1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

For Annette – Jack Hammer

Anthology - Jack Hammer

Anthology – Jack Hammer

‘For Annette’ finds Piet Botha and his band in a quieter, more reflective mood. There is a sadness running through the song which seems to be about a woman who has turned to the bottle: “I know the way the she drank her wine/Red yellow all the time just to get away”. It is sung from a stand point of a friend of this ‘Annette’ watching and understanding but not liking. The reasons for the “Too many living sharpened tears” is what “Some call [it] love in a place that died”.

To match the subject of the song, there is that distinctive Jack Hammer rough edged guitar sound and a grungy emotional vocal, but it’s not as in your face as some other material in the band’s portfolio. It’s serious subject and the music matches it.

It’s not all doom and gloom thought, there is the bittersweet line “And I can see you smiling” which suggest that there is some positive left in ‘Annette’s’ life. This is a song to sit in solitude and listen to, while reflecting on life and friendship. It’s a song for watching the sun go down on a particularly emotional day. It has a certain soothing quality to it that won’t wash the blues of the day away, but will slowly dissolve them, leaving you better off for the experience.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Jack Hammer (January 2000), Wildebeest Records, WILD020

Heidi – Peter Lotis

Heidi - Peter Lotis

Heidi – Peter Lotis

Heidi was a little cartoon girl who lived in the Swiss mountains who had been drawn by Japanese animators and who spoke Afrikaans to her grandfather and friend Pieter. Well, that’s how any child growing up in the late 70’s in South Africa would remember her. There is a lot more to her story and you can read up all that on Wikipedia if you want.
Those children of the 70’s would be very familiar with the theme tune to the TV cartoon, as would any parents of such children, although they would probably have heard the Afrikaans version by Herbie and Spence more than the English one that Peter Lotis recorded. Lotis had been churing out records since the late 50’s, but was enjoying success presenting ‘The Money Or The Box’ on TV at the time this came out.
The song has a typical German oompah-band style to it as well as the obligatory yodelling to give it a Swiss feel. Such was the popularity of the TV show that both Lotis’ and Herbie & Spence’s versions made the Springbok Top 20. Lotis fared far better, reaching number 2 while Herbie & Spence faltered at 13. This song will bring back many memories for those growing up at the time. It is a specific song from a specific time, so if you weren’t there, it may not appeal, so you could just press the skip buttion if you want, or take a trip down some elses memory lane. It’s up to you,

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


Heidi on Wikipedia:


My Kind Of Girl – Cinema

My Kind Of Girl - Cinema

My Kind Of Girl – Cinema

In 1987, Cinema were the band to watch. They were going places with bright and breezy pop full of saxophones and keyboards and they had a snappy dress sense and…mullets!!! Of course the mullet was poular back then, especially if you wanted to make it in the music world. Who knew that it would become a hairstyle of ridicule years later?
Despite the dodgy hair, ‘My Kind Of Girl’, which was most people’s introduction to this new band, was as poppy as you could want. There is a bouncy danceable rhythm and a strong vocal performance (unlike today’s boybands, back then, you didn’t have to sound like you were in huge amounts of pain and distress in order to attract the girl’s attention). Written by band members Chris Frank and Alan Lazar, lead singer Jarrod Aston, brings the song to life and it remains one of the standout pop tracks from the second half of the 80’s.
‘My Kind Of Girl’ charmed it’s way to number 6 on the Springbok Charts, pretty-boyed  to number 9 on the Radio 5 charts, sharp dressed itself to number 2 Capital 604’s charts, and mulletted a number 1 spot on the Radio 702 ones. Yes, there was a lot of image going on around the band, but as the styles back then are no longer popular, you have to look at the song itself without the posing and it stands up to the test of time.
Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)


National Madness – The Aeroplanes

The Aeroplanes

The Aeroplanes

The Aeroplanes never really took off in South Africa, well not to the masses, but they were one of those shifty Shifty groups that did well in the ‘alternative’ or ‘underground’ music scene. It’s not too difficult to see why they never hit the mainstream, their music is too angular and unpolished and their lyrics were too close to the bone for the average South African. And that is what made them so good. Despite their lack of polish and their music being somewhat jolting, they still managed to inject the songs with some great lo-fi tunes. Their songs had genius written all over them.

‘National Madness’, by it’s very title, would not have garnered much (if any) airplay. The fact that this song first appeared on the End Conscription Campaign’s (“ECC”) tongue-in-cheekly titled album ‘Forces Favourites’, would also not have helped its cause (but did help the ECC’s).

