. … You sort of pick up on these things and the duality of these things. I was kind of left watching this commercial, ‘Why does that disturb me?’
Watch MTV’s Hands Across America Promo Video
“And so, from there, it took me down this path to really think about this movie in terms of this country and the idea of demonstration or protest, or even performance art, and to imagine what the evil doppelganger version of what Hands Across America would be.”