Whilst Band Aid was truly a remarkable event at the time, it’s dread legacy was the charity single in which artists gather to sing a single line each of a tear-jerking 60s classic to raise money for a good cause or tragedy. Whilst well-meaning, they tend to be both unlistenable and apolitical, with one noticeable exception on both counts: Artists United Against Apartheid.
This was the brainchild of Steve Van Zandt (consigliere to both Brice Springsteen and Tony Soprano) with its focal point being the single ‘Sun City’, released in the same year as Live Aid.
To refresh your memory, Sun City was a South African resort ‘state’ created by the South African government to forcibly relocate its black population. To popularise the resort a number of international musicians were offered top dollar in the early 80s to perform there and the single served as a call to arms to right-thinking artists to reject the blood money. It’s fascinating, seeing the video 30 years on, to remember who was involved, with arguably one of the most diverse and credible line ups ever, featuring everyone from Jimmy Cliff to Joey Ramone, from Gil-Scott Heron to the (compulsory) Bono. Little Steven certainly had a bulging filofax. However you will look in vain for Queen, Elton John, Cher or Rod Stewart as shamefully they did play Sun City.
It is a truly great track, Van Zandt’s song overcoming the handicap of verbal tag teaming to deliver a clear message and one of the best choruses of the 1980s, whilst Arthur Baker’s production gives it a real edge. There’s a fantastic version on Simple Mind’s Live In The City Of Light and it was performed live by Little Steven and friends at the climax of the Free Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley in 1988.
You can’t buy me
I don’t care what you pay
Don’t ask me Sun City
Because I ain’t gonna play
Over to Roy:
Electronic dance music and in particular rave, with its natural inclination to hedonism, has never made an easy bedfellow for protest or rebellion beyond vague appeals to the ‘free the mind’ of the personal political. However Faithless ripped up the electronica rule book with this track, setting their sights on globalisation, racism, war, government disinformation – all the big ticket items – in a pulsating, percussive dance track that stormed into the UK top 10. As relevant in its content today, as it was in 2004. Apologies to Richard as I’ve got a strong suspicion this may also have been on his list! (Indeed it was – R)
Australia’s involvement in various wars has also featured prominently in Australian protest songs. Number three on my list “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” documents the folly of romanticising war through an account of the events leading up to Gallipoli. Written and first released in 1971 by immigrant Scot Eric Bogle, it resonated strongly with the Vietnam War protests then current. The song has been covered by numerous artists both in Oz and internationally with this version from The Pogue’s 1985 album “Rum, Sodomy & the Lash”.
I apologise if you don’t like solo male singers as my first 3 choices all fall into that singer/songwriter genre. Whilst Dylan, and most certainly Guthrie, were before my era, today’s choice very much came to my attention in my formative years. With Thatcherism at its height and the country witnessing a bloody civil war, the bard of Barking wandered onto the stage and armed with just a guitar and a dodgy amp, and sang the following:-
“I was a miner, I was a docker, I was a railwayman, Between the wars.
I raised a family, In time of austerity, With sweat at the foundry, Between the wars”
30 years later, the mines may have largely disappeared but the austerity and the hardship of families remain. Bragg mixed pop and politics, and always had something poignant to say. This is just one such example of his oeuvre, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the only contribution to this list. Simple but hard-hitting, the youth of today may have Ed Sheeran but we had “William H.Bloke” and we had a conscience!
Warning:- Live Top of the Pops performance alert!
Ooh, scooped twice today! Sun City and Billy Bragg were both on my list. Safe to say none of you will pick this cut, but since you mentioned Cher, this song was HUGE in the U.S. (and doesn’t she look fantastic!)
Here’s a tenuous link – from Mr McTell singing about ..”One more forgotten hero ….”
The last track from their wonderful 1983 debut album, this contribution is by the finest group to come from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire(!).
Marillion’s ‘Forgotten Sons’ is specifically about the ‘troubles’ in N. Ireland and it includes a brilliantly acerbic reworking of the Lord’s Prayer.
and also the following:
“On the news a nation mourns you
Unknown soldier count the cost
For a second you’ll be famous
But labelled posthumous”
Fish really did / does have a way with words