1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Saint Judas – Ramsay MacKay

 

Saint Judas - Ramsay MacKay

Saint Judas – Ramsay MacKay

Thunder rolls across a menacing sky, but the storm does not come. The clouds suddenly disappate and the sun begins to pulse over the land again. But it is a harsh sun that bakes the country in its unrelenting heat. That is how the start of ‘Saint Judas’ feels. There is a blast of guitar and keyboard at the start of the song that sound ominous. But this fades and a thumping beat begins with Ramsay’s growled Scottish vocals bellowing at you.

Then, into this harsh heat come a cool breeze in the form of a beautiful violin riff (are violins allowed riffs?) and some shady sax interludes which prevent the song from being just a howling growling stompathon. The heavy syncopation is offset perfectly by the tuneful sax and violins, creating a song dense in sound, yet strangely refreshing.

‘Saint Judas’ was actually the b-side of Ramsay’s single ‘Silent Water’ (which was also released in Spanish as ‘Agua Silenciosa’) and was the opening track on his album ‘The Suburbs Of Ur’. It features Rabbitt’s Ronnie Robot on bass and was produced by Julian Laxton and Patric van Blerk. With names like this helping out Ramsay (who was in Freedom’s Children remember) it is not surprising that this song could be included in this list.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze 3 – Various (2012), Fresh Music, FRESHCD185

It’s So Luvverly – Peach

It’s So Luvverly – Peach

On Loan For Evolution - Peach

On Loan For Evolution – Peach

Peach had 2 hits on the Springbok Top 20 in 1981. ‘It’s So Luvverly’ was not one of them. But it could well have been as it is as strong a track as ‘A Lot Of Things’ and ‘Nightmare’ which did make the charts. Coming from their only album ‘On Loan For Evolution’ this song is a bouncy ska-punk tune.

Unlike the two hits which are more punk rock and venomous, ‘It’s So Luvverly’ is up tempo and great for pogo-ing around the living room to (that’s if you still remember how to pogo and have enough energy to do so).

However, scratching below the surface of what seems like a positive song, things are not so luvverly. The title of the song is a sarcastic swipe at the establishment, talking about the problems in society in true punk fashion – “You want to hear a real good joke/They’re telling us there is no hope/They say the streets are full of tension/any town you want to mention” – which could have been as relevant to the UK as it was to South Africa at the time. That is probably why it never made the top 20.

Where to find it:
On Loan For Evolution – Peach (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd 123

Search – Egyptian Nursery

Search – Egyptian Nursery

God’s Window - Egyptian Nursery

God’s Window – Egyptian Nursery

A Pom, a Maurituian and a Congolese walk into a South African group and call it Egypitan Nursery. This may sound a bit like the start of a bad joke, but its not. Despite their different nationalities and naming their group after a 4th, Egyptian Nursey became one of the dance acts in the country during the late nineties and early naughties.

‘Search’ is funky, sexy, slick and earthy. Cragie Dodds (the Pom in the equation) creates the soundscape of chilled beats, funky guitar licks and keyboard beeps and noodlings. Ariane (the Mauritian) lays down a silky and sexy vocal about searching the whole world but never finding the rich man she’s after, then Mojama (the Congolese) comes in, firstly with a sung vocal that is not too dissimilar to those found on a Blk Sonshine record, except that here they are in French, adding to the sexiness of the song. He returns later for an English rap.

This laidback dance music opened the way for acts like Moodphase 5ive, Felix LaBand and others on the African Dope label to explore further. Dodds himself went on to work with Jenny Delenta and QZoo before returing to the UK to have some success with the Sugababes.

Where to find it:
God’s Window – Egyptian Nursery (2000), Fresh Music, FREDCD100

Venus – Stockley Sisters

Venus – Stockley Sisters

Venus - Stockley Sisters

Venus – Stockley Sisters

Miriam and Avril Stockley were the Stockley Sisters. In 1976 they took a cover version of the Shocking Blue classic song ‘Venus’ to number 5 on the Springbok top 20. Shocking Blue had topped the charts with the song in 1970 and Bananarama also took their 1986 cover to the top of the charts, making the song one of the most successful in SA chart history.

Comparisons between the versions are almost obligatory, so here goes. Shocking Blue were a little bit closer to the hippy age when they recorded theirs and it has a bit of a Doors-ey organ thing going on with folky tinged guitars. Bananarama’s one was straight out of the Stock, Aitken And Waterman hit factory of the 80’s making it sound like early Kylie.

