1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids width=

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids

The cover of the Asylum Kids’ album ‘Fight It With Your Mind’ has a picture of an x-ray of a skull from the side with soundwaves, looking like they were made out of blood, moving through the mind of the owner of the skull. There is something a little disturbing with this image and it is therefore not too surprising when you plonk the record on to your turntable to find that the music is also unsettling.

As the title track opens the album, there is an immediate sense of edginess with a swirling and ominous bass guitar that sucks you over to the dark side. And this feeling stays with you throughout the song, even when the music swells to the angry chorus where we are told over and over again to ‘fight it fight it fight it with your mind’. Dino Archon’s bass prowls around the song like some sort of fictional devilish animal while Robbi Robb jumps around like a cage fighter, punching viciously at an unseen opponent.

The Asylum Kids were possibly the best punk band to come out of South Africa. They were smart, angry and dark. They lived on the fringes of society, tapping into the minds of the disaffected and disowned. They walked like the rough hero strides through an apocalyptic city that is in perpetual darkness. And where that movie hero would have a shotgun slung over their shoulder, the Kids have guitars. The music lures you into the darkness, but the message is to fight this darkness. They were the right band at the right time, questioning our society and its views.

Where to find it:
Black Poem Jugglers – Asylum Kids (1994), Tusk Music, WOND 123


Coming Home – Wendy Oldfield

The Best Of - Wendy Oldfield

The Best Of – Wendy Oldfield

After the demise of The Sweatband (remember their hit, ‘This Boy’), charismatic lead singer, Wendy Oldfield (no relation to Mike as far as I know) struck out on her own, firstly with an album called ‘Beautiful World’ (in 1991) and while it is a good album, it does suffer a little from being a product of its time, sounding like a lot of the popular music of the late 80’s early 90’s akin to Lisa Stansfield and the like.

However, roll on a few years to 1999 and along came ‘On A Pale Blue Dot’. With the opening track, ‘Coming Home’, Wendy sounds like a different artist. Gone is the rock pop of The Sweatband, gone is the house/dance music sound of ‘Beautiful World’. This has been replaced by a sleek and seductive sound of a matured musician. There is a prowling cat like feel to the song as it lures you into an exotic web of pleasure and mystique. There is a funky guitar which threads a feline route through a jazzy and laid back drum beat that drags you by the collar, like a sexy woman in a film, pulling a seductee to a place of hidden pleasures.

But before you can get too carried away by the music, your attention is grabbed by a voice that is slightly breathless, completely alluring and downright sultry. You are now completely hooked and give yourself over to this underworld of pleasure. There is a slight Middle Eastern feel to the track which has one conjuring up images of dimly lit cafés complete with belly dancers, oil lamps and a heady fog of mystery and intrigue. Then, just as you are comfortable with the hypnotic repetition of ‘Coming home/I’m coming home’, the song suddenly bursts into a heavier rock track and Oldfield’s vocals move from the seductive to raunchy rock.

‘Coming Home’ marked the maturing a of a remarkable local talent and producing some of her finest material. It is possibly one of the sexiest songs to come out of South Africa.

Where to find it:
The Best Of – Wendy Oldfield (2007) Universal, STIFPCD042


The Highveld (Is A Shit Place To be In The Winter) – Buckfever Underground

Jou Medemens Is Dood - Buckfever Underground

Jou Medemens Is Dood – Buckfever Underground

The Buckfever Underground are a strange local band. They don’t sing, they talk. But when they talk, you listen. Led by Toast Coetzer, the band underpin his sardonic delivery of his insightful poetry to produce strange but fascinating music. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but Coetzer has an excellent eye for detail and a great sense of imagery.

In ‘The Highveld (Is A Shit Place To be In The Winter)’ Gilad Hockman provides a beautifully desolate guitar that is gently plucked while Coetzer’s ‘kakpraatery’ (as is noted in the liner notes) describes the underbelly of the highveld. Far from the glamour and glitz of Sandton City, the words scrape together the dust and smoke (‘the endless flavour of winter’) of the land that almost chokes one. It gathers together those that populate the area (‘The people here are ugly in their cars and pretty in their bars’) in all their glory and ugliness.

