Last night I started watching “Endgame,” an intriguing film regarding the machinations of the transition of power between the white minority and the ANC in South Africa in the late 80s. What else could be running through my head but The Special A.K.A.’s euphoric “Free Nelson Mandela?”
Has there ever been a song of political protest as uplifting as this? Elvis Costello returned to the producer’s chair [as he had for their 1979 debut album] for this single. The euphoric horn section is matched by the warm vocals by Stan Campbell and the outstanding backing vocals by Afrodiziak [Caron Wheeler – later of SoulIISoul, and Claudia Fontaine].
When this song dropped in 1984 it seemed like the height of optimism, but just six years later Nelson Mandela was released from prison to represent the ANC, who eventually won free election in 1994. I remember when the Freedomfest concert was held at Wembley Stadium on Mandela’s 70th birthday in 1988. Even at that late date, his release seemed like a goal still far out of reach. That day featured bands playing to draw attention to Mandela’s struggle for freedom and political power. Simple Minds wrote a song for that day under the mistaken impression that all bands invited were to compose a song for the day. As much as I love Simple Minds, their “Mandela Day” track is a typical, bloated SM cut of the period; full of somber piety and reflecting the stultifying gravity of it all.
If one wants to draw attention to a political struggle against injustice, by all means give me a cut that works like “Free Nelson Mandela” instead!
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I still think my favorite post-Terry Hall Specials cut is “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend”…I remember a few political message records in the era of which you speak…”Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” etc. “Free Nelson Mandela” was obviously a better record.
“Nelson Mandela” is the only “political message record” that works as a record, for me. At least, no others come to mind.
Wait!! Does Coven’s “One Tin Soldier” count?