"Sun City" is a 1985 protest song written by Steven Van Zandt and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African policy of apartheid.
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.
When Van Zandt was finished writing "Sun City", he 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 and Schechter would gather a wide array of artists, including Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, 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, 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, and Joey Ramone.
303 tracks were mixed-down to create "Sun City." A music video directed by Jonathan Demme with Godley and Creme was also produced.
"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." 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.