1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Charlie (Ain’t Slavin’ 2 Da Habit) – Wonderboom

Charlie (Ain’t Slavin’ 2 Da Habit) – Wonderboom

Wonderboom

Wonderboom

When Rabbitt recorded ‘Charlie’ it was a ‘sleek Labrador with a shiny coat’ of a song. Wonderboom turned it into a snarling, growling pitbull. In the quarter of a century that passed between Rabbitt’s original and Wonderboom’ cover (yes it was that long), rock had been taken out the hands of the pretty boys and unceremoniously dumped into the laps of grungy, tat covered hardcore guys.

Another development in South African terms was the rise of kwaito in the townships and Wonderboom flavoured their hard edged rock sound with the kwaito beats to give us this pounding, snarling version of the old classic. Lead singer Cito and guitarist Martin Schofield battle it out in the vocal department, reaching their peak on the chorus with Cito taking control of the catchy chant of “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!” while Martin’s blunter voice takes the rap-like “I ain’t slavin’ 2 da habit”.

Dad’s back in the 70’s would probably have worried about their daughters going out with those wild boys in Rabbitt, but after hearing this version, they would be crying out for a nice clean cut Rabbitt boy to take his daughter out, rather than letting these Wonderboom lads near her. However, musically, the ‘Booms took the classic song by the scruff of its neck and dragged it into the new millennium where it can now be heard kicking and screaming and having one helluva party. Apparently Patric van Blerk (who wrote the song) likes this version. And why not? It’s a great cover of a great song.

Where to find it:
Rewind – Wonderboom (2001), David Gresham Records, CDDGR 1533

 

Killer In The Crowd – Carte Blanche

Killer In The Crowd – Carte Blanche

Far Cry -Carte Blanche

Far Cry – Carte Blanche

After Flash Harry disbanded, Keith Berel went on to form Carte Blanche (2 years before the TV show of the same name hit your sceens) with Dieter Smith. They called in Kevin Kruger to produce their only album ‘Far Cry’ which spawned two magnificent singles – ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Killer In The Crowd’.
The story goes that to get round the SABC censorship, Berel submitted slightly adjusted lyrics to the actual ones, for their consideration, changing the line “I’m just a policeman, a martyr in blue” to “I’m just a please man, a tomato in blue” (from ‘Censorship & Cultural Regulation In The Modern Age’ edited by Beate Müller). This was because, in 1986, the SABC did not like policemen being mentioned in songs.

‘Killer In The Crowd’ is a juggernaut of a song. Staring with its dramatic guitar chords and ominous drums, it tumbles into a full on rock pop song that hurtles along, Berel’s voice bouncing in the cab, while the guitars and drums pound the tar. The whole thing is heading into the heart of a burning 1980’s township. But strangely the message being screamed from this hurtling machine is the message “Stop the fighting”.

The trick of the lyric sheet meant that ‘Killer In The Crowd’ managed to get some airplay, but not enough to propel it into any of the local radio station charts.

Where to find it:
Singles bins or a vinyl or cassette of ‘Far Cry’

Video:

Censorship & Cultural Regulation In The Modern Age

We’ve Got The Love – Dale Stephens

We’ve Got The Love – Dale Stephens

We’ve Got The Love - Dale Stephens

We’ve Got The Love – Dale Stephens

Dale was born in PE and spent some of his youth in Holland where he had limited success in the music biz with a band called Malta. He returned to South Africa and formed Freeze, eventually leaving them to go solo. He went on to become a two hit wonder, scoring firstly with ‘We’ve Got The Love’ and then again about 7 months later with ‘Slipping Out The Back Way’.

‘We’ve Got The Love’ was the more successful on the Springbok Radio Top 20, climbing to number 8 and spending 11 weeks on the chart. ‘Slipping Out The Back Way’ manged 7 weeks and peaked at 14. However, ‘Slipping…’ did mange to get onto the Radio 5 charts (peaked at 4) where ‘We’ve Got The Love’ didn’t chart.

The song has a Barry Manilow quality to it with a quieter, piano driven verse, building to a crescendo and chorus complete with strings and soaring vocals. Dale is joined on the vocals by an unknown female voice (anyone know who?) who at times threatens to take over as the star of this love song duet.

Stephens went on to produce more music, but none got the attention that ‘We’ve Got The Love’ and ‘Slipping Out The Back Way’ did.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 3 (1994) GSP, CDREDD 610

Liberal Man – Jeremy Taylor

Liberal Man – Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor

Because of ‘Ag Pleez Deddy’ we sometimes forget that Jeremy Taylor was actually a pom. But, because of ‘Ag Pleez Deddy’, the people of South Africa have made him an honorary Saffa (the government back in the day had other ideas, but that’s another story). Occassionaly Jeremy’s songs were more British than South African and ‘Liberal Man’ is one of these. However, the sentiments are international.

