Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City by United Artists Against Apartheid

I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City by United Artists Against Apartheid

by Robert Mishou

I caught this video Frankfurt, Germany one night while I was waiting for a live football game to begin. American Forces Network (AFN) was the only TV station Americans living overseas in the ‘80s had to watch. We got one football game every week and when there was a delay in picking up the satellite feed, AFN filled the time with music videos. This one caught my eye because, like USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”, I wanted to identify all of the artists. This song has vocals from, to name a few, Run DMC, Hall and Oates, Kool Moe Dee, Kurtis Blow, Lou Reed, Pat Benatar, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen. The song was used to raise money to fight Apartheid in South Africa. In short, Apartheid was legal racism against the native South Africans endorsed and practiced by the white Europeans who ran the country. It was during this time that Nelson Mandela was kept in prison for trying to end the horrific policies of Apartheid. Sun City was a luxury resort and casino that was visited by celebrities from around the world. It gave a major, consistent boost the South Africa’s economy, so it was seen by those who felt apartheid was a violation of human rights as to hurt the South African government and put pressure on them to end Apartheid. The lyrics are pure protest:

Relocation to phony homelands
Separation of families
I can’t understand
23 million can’t vote
Because they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back

No, this is not great, earth shattering writing, but it did help raise awareness in Americans who did not know much of what was happening in South Africa. Side note: if you have any interest in Apartheid in South Africa I recommend two books – Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane (non fiction) and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (fiction).

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Quote of the Day: Grease 2

Who’s That Guy?
All: Whoooh ooooh who’s that guy?
Whoooh ooooh who’s that guy?
Davey: He came out of the darkness in the middle of the night,
Blazing like a mother with a fist of dynamite.
The T-Birds: He ain’t foolin’ no one on that pile of chrome and steel,
Burnin’ up the pavement like he was some kind of wheel.
The Scorpions: He’s lookin’ for a rumble and some heads are gonna bust,
He’s gonna take a tumble with one solitary thrust!
Pink Ladies: The only thing you guys are gonna do is eat his dust!

Who’s that guy?
Where did he come from?
Who’s that guy?
The T-Birds: Please tell me someone.
Pink Ladies: I never knew anyone could be so cool.
All: Whoa oh oh
Who’s that guy?
He’s just amazin’!
From headlight to tailpipe, his burners are blazin’.
Pink Ladies: Looks to me like he could really fly!

Happy 57th Birthday to “Cool Rider” Maxwell Caulfield!!!

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Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

by Robert Mishou

I really like Don Henley’s solo work (he will show up twice on this list). I think he is an excellent songwriter and has been since his days with the Eagles. So saying, I was first caught by Bruce Hornsby’s piano playing (Hornsby will also show up on this list) on this song. Once the listener gets through the piano, Henley’s lyrics hit like a punch to the gut. This song revisits the classic struggle of Innocence vs. Experience (expertly set up by British poet William Blake in the Romantic era). This struggle depicts the change we all have to go through as we age – the innocence of youth and how it clashes with experience of adulthood. Henley sets up this conflict by first looking at childhood:

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by

This idealistic youth quickly takes a turn for the worse:

When happily ever after fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

While we all have different experiences, we all grow and learn that the world is not as nice and beautiful as we thought it was. These are tough lessons to experience, but they are unavoidable. There is no real protest yet, until Henley writes:

O’ beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They’re beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail

This is a direct criticism of Ronald Reagan and his policies that damaged the Heartland and farmers of America. Henley wants to go back to a time when life was simpler and all of these issues and problems did not matter. Unfortunately, Henley knows that this is impossible and ends this song with:

Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

This is the tragedy of life. For most of us it begins carefree, but policy and politicians get in the way and ruin it.