It is uneasy listening this, but doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know, it just does it in a way that you have never heard before. The images and words that Toast uses along with the gentle guitar bring a kind of beauty to all the ugliness in a juxtaposed way that despite the Highveld being a shit place to be, it is home to many. ‘The Highveld’ is taken from their debut album, ‘Jou Medemens Is Dood’, which showcases Coetzer’s remarkable ability with words both in English and Afrikaans. The music creates the outlines of wonderful caricatures of South African life while Coetzer’s spoken words provide the colour and detail. The Buckfever are a remarkable local band who condense the wide open spaces of the Highveld into four and a half minutes of stunning observations and melancholic beauty.

Where to find it:
Jou Medemens Is Dood – Buckfever Underground (1999)

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Sugarman – Just Jinger

Greatest Hits - Just Jinger

Greatest Hits – Just Jinger

When Rodriguez walked out onto the stage in Cape Town back in 1998 to kick off his first ever SA tour, he thanked the audience for keeping him alive. And a large part of that thanks could have been directed towards Ard Mathews and Just Jinger as their cover version of the Rodriguez classic, ‘Sugarman’, was probably as important in bringing the Detroit musician to a new generation of fans as the army call up was to his first South African fans.

‘Cold Fact’, the Rodriguez album that contained ‘Sugarman’ had been around since the late 60’s early 70’s and seemed to live in the air we breathed back then. Nearly every white South African home had a copy of the album and everyone knew the song. It seemed only natural then for someone to cover it, but strangely it had to wait till the 90’s before Just Jinger plucked up the courage to take on such a revered song. And they did the right thing with their cover as it is as straight forward a cover of an original as one could get. Just about the only difference between the original and the JJ’s version is Ard’s grungey vocals compared to Rodriguez’s folky ones.

So what, you may ask, is the point of producing a cover that is pretty much the same as the original? Well, I think that the fact that Just Jinger didn’t deviate too far from the original shows their huge respect for the song and the singer as they didn’t want to mess too much with the original, seeing it as perfection in itself, so they could only imitate and not add to it. The second reason that this was an important cover was laid out in the first paragraph of this article. Just Jinger were becoming one of the biggest bands in the land and the fact that they tipped their hat to this classic song had their younger fans digging out their moms and dads CDs to check out the original.

At the time Just Jinger covered this track, there was hardly another cover of the track, let alone a cover of any other Rodriguez tracks out there (there were some and a list of pre-‘Searching For Sugarman’ covers can be found here: http://sugarman.org/coverversions.html). Just Jinger with their excellent and timely cover of the track helped keep Rodriguez alive and well and they did so reverentially, letting the song take the limelight. This would have to go down as one of the greatest covers of an international track by an SA band.

Where to find it:
Something For Now – Just Jinger (1998), Colossal Records, cdcll(sb)7020


Dames – Biggy

Big-Bigger-Biggy - Biggy

Big-Bigger-Biggy – Biggy

When you first see the video for this track (see Youtube link below), you may be tempted to say, ‘That Eminem has put on some weight’, as SA’s Biggy looks somewhat like the US rapper with blonde hair and blue eyes, with a few additional pounds added on. But while the local Notorious Biggy is a few weight divisions above Eminem he, like his American lookalike, knows a good beat when he hears one.

There is a very catchy rap of ‘Dames/sê my wat jou name is/my name is Adrianus’ (ladies tell me what your name is, my name is Adrianus) which is done in a slacker voice over some wicked beats, telling of Biggy’s luck and then bad luck with girls as he invites one home, but is dumped when she discovers he still lives with his parents or when a girl hears he’s a well known rapper, but when he takes her outside a boyfriend punches his lights out.

Biggy doesn’t take himself too seriously with these funny lyrics, cool rhymes and catchy beats. Perhaps the refrain of ‘Damessê my wat jou names is…’ does become a little irritating after about the 50th time in the song, but this is a minor criticism of one of the tracks which demonstrates the growth and maturity of Afrikaans rap music. Slightly less vulgar than Die Antwoord or Jack Parrow, Biggy is a more clean cut rapper. He is the Kurt Darren to Die Antwoord’s Fokofpolisiekar of the SA rap scene. He is a bit like The Fat Boys or De La Soul, who took the lighter approach to rapping than the gangsta style. And he just about makes it work with ‘Dames’.

