1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Long Legged Lady – Circus

Circus

Circus

Long ladies were a popular thing in the 70s. In 1972 The Hollies sang about a ‘Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress’, then in 1974 Mungo Jerry were interested in a ‘Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black’ and in 1977, local band Circus brought us simply a ‘Long Legged Lady’. One may be wondering looking at this title if the Long Legged Lady in the Circus song was dressed at all because there is no mention of her attire in the title, but we are very quickly informed by Bernie Millar – who handled the Circus vocals – that ‘She struts by with a red dress on’, which was just as well as back then in South Africa, women were never allowed to be without some form of clothing.

And the word strut is not out of place in this first line of the lyrics as there is a kind of funky rock strut going on with this song which, I was surprised to find in digging out information on the song, was written and recorded by a certain Dennis Waterman. That’s right folks. This 3 minutes of wonderful rock, began life as a song by the Waterman part of Stock, Aitken & Waterman who brought us the likes of Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley.

I have not managed to get hold of a copy of Waterman’s version to hear how he recorded the track, but judging by a couple of the other tracks on Youtube from Waterman’s 1977 album ‘Downwind Of Angels’ on which his version of ‘Long Legged Lady’ appears, it seems that Waterman did rock a little before he went all poppy. However, while Waterman seemed to rock in a Foreigner or REO Speedwagon kinda way, Circus seemed to have been listening to the likes of ZZ Top and Van Halen as they give the song a harder edge to it.

When they came to film a video for the song, the band brought in a cheetah to feature alongside them playing in Ciro’s nightclub. However, the cheetah took exception to the loud music and ran amok so the video ended up being cheetah-less, but unfortunately it featured Bernie Millar’s nipples which showed through his opened jumpsuit and the SABC banned it. Radio 5 got in on the act as the press lambasted the SABC for its decision and refused to play Circus records. So despite the track sounding so cool, the song did not get played on the radio and could not follow up The Hollies and Mungo Jerry’s success with their long ladies (both the latter made the Springbok Top 20) and the public had to wait a further 9 years before we finally saw a ‘Lady In Red’ in our charts and we all know how much that did not rock!

Where to find it:
In The Arena – Circus (2001), Retrofresh, freshcd116

Video:

 

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Mbube – The Lion Sleeps Tonight – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Why, you may well ask should we listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing a song that has been covered millions of times and is so well known that it has worn a groove through Africa the size of the Great Rift Valley. We have a choice of so many versions, including the original by Solomon Linda’s Evening Birds, why should we listen to this one?

Well, what Ladysmith Black Mambazo do with the song is take the original and bring a cleaner sound to it, using the advantage of more modern technology for their recordings of it. They also know how to produce the beautiful harmonies that Solomon Linda’s crew did.

They approach the song in a slightly different way though, seeing more of the lullaby side to it. They bring in the help of a woman (not sure who) who narrates a childs story over the gentle tones of the Mambazos and she adds the modern ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ lyric to the original ‘Mbube’. The result is a thing of delicate beauty. While there are a lot of the versions out there and most of them take a Tarzan swinging through the jungle approach with over the top falsetto vocals, it is nice to occasionally soften the tone and enjoy the song crowded around the cot, watching the youngster drift off to sleep.

Also worth checking out is the version where Ladysmith Black Mambazo team up with British group The Mint Juleps (see video link below)

Where to find it
Gift Of The Tortoise -Ladysmith Balck Mambazo (1994), Gallo, CDGMP

Videos:
Ladysmith Balck Mambazo

With the Mint Juleps:

You Keep me Hanging On – The Flames

The Flames

The Flames

Most people will know ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ from the sweet soul version recorded by The Supremes. Children of the 80s might have been introduced to it via Kim Wilde’s Stock Aitken & Waterman-esque version of it. But some of you who were around in the late 60s in South Africa may have first been hit by The Flames version of the song. I say ‘been hit’ by it because theirs is a sledgehammer version, with a psychodelicly surreal intro that thunders at you for nearly 3 minutes before the ethereal vocals come floating in over the dense sound.

There is a certain Freedom’s Children feel to this track by arguably one of the best soul bands to come out of the country. Its less soulful than some of their other offerings but it almost feels like the building is crashing down around you as you keep hanging on to this intriguing barrage of sound that pummels your senses. The dense instrumentation is perfectly complimented by an almost dismissive echo-ey vocal that says to the person involved that while you keep me hanging on, I have grown weary of you, you are dismissed.

The Flames were more than capable of producing some quite brilliant pure soul, just listen to their verisons of ‘Knock On Wood’, ‘Land Of A 1000 Dances’ and their big hit, ‘For Your Precious Love’, but occasionally they would lean to the rockier side of life. Their cover of Jimi Hendix’s ‘Purple Haze’ is an example of that, but I have yet to come across a track when they immersed themselves so completely in psychedelic rock in the way the do on ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’. This may not have been a favourite for many fans of their soulful side, but if nothing else, it would have won then great kudos with the rock fraternity.

