1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Letters For Dicky – Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart - Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson

David Kramer’s song ‘On The Border’ tells the story of a guy recalling a friend who ended up commiting suicide while doing his army stint. In that song it was time spent in DB that put the guy in question over the edge. Jennifer Ferguson’s ‘Letters For Dickey’ covers similar material except that the narrative is in the form of letters from a girl to her boyfriend on the border.

The song is sung in a strong South African accent and one can imagine it being a rather simple and frightened girl who at first cannot believe that there would be anyone else but Dickie for her, but while her man is away she is tempted and falls pregnant to another guy. Despite the ‘Dear John’ letter she ends up writing, she still loves her Dickie. The song takes a sharp turn from this dreamy lovestruck, confused and rather naïve girl when the news come through that Dickie had taken his life. Ferguson’s voice reflects the growing maturity in the girl as the song builds to its climax and perfectly captures the shock and emptiness as she sings the line ‘the bullet that you put into your head was meant for me not you’.

Like ‘On The Border’, ‘Letters To Dickey’ is a very emotional song and deals with a subject that we all knew, but never spoke about openly. It perfectly captures the strain that conscription put on the country, not only for those fighting, but also for those back home waiting for the return of loved ones. While those days are gone, this song and those like it, still speak to us of the impact war has on people. There have been many anti-war songs written, but few cut as close to the bone as this one. The song appeared on Ferguson’s album ‘Hand Around The Heart’ and everytime you hear ‘Letters To Dickie’ that hand is not a kind one, it is squeezing your heart till it hurts. Powerful stuff.

Where to find it:
Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson (1985) Shifty Records

Hear here:
http://jenniferferguson.bandcamp.com/track/letters-to-dickie

Josie Josie – Anton Goosen

Riviersonderend - Anton Goosen

Riviersonderend – Anton Goosen

‘Josie Josie’ finds Anton Goosen in a more sombre mood. The song starts out with a slightly menacingly strum guitar, but the sting of this is quickly flattened by a melancholy flute playing over the top of it, and then Anton’s vocals come in.

The song then builds with a chorus joining Anton on the vocals and the flute weaves itself around this chant like sound. There is a stuttering, stumbling feel to the song, like it is lurching forward into uncertain territory, trying to be brave by stomping along, yet one can sense the lack of confidence in it. So one turns to the lyrics for clues to what is going on. ‘Josie Joise don’t let it rain on your dream tonight/Josie Josie we’ve seen it through now our days are bright’ is the repeated refrain that Goosen and the chorus sing and then you realise, Josie is perhaps not a woman, but could be Johannesburg (‘Jozi’). The song then makes sense in that it is almost a prayer for the new South Africa as it stumbles from Apartheid into democracy.

There has been lot sung about the country and in particular its transformation from the bad old days, but few have done this with such beauty. It’s not a ‘New York New York’ for Johannesburg, it is a heartfelt request.

Where to find it:
Riviersonderend – 21 Greatest Hits – Anton Goosen (1994), Gallo Records (CDGMP 40402)

Video:

 

Kilimanjaro – Juluka

The International Tracks - Juluka

The International Tracks – Juluka

Whenever you talk to someone who has climbed or attemted to climb the highest mountain in Africa, all you hear is how terrible they felt due to the altitude sickness. And then, when you point this out to them, they go on to talk about a sense of achievement etc etc. Having spent a lot of time on the lower slopes of Kimlmanjaro, but never having climbed the mountain, I think I will avoid altitude sickness and a sense of achievement by doing 2 things. Firstly I will enjoy looking at this magnificent land form whenever she shows herself (she can be quite shy, hiding under clouds a lot) and secondly I will listen to Juluka’s song ‘Kilimanjaro’. Of course, some will say, that this is not as good as actually climbing the mountain, but hey, I’m a lazy git and besides which, the Juluka song is so cheereful and bouncy that frankly, I don’t give a damn.

The song comes from one of the final Juluka albums of Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu’s first collaboration and it was entitled ‘The International Tracks’ which was a collection of singles that had been released internationally, but not in South Africa. Perhaps the line in ‘Kilimanjaro’ that went ‘what a strange strange freedom/only free to choose my chains’ had something to do with the lack of an initial release in South Africa.

The song also showed a leaning towards more of a ‘western’ sound and a keyboard (a popular instrument in the 80s) features quite prominently with a sound somewhat more akin to that being heard in the new romantic moment in the UK than in the townships in SA, but having said that, the song still has much of the South African sound that had endeared Juluka to us. There is a jangling township guitar, a penny whistle and a few ‘um-um-oh-um’s that remind us where the song comes from, even if the subject of the title is from somewhere a bit further north.

So sit back, relax, you don’t have to get hiking boots, big jackets and back packs to climb this ‘Kilimanjaro’. And like the majestic mountain in Tanzania, Juluka’s song will take you to new heights.