The song is from the point of view of a ‘tolerant liberal’ who hates his neighbour with a passion. The neighbour is a “racist, a jingoist, a white man to the core”. Our liberal man, however let’s his emotions overflow occassionaly and shows his true colours, “I hate him/I loathe him/And I don’t know what to do/I bet he isn’t even English/He’s just another loody Jew”. Then we suddenly see him backpedalling, realising what he’s just said “oo-eer, not that I care” he adds quickly. One person commenting on the Youtube video mentioned below sums up the song nicely – ‘Nothing more intolerant than a Secular Liberal.’

Taylor was a master of satire and ‘Liberal Man’ shows how culturally aware he was, both in South Africa and in England. He is a very funny singer whose brilliance went well beyond ‘Ag Pleez Deddy’.

Where to find it:
The Very Best Of  – Jeremy Taylor (1996 & 2004), Prism Leisure Records

Here it here:

Video:

 

Bad Habit – Fat City

Bad Habit – Fat City

Bad Habit - Fat City

Bad Habit – Fat City

Fat City were Toni Gozza, Johnny Blundell and Jiggs Downing. For ‘Bad Habit’ they drafted in Mike Faure on sax and Wendy Oldfield, Jo Day and Julie & Caroline Blundell for backing vocals.

The song is a broody one, with Gozza’s vocals sounding whiskey-drenched. It is the kind of song you’d expect to hear when a down and out hero in a movie is sitting in the bar choosing to drink his life away (usually just before the love interest walks in and gives him ‘what for’ for being a loser and this miraculously turns his life around). This is reinfornced by the repeated line “life is slipping away” and the lonely sax that Faure brings to the party.

There is a bit of a Neill Solomon sound going on here. A song from the heart, sung in a desperate voice that drags you into the misery of the singer’s life and seems to offer no way out. Sometimes it’s good to wallow in sadness and despair, and you can do so with this song. Take comfort from the fact that you are not alone, but don’t make listening to it a bad habit. Have something cheerful and life affirming like Mango Groove or Juluka next on your playlist.

Where to find it:
SA Top 40 Hits of All Time – Various Artists (2001), Sting Music, STIDFCD037

Video:

 

Lazy Life – Quentin E Klopjaeger

Lazy Life – Quentin E Klopjaeger

Lazy Life - Quentin E Klopjaeger

Lazy Life – Quentin E Klopjaeger

This song is made from warm Saturday afternoons, the smell of newly cut grass, the sound of bees buzzing, blues skies, the aroma of boerewors braaing on the fire and kids running free in a large park. The rhythm section is a pulsing blue sky and the vocals are a cool breeze blowing through the scene.

Written by Gordon Haskell and with The Gonks playing the instruments, Quentin E Klopjaeger (aka Billy Forrest) put together a song of pure pop magic. At just over 2 minutes long, the song is bright and breezy and captures all the joy of a lazy life, you know, those days where you just get away from everything. A modern day title for the song would be called ‘Spending Quality Time With Your Family’, but that doesn’t scan as well.

The song topped the SA charts in June 1968 and spent 2 weeks there. The timing of this is quite odd as it would have been the middle of winter. Perhaps the country was just longing for those warmer lazy days to come again, but it just goes to show that, although ‘Lazy Life’ may seem to be a summer song, it is in fact one for all seasons.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 1 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40485 (CD)

Video:

Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand

Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand

When ‘Wie Is Bernoluds Niemand’, his only album under this name, came out in 1984, the public were not quite sure what to make of this cool looking dude with purple shades on the cover. With years of experience under our belts, we now know that that dude was James Phillips and that he made some brilliant music.

James Phillips has recorded under a number of different guises – Corporal Punishment, Cherry Faced Luchers, James Phillips & The Lurchers, James Phillips – and, while the other names produced some interesting stuff, one keeps coming back to where it really all started to take off for James and you put on ‘Wie Is…’

‘Snor City’ is an ode (or odour perhaps) to Pretoria, where Bernoldus pokes fun at the city’s moustachioed civil servants that littered the place. Bernoldus acts as your guide around the city, searching for “net een skoon bo-lip”. The song is cheeky, some (mostly Pretorian bureaucrats of the 80’s) would say irreverent and disrespectful, but then it wouldn’t have had any impact if it wasn’t.

Starting out with a dub bass sound, ‘Snor City’ sort of slides gently into gear. It’s slinky and, despite the subject matter, sort of sexy. It has the sound of one of those songs that play over a scene in a movie where the hero (or heroine) is driving through a city at night in a limousine or taxi watching the lights go by and contemplating some major life event. It’s almost like the song is taking a drive round your streetlit brain as you contemplate the hair on your upper lip.