Inbetween these other versions we get the polished pop of the Stockley Sisters. The Sisters brought a kind of girl-rock sound to the vocals, a sound we would see further developed in Clout a few years later. There is also a sort of disco sound going on as that genre was rising in popularity at the time. Overall, The Stockley Sisters can stand shoulder to shoulder with Shocking Blue and Bananarama when it comes to versions of the song. Each one brought something of its time to the interpretation.

Miriam Stockley went on to greater things, working with the likes of Queen, Mike Oldfield, Alphaville and Elaine Paige and performing backing vocals on music for The Lords Of The Rings movie trilogy.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)

Video:
Stockley Sisters:

Shocking Blue:

Bananarama:

Johnny’s Conscience – Corporal Punishment

Johnny’s Conscience – Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment

In the UK, Punk was born out of the disaffection with the dire economic situation there and a general boredom with prog rock. In South Africa, it tended to revolve more about the disaffection with the political set up of apartheid. But where the UK punks tended to be thrashy and noisy, spitting out their venom, their South African counterparts were more refined, but no less vociferous.

James Phillips was one of the people at the forefront of this movement and one of his early groups was Corporal Punishment which he and Carl Raubenheimer were members of. The band’s name could have two meanings – physical punishment (like getting cuts at school, for those of you old enough to remember, but would rather forget such things) or the punishment dished out by the Corporal in the army because you hadn’t rolled up your toothpaste tube neatly enough (once again one for those of you old enough to remember, but would rather forget).

‘Johnny Conscience’ is a dark and brooding affair. It slinks down an unlit back alley in a seedy city, furtive eyes looking left and right, hands pushed deep into pockets. It wearily climbs the stairs, the smell of piss and vomit all around, and finally gets to the dingy flat where it shoots up and fades into oblivion. It weaves its way round your mind, unsettling your nerves and leaving you drained. But there is something addictive about it that keeps luring you back into its foreboding lair. And what is music if it doesn’t make you feel?

Where to find it:
Corporal Punishment – Corporal Punishment (1986) Shifty Records

Right Here – Semisane

Right Here – Semisane

A Life Less Strange - Semisane

A Life Less Strange – Semisane

Semisane came together in 2000 and quickly garnered a fan base which threw them into the musical limelight in South Africa and ultimately led to them writing the theme tune to the Big Brother TV series there. But that is getting ahead of ourselves. One of the steps on the ladder to scale those dizzy heights was to put together an album which they did – ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ – and then to choose a single to get airplay. That first single was ‘Right Here’.

A chilled out affair, ‘Righ Here’ sounds a bit like Alanis Morrissette on valium. There isn’t the angst and anger that Morrissette had, but there is the catchy tune with a stong female vocal (courtesy of Tikara) underpinned by jangling guitars. It seemed the perfect single to ease you into the not quite mad world of Semisane.

The song topped the SA Rockdigest Charts and went on to be voted the 7th best song of the year by that publication. Two more of their songs (‘Trying To Believe’ and ‘Alright’) also made the top 50 songs of the year list and the album ‘A Life less Strange’ made 4th on the album list. Not bad for their first year’s work.

Where to find it
A Life Less Strange – Semisane (2000),BMG Records, 74321 77593 2

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – Jessica Jones

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – Jessica Jones

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday - Jessica Jones

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – Jessica Jones

‘Sunday, Monday, Tuesday’ was the second single from Jessica Jones. It followed up 1971’s ‘Baby I Love You’. The latter failed to chart on the Springbok Top 20, but did make the old LM Radio charts where it had a 27 week run. ‘Sunday, Monday, Tuesday’ gave her the SA Top 20 breakthrough, spending 26 weeks in total on the charts and topping them for 3 weeks from 11 August 1971. She was the first local woman to top the charts since Cornelia almost 4 years earlier. The next 4 local number 1’s were by women as well (Barbara Ray, Lauren Copley, Maria and Gwynneth Ashley Robin), so one could say this was a bit of a trend setting song.

It’s a bright and breezy pop tune with a bit of a stomp-along country rhythm going on. The latter sound seems to have stuck with Jessica as she re-recorded the song for her 2012 album ‘Coming Around Again’ where she has pushed it even more into that direction. The lyrics are as upbeat as the music, talking about enjoying every day as it comes.

In 1978 another local group, Sweet Promise, recorded a funky soul version of the song which they took to number 19 on the Springbok charts. This is also worth checking out as with only 3 days in the title, this song could not be called week.