Where to find it:
Big Bigger Biggy – Biggy (2019), Universal


Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith

Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith

Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith

When one sees the title ‘Candlelight’ one would expect a mellow schmoozy song about romantic scenes taking place in the soft light a candle creates, perhaps an intimate dinner or a relaxing bath. Well Richard Jon Smith seemed to have other ideas when he recorded this song which appears to have originally been the b-side of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, a single by a band called Fingernail.

Not too dissimilar to the original, Richard Jon Smith’s version immediately dispels any romantic images associated with candlelight and kicks off with a glam rock stomping beat and a joyful guitar. It’s not too long before Smith bursts into the song, taking over from the guitar with a howling cry of ‘Candlelight/shines so bright/every one is happy because you’re by my side’. And this growly vocal continues throughout the song as it wends its merry way along with platform boots abounding while shades of Slade and glimmers of Glitter flicker around this Clive Calder produced track.

The South African public took to this bright candlelight giving Smith his first of 9 Springbok chart hits. It spent 9 weeks on the chart in 1973 and peaked at 11, a deserved success as it was a polished 70’s rock hit which brought one of the most successful local artists of the 70’s to the fore. ‘Candlelight’ is a track to have ready to play next time there is loadshedding, it may help brighten your life. Alternatively you could put on the Springbok Nude Girls’ ‘Dimmer’ if you’re a glass half empty kind of person.

Where to find it:
Yesterday’s Best Vol 1, 1995, Teal, MORCD502


Master Jack – Four Jacks & A Jill

Master Jack - Four Jacks & A Jill

Master Jack – Four Jacks & A Jill

‘Master Jack’ has been one of the most successful South African songs on the US Billboard charts. Yes, we had seen Hugh Masakela top the US charts with ‘Grazing In The Grass’, but that was recorded and produced in the US while the Four Jacks & A Jill version of ‘Master Jack’ was completely recorded and produced in South Africa. With its simple guitar tune, Glenys Lynne’s innocent vocals and positive lyrics, the song made its way to number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would also make it to number 33 in Germany as the band recorded a German version of it. This would inspire cover versions by the likes of Trini Lopez and German singer Heidi Bruhl.

The song was written by David Marks and some interpretations of the lyrics are that it was referring to BJ Vorster, who would become the Prime Minister of South Africa, while others think that it related to Hendrik Verwoed, the architect of apartheid. Some say that Master Jack refers to a mine foreman, an interpretation that holds water as Marks did work on the mines. Marks himself has also said that the assassination of Hendrik Verwoed helped him to complete the song, so it seems there are a number of ‘faces’ to this Master Jack.

However you chose to interpret the song, nothing can take away the beauty and simplicity of the Four Jacks & A Jill version which is a gentle track that floats on a cloud of melancholy with a pensive angel on lead vocals, harmonising with the other angels who have traded in their harps for a folk guitar. ‘Master Jack’ is a South African classic and will be with us for a long time, as long as we live in a strange, strange world.

Where to find it:
The Heart And Soul Of – Four Jacks & A Jill (2001), Gallo, CDREDD 661


A Lot Of Things – Peach

A Lot Of Things – Peach

A Lot Of Things – Peach

Peach were punks, kick-ass punks. And for many their first introduction to the band was the single ‘A Lot Of Things’ which, from the first second, was rough and raw and in your face. In 1981, South Africa was not really ready for punk even though the movement had started a few years earlier in the UK, but Peach were one of the standouts of the many excellent local punk bands from the time, and they were the ones who made a break through and saw some commercial success.

‘A Lot Of Things’ took Angie Peach and her band to number 7 on the Springbok charts as well as making 6 on the Radio 5 charts and 14 on the Capital 604 ones. It was at odds with most of the other tracks in the charts at the time, sharing top 20 space with songs like LaStique’s ‘Hold On’, Kenny Rogers’ ‘Lady’ and Barbra Streisand’s ‘Woman In Love’. Probably the closest other thing to punk in the charts at the same time was The Police’s ‘De Do Do Do De Da Da Da’, but that was some distance from the latter’s earlier work.

