Sun City (album)

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Sun City
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 25, 1985
RecordedSummer 1985
LabelEMI Manhattan
Singles from Sun City
  1. "Sun City"
    Released: 16 October 1985[1][3]
  2. "Let Me See Your I.D."
    Released: 1985
  3. "Silver and Gold (promo)"
    Released: 1985
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic [4]
Christgau's Record GuideA−[5]
Rolling StoneNot rated link

Sun City is the first and only album by Artists United Against Apartheid, released on October 25, 1985,[1][6] by EMI Manhattan Records. The Little Steven-led project features contributions from more than 50 artist from the rock, hip hop, soul, funk, jazz, reggae, latin, and world music genres.[1][3][6] The album contains two versions of the "Sun City" protest song against apartheid in South Africa as well as other selections in the same vein from that project.[1]


Initially intending to record the song "Sun City" for his third solo album Freedom – No Compromise, Little Steven (real name Steven Van Zandt) instead approached producer Arthur Baker to help record a "We Are the World"-inspired anti-apartheid protest single. In the song, Van Zandt urges artists to boycott the Sun City resort in South Africa, where artists such as Queen, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart have accepted invitations to perform.[7][8] Van Zandts's mission was to raise awareness of the racial segregation enforced by the white government in South Africa, and to encourage the cultural boycott[7] the United Nations had imposed in the early 1980s.[9][10] "I had been doing research on American foreign policies," Van Zandt said, "and South Africa was on my list of engagements we were involved with, which I felt our government was on the wrong side of. By then, I had heard Peter Gabriel's "Biko," which was just a terrific inspiration."[11]

With assistance from ABC News journalist Danny Schechter, Van Zandt and Baker assembled a wide variety of artists from Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed to Gil Scott-Heron, Miles Davis and Africa Bambaataa.[7] Rock critic Dave Marsh called it "the most diverse line up of popular musicians ever assembled for a single session."[12] However, the recordings quickly became an album-length project of its own,[7] and the Sun City album was recorded in summer 1985[13] at 15 different recording studios in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dublin and London.[6]

In addition to the title track, other songs were recorded at the time to complete an album's worth of material. Drummer-musician Keith LeBlanc and Danny Schechter came up with "Revolutionary Situation", an audio-collage set to music that took its title from the words of South Africa's then-interior minister Louis Nel condemning the state of the country. Amid a background of yapping police dogs, sounds of mayhem and revolt in the township, LeBlanc and Schechter mixed in angry declarations by activists like Alan Boesak, Bishop Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela's daughter Zindzi, looped with what was at that time the most recent interview with her father, recorded in 1961.

"No More Apartheid" is an improvisational piece featuring Peter Gabriel and Indian violinist L. Shankar.[1] "Peter Gabriel came in and just started chanting. Weird African chant, out of nowhere ... Then he started harmonizing with himself," Van Zandt recalled. Drummer Keith LeBlanc then added drums to the chant, and Van Zandt put down guitar and synthesizer parts.[14][15]

Inspired by meetings with other artists who volunteered, Bono of U2 went back to his hotel room and wrote "Silver and Gold" the same evening. The song was quickly recorded, with guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, and drummer Steve Jordan. Wood's guitar work is notable for using Keith's switchblade as a slide. "Silver and Gold" was also distributed separately as a promotional single. A last-minute inclusion, the song was left off the track listings of the original 1985 album and cassette pressings and considered to be a hidden track. Bono later explained, in an appearance on the US syndicated radio show "Rockline" with Bob Coburn, that he submitted the tape of the song after the album's artwork had been printed by EMI Manhattan Records.[16] When Razor and Tie reissued the album in 1993, the song was included on the track listings. U2 also recorded two versions of the song: a live version in the Rattle and Hum film and album, and a studio version on the B-side of "Where the Streets Have No Name".

"The scariest encounter of the Sun City project had to be Miles Davis," recalled Van Zandt. "I wrote the intro for him to play… He's just not friendly. He makes Lou Reed look like a pussycat… He came in, sat down and I played him the "Silver and Gold" tape. He's sitting next to me, and he talks real low and slow, and right in my ear: "Hey man, do you want me to fucking play or what?" So he does his take, and I asked him to redo it with the mute on. I went and reassembled his old quintet with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums."[17]

"Let Me See Your I.D." – based on a line from Gil Scott-Heron's "Johannesburg"[18] – features vocal contributions from Scott-Heron and various rappers and singers. All were told to feel free to express their feelings about the subject any way they wanted lyrically. Then audio from news footage, excerpts from Nelson Mandela's speeches, and sound effects were added, and turned into an anti-apartheid montage.[15]

Critical reception[edit]

Music critic Robert Christgau felt that each side of the album closes with "a well-meaning failure", writing that "Revolutionary Situation"'s "collage of indistinct South African voices over Keith LeBlanc humdrum is an object lesson in political correctness that might have made a collectible B, and Bono's country blues is simply ignorant." He added that Gil Scott-Heron's "superrap" on "Let Me See Your I.D." "is as astute and moving rhythmically as it is ideologically," and that "No More Apartheid" is a "worthy successor" to Peter Gabriel's "Biko." Christgau also highlighted the two versions of the title track, which he felt "can grow on you in a big way."[5]

AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote retrospectively that the album is "extremely listenable," saying, "it's one of the few charity or protest albums that stands up to repeated listenings, thanks to the extended instrumental workouts." Unlike Robert Christgau, Erlewine felt that "Silver and Gold" was "the finest moment" on the album.[4] Trouser Press called the album "a powerful record given weight by the cause and the challenge."[19]


Sun City was a modest success, reaching #31 on the Billboard 200 pop albums chart. It did much better in terms of critical reaction, placing at #5 on the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for albums for that year. Sun City got the final spot on Rolling Stone's list of the best 100 albums of the 1980s in 1989 and 2016.[20][21]

The album was issued on CD by Razor & Tie in 1993 – but, after the end of apartheid in 1994, eventually went out of print.