Where to find it
Astral Daze – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2005), FRESHCD148

Video:

Heartwheels And Mindmills – Dog Detchment

JDog Detchment

Dog Detachment

There was a 4 year hiatus between the brilliant ‘Fathoms Of Fire’ (Dog Detachment’s 2nd album) and ‘Barriers’, their equally brilliant 3rd and final studio album. In that time, they continued to refine their sound and move away from the raw punk of ‘The Last Laugh’ (their first album) towards a more refined rock.

‘Heartwheels And Mindmills’, despite its rather stange title, moves along at a good pace with a staccato guitar forming the spokes on the song, going round and round in your mind while Brian Armstrong’s vocals, at first soft and almost whispered, suddenly catch the wind and soar like the sails of a windmill on the chorus. There is something quite beautiful in this sound.

And yet not is all well, as the lyric ‘How can I hope when my heart is torn in two’ tells us. There is angst and pain in the vocals that try and make sense of loving another when still loving the one you’re with. This is not a new problem for mankind, in fact there is a similar theme running through Ballyhoo’s ‘Man On the Moon’ and Dog Detachment picked up on the way we argue in circles when trying to resolve the situation. Like Ballyhoo who sang ‘My heart turns my mind into circles’, Dog Detachment sing of hearts and minds and circular things like wheels and mills. Though not as commercially successful as Ballyhoo’s take on this quandary, ‘Heartmills And Mindmills’ is no less a song. It’s just as tuneful and has a great vocal. It should have received the same attention.

Where to find it:
Best Kept Secrets – Dog Detachment (2001) Retrofresh, freshcd115

Video:

Moonlighter – Colin Shamley

Colin Shamley (Image from 3rd Ear Music)

Colin Shamley (Image from 3rd Ear Music)

It is rather strange that Shamley has only recorded 1 album (‘Born Guilty’ as far as I can tell) as he certainly is a talented dude. There are similarities to John Oakley-Smith (who also released a single album) in that both artists sing about every day life in South Africa and do so in an understated yet quite magical way. The difference between Shamley and Oakley-Smith is that the latter used a lot of piano on his material where Shamley chooses a guitar to underpin his songs.

‘Moonlighting’ is one of the ‘Other Stories’ on the 3rd Ear re-release of the magnificent ‘Born Guilty’ which was released with a load of extra tracks and entitled ‘Born Guily & Other Stories’. It’s a bluesy number that consists of one voice (Shamley’s), one guitar (Shamley’s) and a dimly lit alley atmosphere where the sound echoes, a solitary streetlamp struggles to illuminate the scene full of night characters. Shamley is an observer, watching ‘cops and pimps and queens and whores’ as ‘they hang round the all night arcade’. He takes the lives of these people and squashes them into descriptive lyrics to create the paint of the song which he splashes onto a staccato canvas that his guitar provides.

This is songwriting at its very best. Shamley’s sharp observationsof nightlife are perfectly encapsulated in this song and the sparse soundtrack he sets it to is so good its almost criminal, perhaps that’s why Shamley thought he was born guilty.

Where to find it:
Born Guilty & Other Stories – Colin Shamley (2003) 3rd Ear Music, 3eM Cd 7005

Video:

Candy – Geoff St John

Candy - Geoff St John

Candy – Geoff St John

‘Candy’ was Geoff St. John’s second Springbok Top 20 hit and followed the success of his 1975 hit ‘Kiss Me Kiss You Baby’. ‘Candy’ made it to number 9 in the charts in 1976 and enjoyed 10 weeks in the top 20 and its not too hard to see why the nation took to the song. Dare I say it’s a sweet song, with an uplifting pop tune and bubblegum lyrics.

The tune was written by Ken Levine who drafted in song writing partner Ernie Schroeder to provide the lyrics. According to Ken they had very little to do in promoting the song as Geoff St John was very popular at the time and the chart success mentioned above backs this claim up.

Listening to this song years after it was a hit one may be inclined to dismiss it as it is very much of its era, slotting in alongside other light hearted love songs like Brotherhood Of Man’s ‘Save All Your Kisses For Me’ with enough of a beat to be danceable to and a catchy chorus, and perhaps, yes, it has not aged as well as other songs, but there is a certain charm about it that makes me think it deserves another listen.

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

Video:

Afrikaan Beat – Shangaans

Jungle Drums - Shangaans

Jungle Drums – Shangaans

Now here’s a strange one. This is a band named after an African tribe, but made up of white guys. And on top of this they are perfoming a cover of a song written by a German guy who was trying to make music that sounded African.

The Shangaans were a 5 piece South African band whose line up included Grahame Beggs (who had great success with his band Charisma), Alain D. Woolf and a guy called Glen Muller (one wonders if they were ever tempted to call themselves the Glen Muller Orchestra). ‘Afrikaan Beat’ was a cover of a track by Bert Kaempfert who had had some internation success with his ‘African’ styled music. The local lad’s version of it appeared on their album ‘Jungle Drums’ which garnered some international interest and was released in The UK, Germany, Australia, France and Spain and probably a few more countries.