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

Video:

Snippet of the Re-recorded version here:
http://www.jessicajones.biz/samples/SMT.html

Saved – Chris Chameleon

Saved – Chris Chameleon

Shine - Chris Chameleon

Shine – Chris Chameleon

After Boo! finally called it a day, it was not too surprising to see Chris Chameleon changing colours from a lead singer into a solo artist. With a voice like his, it would be a crime for him not to be singing. His first solo album ‘Ek Herhaal Jou’ was an Afrikaans offering, but with his second, ‘Shine’, we saw the ever changing Chameleon switch into English.

In the addendum to the book ‘1 001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die’, they give the 10 001 songs (that’s 9 000 extra songs in case you misread the “0”s) you must hear for those, like me, who just can’t get enough of lists. In amongst the extra songs is ‘Saved’ by Chris Chameleon, so it’s not just me that says you should hear this.

And why should you? It’s nothing like the quirky Boo! you came to love. Nor is it the more serious and quieter affairs that one found on ‘Ek Herhaal Jou’. And it doen’t feature some of the vocal gymnastics that he can get up to. It is a straight forward pop rock song with a slightly heavy beat, a foreboding voice on the verse which soars on the chorus and production tighter than some of the trousers that Chris wears. Perhaps not the most interesting track that he has produced in his various guises, but it is a song bursting with pop sensibilities, great hooks and as always, a sublime vocal performance. It is yet another side to this everchanging national treasure.

Where to find it:
Shine – Chris Chameleon (2006), Rhythm Records, RR070

Video:

This Weekend – The Dynamics

This Weekend – The Dynamics

The Dynamics

The Dynamics

In the early eighties in the UK Ska music came to the fore with bands like Madness, The Specials and The Selecter. In South Africa we enjoyed this style of music, but it never really took off. Madness were about the only band of this genre to have chart success on our shores, and even then it was a bit limited. Similarly, our own, homegrown talent in the form of The Dynamics, did not get much play on the radio and, with hindsight, we were poorer for that.

‘This Weekend’ was from the bands first incarnation (1980 – 1981) and is a joyful organ ‘n’ sax romp that is as life affirming as a Friday night on the town. The song goes further into the weekend, even making the Sunday morning hangover sound like a blast (although I imagine not many would recommend a dose of this song as a cure for a babalas).

Being a multi-racial band, there is a definite township inflection to the sound not found in the other ska that was around, and the song is richer for this. There’s a sort of African jazzy sound in the fine print of the song, making it a highly dance-able to track. The CD reissue offers you a choice of the instrumental version, or one which has Ian Botha on vocals. While both are worth a spin, Botha’s slightly plummy singing and the lyrics add to the overall affect, making it the prefereable one to listen to.

The Dynamics were a politically aware band and had to endure the scrutiny of the apartheid government’s secret service (as the sleeve note the the CD describes them “Remember those creepy, moustached thugs in bad clothes and white socks who used sit on the front-row tables with untouched beers and those unmistakable dikbek faces that never smiled?” – some secret huh!). But ‘This Weekend’ is not a political song, it’s jol-injected jive. To quote the seelvenotes of the CD once more ‘Time to switch it on and jive – again’

Where to find it:
The Dynamics – The Dynmaics (2001) Retrofresh, freshcd 111

Straight Ahead – Otis Waygood Blues Band

Straight Ahead – Otis Waygood Blues Band

Simply Otis Waygood

Simply Otis Waygood

‘Staight Ahead’ originally appeared on the 1971 album by The Otis Waygood Blues Band ‘Ten Light Claps And A Scream’ and eventually made it’s was onto the CD re-issue of ‘Simply Otis Waygood’ as a bonus track. Unlike most of the Waygood’s other material, this is an instrumental piece and Rob Zipper who normally tackled vocals, decided to put his mouth to good use, blowing away on a mean sax.

It does, however, sound as if Rob was sitting in a different room to the rest of the band as the sax is sort of muted and distant, but he does a wonderful job of running a three legged race with his brother Alan on bass as the two play the same tune and are essentially the driving force behind the song. Despite the bass and sax being the engine of the song, one must not forget the interludes where Leigh Sagar butts in with his guitars, adding some screech to the chatter of the Zipper brothers.

There is an overall down and dirty dub kind of sound which was not common in music back then, but did echo in a number of 80s indie bands like Pig Bag and A Certain Ratio. This song sounds like it is floating up from some dingy smoke-filled basement club, causing the pavement to vibrate to the beat. They weren’t just good these guys, they were waygood.

Where to find it:
Simply Otis Waygood – Otis Waygood Blues Band (2003), RetroFresh, freshcd 135

Video:

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