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Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – Allentown by Billy Joel

Allentown by Billy Joel

by Robert Mishou

Billy Joel is another excellent song writer from the ‘80s who hit with songs like Uptown Girl, Tell Her About It, and later in the decade We Didn’t Start the Fire. In 1982 he released Allentown, and while it only reached #17 on the Billboard weekly charts (but #47 on the year end charts), this song packs an enormous punch. Joel describes life in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a typical coal mining town whose residents are dependent upon that coal and working in those mines for a living. The young people in Allentown are becoming restless because the life that they were promised is not coming to fruition. Their parents and teachers all promised them a comfortable life working with coal, but it is not happening:

Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line

It is becoming harder and harder for these young people to stay in a town that is economically dying. This now becomes a metaphor for the working class in the Northeastern United States. This area once had an industry that was booming and could easily support those who were willing to work for it. Now, times are changing and, while the will to work is still there, the money is not.

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave . . .
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real

Ever since the first time I heard this song, these lyrics have stick with me and still stand out today:

Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face

Billy Joel is trying to draw attention to a part of the country that is dying. An industry that was once vital to American life is now being left behind; those who are being left behind are suffering, caught in a situation not of their own making and not knowing what to do, caught in a trap of, as they see it, lies.

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Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – 99 Luftballoons by Nena

99 Luftballoons by Nena

by Robert Mishou

There are not many hits in the ’80s that were not in the English language, but there are two pretty big hits that were in German. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus hit #1 in March of 1986 (the only song in German to hit this height). A bit earlier, in 1984, a German song hit #2 (it was kept out of the #1 spot by Van Halen’s Jump) entitled 99 Luftballoons by the band Nena. This song was a clear protest against war and our over eagerness to use weapons to solve problems. The English translation of this song did not chart in the Billboard charts at all and it did change the song’s basic situation, so, having lived in Germany for six years and being married to a lovely woman who teaches German in high school, I am going to use lyrics here from the original version, translated by that beautiful teacher.

The conflict in this song centers around the sighting of ninety-nine balloons flying through the air that are mistaken for UFOs. In a panic, the leader of the military sends out fighter jets and raises the alarm. The song continues:

Neunundneunzig Düsenflieger (Ninety-nine jet aircraft)
Jeder war ein großer Krieger (Everyone was a great warrior)
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk (Thought they were Captain Kirk)
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk (That sent big fireworks)
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft (the Neighbours did not understand this)
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht (And felt immediately)
Dabei schoss man am Horizont (They shot at the horizon)
Auf neunundneunzig Luftballons (At ninety nine balloons)

Clearly, the government has overreacted and started a war over a complete misinterpretation of what was seen in the sky. Those government officials thought they were smart and, supposedly in the best interest of the people, aggressively attacked those ninety-nine balloons. The warning comes in the last, somber verse:

Neunundneunzig Luftballons (Ninety nine balloons)
Neunundneunzig jahre Krieg (Ninety-nine years of war)
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger (There was no room for winners)
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr (There is no more war minister)
Und auch keine Düsenflieger (And also no jet airplanes)
Heute zieh ich meine Runden (Today I make my rounds)
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen (See the world in ruins)
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden (Found a balloon)
Denk an dich und lass ihn fliegen (Think of you and let it fly)

Like Russians by Sting coming later, this song expounds on the dangers of nuclear war. In Neunundneunzig Luftballons the destruction comes from a mistake, a misinterpretation – of seeing a danger where there is none and reacting in a fatalistic manner.

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Quote of the Day: Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Del: You play with your balls a lot.
Neal: I do NOT play with my balls.
Del: Larry Bird doesn’t do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour!
Neal: Are you trying to start a fight?
Del: No. I’m simply stating a fact. That’s all. You fidget with your nuts a lot.
Neal: You know what’d make me happy?
Del: Another couple of balls, and an extra set of fingers?

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Remember That Song: 11/18/16

Can you name the artist and song:

Now that the war is through with me
I’m waking up, I cannot see
That there’s not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Last Song: “Don’t Cry” by Asia from the album Alpha (1983)

Hard times you had before you
I knew when I first saw you
You girl you’ve always been mistreated, cheated

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Coming Soon – Slippery When Wet

Hello ’80s Nation! Return to the ’80s will be recording a podcast episode about Slippery When Wet. Bon Jovi just came out with a new album. And it is 30 years ago this year that the classic ’80s album, Slippery When Wet, was released.

We would love to hear from you. Please email us at, or comment below, about any memories or feelings you have about this album, or the band in general. Your message will be read on the air, if you’d like. Also, feel free to email us about anything ’80s.

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