The version on ‘Wie Is…’ is far slicker than the live version that appeared on the ‘Voelvry Die Tour’ album. The latter does not have that limousine feel to it, it’s a bit more like taking ride a beat up Ford ‘Snortina’ through the lunchtime traffic. It doesn’t matter which method of transport you choose, either way, it’s a journey you have to take.

Where to find it:
Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand – Bernoldus Niemand (1995), Shifty Records (distributed by Tic Tic Bang), Bang CD 007
Voelvry Die Toer – Various (2002), Sheer, SHIF002

Video:

 

Indigo Girl – Watershed

Indigo Girl – Watershed

Indigo Girl - Watershed

Indigo Girl – Watershed

If you are ever looking for the South African answer to REM’s ‘Nightswimming’, look no further than Watershed’s ‘Indigo Girl’. It has that same piano-driven melancholy feel to it, Craig Hinds vocals are also somewhat akin to those of Michael Stipe and both songs introduce lush sting arrangements to make the song swoop and soar.

Some may say that ‘Indigo Girl’ song is completely derived from REM, and that may well be the case, but to imitate something is the highest form of flattery and to do so with such skill is the highest form of flattery I can give to Watershed. The execution and production (by Brian O’Shea’) of the song is of such a standard that you cannot help but take you hat off to them. If you, like me, loved ‘Nightswimming’ then you should love this. It’s a bit like going to the cupboard and having two favourite shirts to choose from, both feshly cleaned and pressed and ready to wear.

‘Indigo Girl’ had some success in Europe going to number 27 in Germany, 17 in Austria and 58 in Switzerland.

Where to find it:
In The Meantime – Watershed (2000), EMI ‎– 724353995621

Video:

Transplant Calypso – Jeremy Taylor

Transplant Calypso – Jeremy Taylor

Transplant Calypso - Jeremy Taylor

The Best Of – Jeremy Taylor

Everybody in South Africa (and some from further afield) know Jeremy Taylor’s ‘Ag Pleez Deddy’, but it is only an older generation and ardent fans that know some of his other songs. One of his other funny songs is ‘Transplant Calypso’ which is dedicated to Dr Christiaan Barnard and “his particular brand of medical satire” as Jeremy says in the introduction to the live version of the song. It was written around the time that Dr Barnard was pioneering the art of the heart transplant where he “takes hearts out of people who are nearly dead/Puts them into other people who are also nearly dead/With the result that they both die”. Jeremy goes on to say that Barnard is “A man after my own heart”. All this by way of intro which he delivers with a stand up comics timing, before he launches into his song about a being made up of animal parts after seeing his doc and getting various tansplants. The punch line arrives when he moans to his doc that he doesn’t want anything from an animal. The doctor offers him another organ “I looked at this thing with dismay and suspicion/It was the brain of a politician” and he opts to go for the animal parts instead. Taylor wrote brilliant satirical songs and ‘Transplant Calypso’ was him at his biting best. Yes, medicine has moved on drastically since those transplant days and the subject matter is somewhat outdated, but it is still darn funny and all sung in Taylor’s wry smile voice. Look beyond the popcorn and bubblegum and you’ll see that when it came to hysterical South African satire Jeremy Taylor was the deddy.

Where to find it: Ag Pleez Deddy (1997) Gallo, CDRED608

Hear it here: https://myspace.com/taylorjeremy/music/song/transplant-calypso-7953599

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson – Des & Dawn Lindberg

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson – Des & Dawn Lindberg

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson - Des & Dawn Lindberg

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson – Des & Dawn Lindberg

Des & Dawn Lindberg are an institution in South Africa. Not only have they have been around for along time, but they have been involved in the music business for longer thas they have been around (that’s because they used to be Des Lindberg and Dawn Silver). They have been banned (yes, ‘Folk On Trek’ was an undesirable item way back when) and panned, but are still well fanned.

Undoubtedly, ‘The Seagull…’ is their best known and best loved hit. Released in 1971 it tells the story of “a long time ago in ‘67” (4 years can be a long time in the music biz) when a small boy met a oil drenched seagull on the beach, cleaned him up and then released him. It is sung to an upbeat folk sound with whistlers a-whistling, guitars a-jangling and bongos a-bongo-ing. Des takes the main lead on the vocals but is joined by a healthy chorus (led by Dawn).

It all seems lovely and save the planet-ey, just what you’d expect from those hippy folkie folk of yore. But was there an underlying message in the song. Just across from the oily shore where the seagull was found was someone else named ‘Nelson’ who was wanting to be freed of the pollution of apartheid. Could the song possibly have been about him?  You decide while we all sing together, “And the seagull’s name was Nelson/Nelson who came from the sea/And the seagulls name was Nelson/Nelson The seagull free.”

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 1 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40485 (CD)
The Des & Dawn Collection – Des & Dawn (1994) Gallo, CDGMP40523

Video:

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