There are two versions of the song to choose from. The one that appears on The Aeroplanes’ ‘Greatest Hits’ has sad but angry vocals which are applied to raw beats and bandaged up with bruised guitars. It is an open wound of a song where you can feel the hurt. A second version which appears on the ‘Shotdown’ compilation and re-issue of ‘Forces Favourites’ is a slightly smoothed over one with a burping sax and a female backing vocal is thown in. This does take away some of the edge of the original, but none of the venom. Either way, the song worms itself into your brain, unsettling you slightly and doing what all good music does, makes you think.

Where to find it:
Shot Down (Resistance Music from Apartheid South Africa) – Various Artists (2006),Shifty Records
Greatest Hits – The Aeroplanes, (No label or year given) CDCJM001
Forces Favourites – Various Artists (1986), Shifty Records (SHIFT10)

Hear here:


Oyebisi Nga – Egyptian Nursery

New Anthem - Egyptian Nursery

New Anthem – Egyptian Nursery

‘Oyebisi Nga’ finds Egyptian Nursery in a quiet mood, with an almost lullaby lilt to the song it floats gently along on a fluffy cloud as Mojama’s and Ariane’s sweet vocals make slow passionate love to each other, moving slowly on a bed of relaxed beats and scratches that Cragie Dodds provides. This is a sensual lights-down-low song. It lights a hundred candles to create a misty soft light.

The lyrics are sung in a mixture of English and Lingala (a language spoken in Mojama’s native Congo). The language should not sound too unfamiliar to the South African ear as it is part of the same “Bantu Languages” that Zulu comes from. While the shapes and sounds of the words are not completely foreign, the meaning may escape us. But, there is no misinterpreting the emotion in the voices.

This is chill-out at its best. In fact this song could be the one you finally drift off to after the hectic night of clubbing, followed by a time back home sitting around listening to quieter music to calm the pulse before eventually heading off to bed. It’s the chill-out track for chilling out to after listening to the rest of your chill-out music.

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

Down At Marlene’s – Flash Harry

Take What You Can - Flash Harry

Take What You Can – Flash Harry

There is a slightly hollow and echo-y sound to the guitars that introduce you to ‘Down At Marlene’s’ which suggests that Marlene’s is a seedy backstreet joint. Phrases like ‘sidewalk’, ‘out in the street’ and ‘neon lights’ in the lyrics enhance this image. The singer is addicted to going to this place, even though “there’s nothing for me” there.

The song itself feels like that. It has an addictive punky wreckless guitar rhythm and menacing bass. The vocals are threatening, yet you are drawn in by them. Its frenetic forbidden fruit that leaves you feeling dirty afterwards, but at the time, you can’t help yourself. A further line talks about “the band and the audience are part of the show”, which draws you deeper into the voyeurisism of it all, suggesting that by merely listening to it, you become a part of this sleazy set up.

The inner sleeve of ‘Take What You Can’, the album that this gem first appeared on, has a picture of a torn up old ten rand note (you remember the ones with van Riebeeck on?). No, Flash Harry are not saying that buying this album was a waste of money, but could be pointing to the social scene set up in the song. It is an eye into a world that you may not want to visit in reality, but thank to Keith Berel and the rest of Flash Harry, you can view it from the safety of your speakers and maybe not feel quite so grimy afterwards.

Where to find it:
Vinyl album: Take What You Can – Flash Harry (1982), A.D. Records (DTC 1000)

No Man Shall Fall – Little Sister

Ready And Willing - Litle Sister

Ready And Willing – Litle Sister

Purely as a title, ‘No Man Shall Fall’ can be read in a ‘he ain’t heavy’ kinda way in that it could be a call to pick up your fellow human when they stumble. Or it could be a feel-sorry-for-myself-woe-is-me song bemoaning the fact that nobody could fall in love with the poor singer. But in the hands of the Lonman sisters (Debbi and Jenni) who were better known as Little Sister, the lyric explains further that “no man shall fall/into my heart”.

And speaking of heart, there is undoubtedly a similarity between Little Sister and the American band Heart. Not only are both groups primary members two sisters (Ann and Nancy Wilson in the case of Heart), but they both write great power ballads. ‘No Man Shall Fall’ was described in the SA Rock digest as being “Elegiac and beautiful, soaring singing and guitar work, a song about awareness of wrongs done and a new leaf turning.”.

Starting out slowly with an atmospheric piano and voice, the song quickly builds into that large sound associated with rock ballads and a loud blast of chorus before suddenly dropping back to quiet again, only to build once more. South Africa was not a place where power ballads were easily grown. But the Lonman sisters seemed to have found a fertile patch to plant this one and have reaped a great crop of guitars, drums and emotive vocals. Contrary to the title, I think any man who loves his rock music will fall for this one.

Where to find it:
While No One Was Looking – Little Sister (1999), Gallo, GWVCD9
Ready And Willing – Little Sister (1990), Tusk, TUCD 7

Be Bop Pop – The Spectres

Be Bop Pop - The Spectres

Be Bop Pop – The Spectres

Vox pouli is Latin for the the voice of the people. So if you ever wondered what the hang Tara Robb and her Spectre mates were going on about in 1989 on the second single and title track to their only album ‘Be Bop Pop’ (the chorus goes “Be Bop Pop/Vox Populi”), now you know.