In 2019, the album was remastered for release as part of Van Zandt's career-spanning box set Rock N Roll Rebel: The Early Work. The digital deluxe edition of the album was released on December 6, 2019 containing four bonus tracks. The digital deluxe edition also includes the reissued Let Me See Your I.D. bonus EP.

Track listing[edit]

Adapted from the 2019 reissue liner notes.[22]

Side one
1."Sun City"Steven Van Zandt 7:12
2."No More Apartheid"Artists United Against ApartheidPeter Gabriel, L. Shankar7:10
3."Revolutionary Situation"Artists United Against ApartheidCompiled and edited by Keith LeBlanc and The News Dissector6:06
Side two
4."Sun City (Version II)"Van Zandt 5:44
5."Let Me See Your I.D."Artists United Against ApartheidGil Scott-Heron, Miles Davis, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Peter Wolf, Sonny Okosuns, Malopoets, Duke Bootee, Ray Baretto, Peter Garrett7:30
6."The Struggle Continues"Artists United Against ApartheidMiles Davis, Stanley Jordan, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Okosuns, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Richard Scher7:05
7."Silver and Gold"BonoBono, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Steve Jordan4:42
1993 CD reissue bonus track
8."Sun City (The Last Remix)" (UK 7" single, 1985)Van Zandt9:35
2019 digital deluxe edition bonus tracks
8."Soweto Nights" (studio track, 1985 – previously unreleased)Tony Williams4:58
9."The Struggle Continues" (extra Miles Davis version, 1985 – previously unreleased)Artists United Against Apartheid9:51
10."Not So Far Away (Dub Mix)" (UK 12" single, 1985)Artists United Against Apartheid5:56
11."Sun City (Last Remix)" (UK 7" single, 1985)Van Zandt9:36
2019 "Let Me See Your I.D." bonus EP
1."Let Me See Your I.D. (Extended Mix)" (12" single, 1985)Artists United Against Apartheid9:51
2."Let Me See Your I.D. (Street Mix)" (12" single, 1985)Artists United Against Apartheid6:42
3."Let Me See Your I.D. (Beat and Scratch Mix)" (12" single, 1985)Artists United Against Apartheid5:14


Adapted from the 2019 reissue liner notes, except where noted.[22]


Chart (1985-1986) Peak
Austrian Albums[23] 25
Dutch Albums[24] 23
German Albums[25] 34
New Zealand Albums[26] 34
Norwegian Albums[27] 16
Swedish Albums[28] 13
Swiss Albums[29] 17
US Billboard 200[30] 31


  1. ^ a b c d e f Harrington, Richard (October 16, 1985). "Musical Protest to Apartheid". Washington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  2. ^ Hilburn, Robert (November 10, 1985). "Pop Records : Fall Album Roundup : From Miles To Bruce - The Passion Of 'Sun City'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Van Matre, Lynn (October 13, 1985). "Van Zandt's 'Sun City' Album Project Gives Rock A Voice Against". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Sun City at AllMusic
  5. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1990). "A". Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-73015-X. Retrieved August 16, 2020 – via
  6. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (October 21, 1985). "'Sun City' Gets A Range Of Authority". New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d Giles, Jeff (December 8, 2015). "How Steven Van Zandt Took on Apartheid With 'Sun City'". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  8. ^ "Sun City Resort - Entertainment". South Africa Tourism. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  9. ^ Chilton, Martin (October 25, 2021). "'Sun City': How Little Steven Took On Apartheid, Opened The World's Eyes". uDiscoverMusic. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  10. ^ "South Africa's Academic and Cultural Boycott". South African History Online. February 3, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  11. ^ Young, Robin (December 10, 2013). "The Music Of Liberation: Steven Van Zandt And Danny Schechter On 'Sun City'". WSHU. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  12. ^ Jones, Josh (August 3, 2021). "How Steven Van Zandt Organized the Sun City Boycott and Helped Catalyze the Anti-Apartheid Movement (1985)". Open Culture. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  13. ^ "The Making of Sun City". African Activist Archive. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  14. ^ Wardlaw, Matt (October 4, 2021). "Steven Van Zandt Recalls Spark That Lit All-Star 'Sun City' LP". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  15. ^ a b c Van Zandt, Stevie (2021). Unrequited Infatuations: A Memoir. New York City: Hachette Books. p. 186. ISBN 9780306925429.
  16. ^ "Rockline Radio - Interviews and music from classic rockers and cutting edge superstars!".
  17. ^ Bell, Max: "Ever meet Hendrix?"; Classic Rock #138, November 2009, p40
  18. ^ George, Nelson (September 28, 1985). "The Rhythm and the Blues". Billboard. p. 63. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  19. ^ "Compilation Reviews - Sun City". Trouser Press. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  20. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980's". Rolling Stone. No. 565. 1989-11-16.
  21. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. 16 November 1989. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  22. ^ a b Rock N Roll Rebel: The Early Work (Box set liner notes). Little Steven. Wicked Cool Records. 2020.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  23. ^ "Austrian Charts". Ö3 Austria. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  24. ^ "Dutch Charts". Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  25. ^ "German Charts". GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  26. ^ "New Zealand Charts". Official New Zealand Music Chart. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  27. ^ "Norwegian Charts". VG-lista. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  28. ^ "Swedish Charts". Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  29. ^ "Swiss Charts". Swiss Hitparade. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  30. ^ "Billboard 200". Billboard. Retrieved October 4, 2022.