‘A Lot Of Things’ rocks back and forth on it’s own beat with an angry guitar doing cartwheels around Angie’s sneering vocals. The song is a bit like a Suzi Quatro hit that has not been sanded down and made smooth. And that is the joy of the track. It is raw energy etched into the grooves of a 7 inch disc of vinyl which would have left many a stylus on record players around the country feeling like it had just done a major workout.

The follow up hit ‘Nightmare’ went 1 place higher on the Springbok charts and is the more melodic of the 2 hits, but is less frenetic. ‘A Lot Of Things’ ends as abruptly as it started, catching one a bit by surprise, but that was what it was all about. It was not meant to make you relax, it was a song designed to make you sit up and notice. The saddess thing about Peach was that they only ever made the 1 album, ‘On Loan For Evolution’, but what an album and what a track to kick off a career as short and as dynamic as ‘A Lot OF Things’.

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


Come Down – Grannysmith

Grannysmith - Grannysmith

Grannysmith – Grannysmith

Grannysmith have already featured once on this list. Their previous entry was the song ‘Starlight’ and like ‘Starlight’, ‘Come Down’ also comes off the band’s eponymous album and that is not too surprising as that appears to be their only output. Which is rather sad as that one album showed us the potential the band had.

‘Come Down’ is slightly more uptempo than ‘Starlight’, but it is still a relaxed rock affair which seems to be a cross between REM (in their more relaxed moments) and Jack Johnson. The vocals are soothing, the guitarwork is pleasing and the rhythm is just right for relaxing to without falling asleep. The band had a good ear for a pleasing tune and this track is a fine example of this.

While ‘Starlight’ steals the limelight when looking at the brief career of Grannysmith, you will loose out if you don’t dig a bit deeper and try and track down their album as a songs like ‘Come Down’ is a bit of a lost gem, sitting quietly on the album, waiting for you to come and find it. The SA Rockdigest held the song in equal esteem with ‘Starlight’ as both tracks made it to number 10 on their charts. ‘Come Down’ a great song to ‘wind down’ to.

Where to find it:
Grannysmith – Grannysmith (2000), BMG, CDCLL7039

He (Can Build A Mountain) – Peter Vee

He (Can Build A Mountain) – Peter Vee

He (Can Build A Mountain) – Peter Vee

Peter Vee has been around the South African music scene since the early 60’s. He was a member of The Invaders, The Four Dukes, Sons of She, The In Crowd, The Outlet and The Staccatos before striking out on his own and forging a successful solo career which produced 4 Springbok top 20 hits. The least successful of these 4 hits was ‘He (Can Build A Mountain)’ which spent 2 weeks at number 20.

The song appears to be a cover of one recorded by a band called Family Child who, I believe, were a German band that included as a member Bernd Vonficht who became better known in South Africa in the earlier 80’s as Bernie Paul having hits such as ‘Oh No no’ and ‘Night After Night’.

‘He (Can Build A Mountain)’ is a gospel/soul number which builds slowly on the back of a repeated refrain of lines starting with a syncopated ‘He’. The circular nature of this draws you into the song as it builds, like being slowly sucked into a whirlpool of warmth and joy. Undoubtedly it is a song of its time and fitted in well with the soul and gospel tinged sounds that were popular at the time (think Alan Garrity’s ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand’ and the earlier hit, Edwin Hawkins Singers ‘Oh Happy Day’).

There is not much to choose between Peter Vee’s version and that of Family Child as they are quite similar, but, of course, we would have known Peter’s version on our radios. There is also a cover by Joanna Field and Billy Forrest which one can find of Youtube. This sounds more like a more recent version (possibly early to mid 80’s) and is a little more like a church band version rather than the gospel choir-y versions from Peter and Family Child.

Of course you can choose which one you prefer, but as a clue to which one is my favourite, I can give you a hint – the Joanna Field and Billy Forrest version will not appear on this list. The title of the song says ‘He (Can Build A Mountain)’ but one could say of Peter Vee that ‘He (can Build A Good Song)’.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: The Tips Of My Fingers (1973), MFP, MFP54633


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