‘Sun City,’ Artists United Against Apartheid

by JAY LUSTIG
Artists United Against Apartheid's 1985 protest single, "Sun City."

Artists United Against Apartheid’s 1985 protest single, “Sun City.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the hippest protest single ever, 1985’s “Sun City.” Written, produced and largely organized by Steven Van Zandt — who had recently left the E Street Band — to protest the South African government’s shameful policy of apartheid, it was an all-star effort in the tradition of then-recent anthems “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It’s better than those projects in several ways, though.

Van Zandt, crucially, didn’t look only to the current pop charts for participants (who assembled under the name, Artists United Against Apartheid), but drew from all corners of the music world. Yes, Bono and Pat Benatar and Hall & Oates were on it, but so were hip-hop upstarts (Run-DMC, The Fat Boys, Afrika Bambaataa), R&B legends (Darlene Love, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations), jazz greats (Miles Davis, Ron Carter), rock royalty (Van Zandt’s fellow E Streeters Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed) and Latin stars (Ruben Blades, Ray Barretto), plus George Clinton, Jimmy Cliff, Bonnie Raitt, Joey Ramone and so many others. Just a mind-blowing collection of people.

Also, Van Zandt made sure the music was not just uplifting, but also wild and celebratory. And the video was shot, largely, on the streets of New York, not in some sterile studio.

If you haven’t watched the video in years, take a look at it, below. I think you might be surprised at how good it is.

New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.

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2 comments

Nancy M January 23, 2015 - 11:05 pm

Wildwood days. Bobby Rydell
You Can’t Catch Me. chuck Berry
Union City Blue. Blondie
Palisades Park
I’m From NJ. John Gorka
God is FRom NJ. Seamus Kennedy
Never. Going Back. Less than Jake

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njartsdaily@gmail.com January 27, 2015 - 8:29 pm

Thanks for the suggestion. Have done “Union City Blue” today: https://www.njarts.net/350-jersey-songs/union-city-blue-blondie/. Will probably get to most of the other ones at some point as well.

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