Following up the (be bop) popular ‘Teddy Bear’ was this bright and bouncy little tune which is a foot tapping, brassy piece of pop perfection. From its trumpet and sax laden intro, through the Heather Mac-esque vocals and honky tonk piano interlude, including the rabble-y chorus and hand clapping instrumental break to the return of the wailing sax on the fade out, this is great stuff. It was a worthy follow up to ‘Teddy Bear’ but unlike its predecessor, did not garner any chart action on Radio 5, Capital 604 or 702 and it is difficult to understand why as this was probably even more commercial than ‘Teddy Bear’. However such is the music biz.

Tara Robb (who sadly passed away in September 2000) provides the chocolate-covered boiled-sweet vocals to Gary Rahtbone’s solid guitar and Allan Lusk’s bouncing bass. Richard Frost provides the driving percussion rhythms. And it is the addition of some non-Spectres that add a warm brassy layer.  Murray Campbell (he of ‘Goodbye My Love’ fame) supplies the trumpet, Mandla Masuko makes the sax wail and John Davis slides in with some tromboning. Whoever decided to add the brass deserves a medal. You need to listen to vox Phasma Phasmatis (Latin for the voice of a Specter).

Where to find it:
Vox Populi – The Spectres (2004), RetroFresh, freshcd 141



Time Of The Season – Neil Cloud

St Cloux - Neil Cloud

St Cloux – Neil Cloud

Most of you will know the Zombies’ song ‘Time Of The Season’ which was a number 2 hit for them in SA in 1969. Back in 69 the song was a shimmering, sexy, smokey song in that 60’s garage style. About 9 years later and following the demise of one of South Africa’s biggest bands, ex-Rabbitt drummer Neil Cloud took the song and decided to funk it up.

Disco was all the rage then and what better to do than take a nice old 60’s rock classic and turn it into a floorfilling-get-down-and-boogie-till-you-puke-funk-n-roll-70’s-classic. A lineup of well known names pervade the song with Johnny Boshoff on bass and keyboards and being responsible for the beautiful string arrangements that give the song wings. Malcolm Watson provides the funky, thwacking guitar that Chic’s up the song. Lofty Shultz is among the names responsible for the brass that warms the song up and Rene Veldsman (she of Via Afrika fame) brings a sultry vocal to make love to Neil Cloud’s breathy ones. Lastly, there is of course, Neil’s drumming. It’s not just a straight forward keep the beat going drums, there are cascading and twiddly drums thrown in every now and then.

Drummers are not renown for having solo careers post the break up of a band, and even fewer actually make even half decent music on their own. But some of them do and Neil Cloud was one. While none of the tracks on his only solo offering ‘St Cloux’ (which included ‘Time Of The Season’) made the charts in SA, both ‘Time…’ and the epic 17 and a half minute cover of Marmalade’s ‘Reflections Of My Life’ (with a bit of the theme to’ The Good The Bad And The Ugly’ thrown in for good measure) made the cut for what is arguably the definitive collection of South African disco music – Gallo records ‘Disco Fever’. ‘Time Of The Season’ was a song that was one of the stand outs of its genre.

Where to find it:
Disco Fever – Various Artists, (July 1999), Gallo, CDREDD 627 (Out of print, so you may struggle)


Love – Gene Rockwell

Love - Gene Rockwell

Love – Gene Rockwell

Ah, that old elusive thing that so many poets have written about and musicians have sung about – love. ‘Love Me Do’, the Beatles cried, Robert Palmer was addicted to it, Air Supply were all out of it and Whitney topped the charts promising to ‘Always Love You’. That little four letter word has been countrified, rocked, punked, serenaded, reggaed, disco-ed, blues-ed, jazzed and every other genre’d in betweened.

So what could Gert Smit do with the topic? Well for a start, if you want to sing about the L-word, you cannot call youself Gert Smit now can you? So Gert changed his name to Gene and dropped the Smit for a much cooler Rockwell and soon had the nation love-ing him. In 1965 he penned and recorded this little ditty simply entitled ‘Love’. Gene had undoubtedly been listening to early Beatles records when he wrote this as it has that beat song sound with a gentle, almost rock-a-billy beat combined with a sharp vocal.

The song raced to number 5 on the Springbok Charts, giving him his 3rd top 5 hit and the first he had written himself. It’s a nice little rocker and in the worlds of David Mills, ‘’Love’ is a beautiful song.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 3 (1994) GSP, CDREDD 610
The Heart And Soul Of – Gene Rockwell (2000),GSP, CDREDD622


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