Sun City (song)
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|Single by Artists United Against Apartheid|
|from the album Sun City|
|Released||October 25, 1985|
|Format||12-inch and 7-inch|
|Writer(s)||Steven Van Zandt|
|Producer||Steven Van Zandt|
"Sun City" is a 1985 protest song written by Steven Van Zandt, produced by Van Zandt and Arthur Baker and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African policy of apartheid. The primary means of that opposition is to declare that all the artists involved would refuse any and all offers to perform at Sun City, a resort which was located in Bantustan of Bophuthatswana, one of a number of internationally unrecognized supposed "independent" states created by the South African government to forcibly relocate its black population.
Van Zandt was interested in writing a song about South Africa's Sun City casino resort, to make parallels with the plight of Native Americans. Danny Schechter, a journalist who was then working with ABC News' 20/20, suggested turning the song into a different kind of "We Are the World", or as Schechter explains, "a song about change not charity, freedom not famine."
As Van Zandt was writing it, Schechter suggested that he include the names of the artists who had played Sun City in defiance of a United Nations-sanctioned cultural boycott. "I was probably still thinking of 20/20's exposé of conservative Africanists 15 years earlier," says Schechter.
Musically speaking, the song was a fusion of hip-hop (which was still in its early development), R&B, and hard rock. The main hook is multiple successive artists singing "I, I, I, I, I, I", followed by all the artists together, singing "ain't gonna play Sun City!"
When Van Zandt was finished writing "Sun City", he, Baker and Schechter spent the next several months searching for artists to participate in recording it. Van Zandt initially declined to invite Bruce Springsteen, not wanting to take advantage of their friendship, but Schechter had no problem asking himself; Springsteen accepted the invitation. Van Zandt was also shy about calling legendary jazz artist Miles Davis, whom Schechter also contacted; with minimal persuasion, Davis also accepted. Eventually, Van Zandt, Baker and Schechter would gather a wide array of artists, including Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run DMC, Peter Gabriel, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Jackson Browne and then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Peter Wolf, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil-Scott Heron, Nona Hendryx, Pete Townshend, Pat Benatar, Clarence Clemons, and Joey Ramone.
"Sun City" only reached #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985. Only about half of American radio stations played "Sun City", with some objecting to the lyrics' explicit criticism of President Ronald Reagan's policy of "constructive engagement." (Joey Ramone's line in the song criticizes Reagan, though Joey has also expressed open discontent and criticism towards him with "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg") The song was banned in South Africa itself.
The song did somewhat better overseas, reaching #21 on the UK Singles Chart, #4 in Australia and achieving chart action in a number of other European countries, becoming a substantial hit in The Netherlands. It was also a top ten single in Canada in December 1985 and January 1986.
"Sun City" was picked as record of the year by many of the most influential music critics, topping the prestigious international Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for best single of the year.
It is rarely heard on the radio today.
- The More You Watch, The Less You Know by Danny Schechter.