One of the first albums I wanted to replace when I started to buy vinyl again was Sun City. For those of you not familiar with this amazing piece of record history, it goes back to apartheid in South Africa. One of the fucked up ways that the South African government tried to keep the black population under control was to create tiny pockets within the country and say they weren’t actually part of South Africa. They were separate ‘countries’ called bantustans. Nobody else in the world recognized these ‘countries’ because they were nothing more than a way of controlling the black population and forcing them to live in certain areas, make them work were they were told, and have to carry papers at all times. As a way of supporting these bantustans they built huge resorts, one of which was Sun City. They would pay major name artists huge sums to come perform at the resorts as a way of drawing tourists. Little Steven of the E Street Band and later The Sopranos, decided there had to be a way to let people know the kind of evil these resorts were financing and the best way he knew was music.
By the time he was done gathering support there was one of the most diverse group of rockers, rappers and poets ever gathered. Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys, Rubén Blades, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run DMC, Gabriel, David, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Jackson Browne, 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. Is there any way to look at that list and not be a little overwhelmed? How about adding in Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs, directing the video for the song? Sure, We Are the World and Band Aid’s Do They know it’s Christmas?, had huge numbers of stars but none of them had the variety of Sun City. The album and single raised more than a million (80’s) dollars for anti-apartheid programs.
The single isn’t a nice friendly song either, which may have been why it didn’t climb the charts the way other charity songs did (don’t even get me started on Do They know it’s Christmas?) It was shaming the artists who had played at the resort, an original version even named some of them but Little Steven decided against using it. The lyrics spelled out how POC were not allowed to vote in South Africa, it was directly critical of Reagan, and asked why we were always on the wrong side. That’s straight up protest song stuff and in 1985 when the top songs were totally banal like Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Mr. Mister Broken Wings, that kind of anger made people uncomfortable. On the album it got worse. There were songs like No More Apartheid by Peter Gabriel and Shanker that took up where his song Biko left off. Then would come a wonderful combination of old school rap, African music and spoken word by Gil Scott-Heron, Melle Mel and Duke Boote called Let Me See Your ID. It’s no wonder this album defied any attempt to be pigeon holed. There was no doubt that every artist involved knew how important this project was and understood the subject, so there’s no sugar coating to make it go down easy.
I bought multiple copies of the album and gave them to all my friends for the holidays that year. Kinda suspect that most of them listened to it once and stuck it in the back of their record stack. They really had no idea why I would give them this weird record. It wasn’t just a political record to me, though that was certainly justification enough. Sun City was my introduction to Gil Scot Heron (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) and it seemed like proof that there wasn’t much difference between the different kinds of music. They truly could join together to make a big difference. For me it was proof that the lines that were already being drawn between white music, black music, young music, old music, our music and their music, really didn’t have to exist. It meant that all music was equal and could work together.
With the end of apartheid and the huge number of major names on the album, it went out of print. When I moved I had to pass on my vinyl collection because it would have cost too much to ship it and all my books. Lucky for me The Master of the Needle Drop was in fact the person I had sold that record to and he cooked me off a special batch. Right now Bono is singing about the slave trade backed up by Ron Wood and Keith Richards. Silver and Gold was actually a learning experience for Bono. He talked about how when Wood and Richards played the blues he felt embarrassed because he didn’t have the experience with that kind of music. U2 had punk roots and this was a chance to grab something deeper. From there Rattle and Hum was born. So now I get to hear Lou Reed and Joey Ramone working next to the Fat Boys and Run DMC again.
On the subject of old school rap and Run DMC, one of the other albums I had to replace was King of Rock. Also coming out in 1985 this was Run DMC’s second studio album and they brought in a heavy sound that wasn’t on their first album. Laying down the beats on songs like the title track this was another record that proved for me that rap and rock were not that far away apart. Considering they sampled Billy Squier’s The Big Beat for their Jam Master Jammin, Run DMC seemed to understand and have no problem with metal. On Roots, Rap, Reggae they lay down their unique rap style over a reggae beat and it works beautifully. You’re Blind is a straight forward song of personal responsibility but it also has strong political messages. There is a good reason that despite only releasing seven albums Run DMC remains the preeminent influence in rap, having their songs sampled more than a hundred times. As the first platinum record in hip-hop history, King of Rock proved that there was a wider audience than anyone expected.
I got King of Rock a few years after its release. Rap was very hard to get in Anchorage in the early eighties. In fact you couldn’t buy NWA’s Straight Out of Compton for love or money. I heard it for the first time on a tape that had been sent up to one of my coworkers. For a while the only place you could get rap was a little record store that dealt exclusively in R&B and rap. Which of course your average middle class white kid wasn’t going to visit. Then there was weird looking dude with rat tails, a leather jacket, and engineer boots. If I hadn’t been carrying my adorable little blonde daughter, I suspect they would politely asked me to GTFO but I got my albums and became a regular customer.
Now if there is any kind of music that needs to be on vinyl it is old school rap. Not only did DJ’s keep the turntable companies in business when vinyl almost died away but the original sounds wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for vinyl. For another treat from 1985, I was flipping through the soundtracks and found Krush Groove. Now I don’t know how many of you saw this movie about the early days of Def Jam Records but let me say, don’t watch it if you want a history lesson. There isn’t much beyond the forming of a record label and the finding of amazing acts that is true. Granted it’s not as bad as some of the musical bio pics that MGM made back in the 50s but they basically took all the talent they had on hand and tried to make a loose story with a little bit of a love interest based on Sheila E. When you’ve got musicians like The Beastie Boys, Run DMC (see I do tie this stuff together), The Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, New Edition, and LL Cool J how can the album go wrong?
Well, they can source it straight off the movie to start with. In the 80s pulling from the movie tape was not exactly state of the art. So the sound is really thin and comes out sharp in spots. Debbie Harry does a song called Feel the Spin that would have fit right in on her album Rockbird, that came out a year later. It’s not Blondie but not bad all the same. Despite being one of top producers in the business, Rick Rubin does have moments when he just gets lazy and calls it a day. This album is a great example. The sad thing is that it’s a piece of history. The last song is called Krush Groovin’ by The Krush Groove All Stars which is every one of the people I listed, playing together. That just isn’t going to happen ever again and it’s kind of a shame that it wasn’t better produced better giving the song a chance to shine.
Still my copy is pretty sweet all things considered. The MND managed to get a little body back into the sound and clean it up. While Tender Love by The Force MC’s isn’t much to write home about, The Beastie Boys make sure you know She’s On It. Whenever I want a flashback to the mid 80’s this is the perfect album to do it. Between the human beat box of The Fat Boys and Kurtis Blow laying it down about when he rules the world, you can’t get more in touch with the old school. These days the only place you can get Krush Groove is from iTunes so you’ll be getting the digital sound but on the positive side you will be getting studio versions of The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.
Yes, there was some very bland music being produced in the mid-eighties but there were also many remarkable changes going on. Artists were joining together to make a difference. Hip-hop was breaking new ground just about every few months. This was a great time for vinyl and I really suggest that if you are out hunting, keep this time in mind.