The Shangaans substituted the trumpet that Kaepfert used to carry the tune with a penny whistle type keyboard sound and while it lacked the warmth of the brassy version Kaempfert produced, this gave the song a more home grown feel as it trips along merrily, dragging tapping feet in its wake. There is an innocence to the song which gives it a 50s feel despite it being released in 1965. But it is this bright and breezy pop feel that gives the tune its appeal.

Where to find it:
Jungle Drums (Vinyl) – The Shangaans (1965)

Video:

Taking A Break – Hinds Brothers

Oceans Of Milk - Hinds Brothers

Oceans Of Milk – Hinds Brothers

A certain brand of foodstuff has the well known slogan of ‘57 Varieties Of Heinz’, and while there may not be quite as many varieties of Hinds on the South African music scene, there are certainly plenty of them about. The Hinds musical dynasty stems from 70s singer/songwriter Kevin Hinds who was in groups like Jade and Leatherbone as well as having a successful solo career. Then came a certain Craig Hinds, Kevin’s son and frontman of the hugely successful Watershed. To this growing list we can now add Aden and Wren, Craig’s younger brothers who joined forces to create The Hinds Brothers.

Their debut album ‘Oceans Of Milk’ has garnered them some excellent reviews, including a 5 star review from none other than Richard Haslop (he who used to write music reviews for Scope Magazine). And rightly so, it is a brilliant album worth checking out in its entirety. However, this is the 1,001 South African songs list, not albums list, so one has to chose a track from the magnificent 10 that make up the album and ‘Taking A Break’, was the one that stood out just that little bit more from the others. It’s as catchy as it is laid back. Undoubtedly influenced by the Americana gene of modern country/folk music that acts like Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart are part of, the song strolls along, taking in the fresh air of life and just feeling good.

The beautiful vocals waft on the breeze of music as chorus tells us that ‘God’s taking a break/she’s taking the world off her shoulders’. Now one may want to get into a theological debate about the gender of the deity, however that would be to miss the point. If the supreme being can take some time out and relax, then so can we and if She or He really wants to put Her/His feet up, there are few songs out there that would be better to do so than with this little gem.

Where to find it:
Ocean Of Milk – Hinds Brothers

Hear here:
http://www.hindsbros.com/album.html

Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Umqombothi - Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

When white South African manne went around singing ‘When we drink Castle/We’re filled with admiration/for Charles’ Brew/And how it grew/a mile high reputation’, they were not the only locals singing about beer. In the townships a certain Yvonne Chaka Chaka was singing a catchy tune called ‘Umqombothi’ which translates quite simply as ‘beer’. In this case (excuse the pun), there was no mythical Charles Glass figure involved in the creation of the brew as Yvonne sings ‘Everybody come and drink my magic beer’ and the video for the song shows Yvonne outside a hut brewing up her local drink.

Yvonne’s joyful vocals float as light as the froth on top of a sorghum beer over a beat laden township synthesizer sound that’ll have you doing your Madiba dance around the house while quenching your thirst on this delightful slice of Friday night, sitting around enjoying a social drink with your mates. This is good times music, not let’s get drunk music.

The song’s popularity throughout Africa led to it being used in the opening scene of the Oscar nominated film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. The film starts with the sound of someone searching through some radio stations, stopping for a while as a message of hate against the Tutsi is broadcast by a Hutu DJ before finding this song. It is quite a strange feeling listening to this uplifting song straight after the message, but it worked in the film.

It is worthwhile putting down that Castle every now and then and enjoying this Homebrewed hit.

Where to find it:
South African Souvenirs – Various (1993), Teal, TELCD 2346

Video:

Super Girl – Springbok Nude Girls

Surpass The Powers - Springbok Nude Girls

Surpass The Powers -Springbok Nude Girls

By the time 2000’s ‘Surpass The Powers’ came out, South Africa was well acquainted with the Springbok Nude Girls and their particular brand of rock. ‘Super Girl’ which was taken from that album was another example of just how good they were as a band.

Listening to the opening edgy guitar and ominous drumming, I can’t help thinking that Arno Carstens and the boys had been sitting listening to their Asylum Kids & Tribe After Tribe albums as, before the vocals kick in, one could easily believe that you were listening ot a track from the aftermentioned bands.

However, Arno’s roaring, soaring vocals quickly dispel those thoughts as his disctinct voice grabs hold of the song at times throttling it at other times seducing the ‘Super Girl’ of which he sings with his angelic falsetto.

This is a pounding piece of music that is tight, highly strung, yet has a vulnerable side to it that makes it compelling listening. But then again, would we have expected anything less from the Super (Springbok Nude) Girl(s)?

Where to find it:
Surpass The Powers – Springbok Nude Girls (2000), Epic, CDEPC8105

Video:

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