Where to find it:
The International Tracks – Juluka (1990), MINC, CDM 4064772

Video:

Woogie Boogie – Platform 6

Woogie Boogie - Platform 6

Woogie Boogie – Platform 6

‘Woogie Boogie’ was a song written by Chris Andrews, an English singer and songwriter who had a good number of hits in South Africa which included ‘Yesterday Man’, ‘Pretty Belinda’ and ‘Yo Yo’. He was also responsible for a number of other artist’s hits such as Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet On A String’ which he wrote. ‘Woogie Boogie’ was one of his less successful compositions in terms of international appeal as it only managed to get to number 30 in Holland when Dutch act Ferrari recorded it.

However, we in South Africa seemed to dig what Andrews did as he scored at least 11 hits on our charts as a song writer, 4 of which (all of them with him as artist) made number 1. Platform 6’s take on ‘Woogie Boogie’ would land him a number 3 hit in SA and its not too surprising when he uses a simply stomping beat that you can dance to with a catchy tune laid on top of it.

Platform 6 were from Vereeniging and comprosed Keith Taylor (vocals), Gary Smith (vocals), Jack Mouton (guitar), Michael Nosworthy (organ), Hennie Botha (bass), Jan Labuschagne (drums). They took the Andrews composition and, where Ferrari used a rather breathy vocal and a slower pace, they injected a stonger vocal and certainly gave the song a bit of oomph on the pace front. You will find yourself tapping your foot away to this poppy tune and who knows you may even get up and woogie boogie a bit.

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

Video:

Home – Just Jinger

Greatest Hits - Just Jinger

Greatest Hits – Just Jinger

Released around the time that Ard (sometimes Art) Matthews and his Just Jinger (now Jinjer) were busy relocating to the US, it is  interesting that they would record a song called ‘Home’ as it must have a soul searching time for Matthews as he made the decision to leave his home. And this perhaps reflects in the song itself which finds the band in a reflective mood.

But apparently its not about Ard/Art at all and his leaving SA. Its a tribute to Nelson Mandela and all he did for South Africa.

The sound is not as heavy or lively as some of their previous offerings. Featuring a mellow rock beat around which thoughtful guitars gather, the song feels somewhat intimate and the listener almost feels like they are an intruder eavesdropping on a private jam that the band are having. And that is probably the attraction of this nugget, the sense of being privy to something that the creators of are not aware is being leaked to the public.

‘Home’ has a poignant intensity to it. The band are so caught up in creating this beautiful sound and the lyrics seem to echo in the heartbeat of the music. There is a searching and a longing in the vocals that swirl through the song. For the singer, home is where the Ard is and I think every house should have a ‘Home’.

Where to find it:
Greatest Hits – Just Jinger (2001), BMG Records Africa ‎– CDCLL(CLM)7048

Video:

Count The Red Cars – Penny Croft

Penny Croft

Penny Croft

Penny Croft is another of those honorary South Africans as she was born in the UK and came out to SA where she recorded a number of songs and eventually returned to Britain. Her father, David Croft, was a sitcom writer and co-wrote scripts for BBC shows such as ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Are You Being Served?’ and ‘Allo, Allo’.

In 1977 Penny recorded ‘Count The Red Cars’, a song she had penned with Zayne Cronje. The song failed to chart on the Springbok Top 20, but did make it onto the first volume of ‘The Best Of SA Pop’ series.

The song is about unrequited love and is underpinned by a beautiful piano melody which builds slowly as a slow confidence comes into Croft’s voice and the lyrics start working through the issues of not being loved in return and finding ways to deal with it. In this case, the singer finds that singing helps her overcome the loneliness (‘And then I’ll hide inside the melody/and cry behind the smile/but I’ll sparkle in the spotlight/sing the songs that you compile’).

This is a positive song which Penny handles with aplomb. It has a lot of feminity to it and would not have worked with changed lyrics to be the theme tune to a popular radio show if it had been called ‘Count The Squad Cars’.

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

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Hold On (To What You’ve Got) – Peanut Butter Conspiracy

Hold On (To What You’ve Got) - Peanut Butter Conspiracy

Hold On (To What You’ve Got) – Peanut Butter Conspiracy

It you have a copy of this single (or the album that this comes from) I suggest you do what it says on the label as this is another slice of great soul music that South Africa managed to come out with. Yes, the band’s name was the same as an American band around the same time and yes, this was a cover version of an international song (the original was by Bill & Buster who were actually Tommy Moeller and David ‘Buster’ Meikle from Unit 4+2), but our guys did know how to make a good job of covering these kind of songs.

Starting off with a subdued guitar and beautiful harmonies, the song then veers off from being too close to the original as Brian Mulder’s gravelly voice speaks the lyrics over the angelic harmonies that the band continue with. This is a similar ploy that the band used on their earlier hit ‘Understanding’ and as the latter went to number 2 on the Springbok charts, they thought they were on to a winning formula. And they were as ‘Hold On (To What You Got)’ made it to number 4 on our charts.

This is a silky smooth cover version that seems to seep out of the speakers and fills the room up with warm and good feelings. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy were a great soul band and they brought us a number of classic songs. ‘Hold On (To What You Got)’ is just another example of how good they were. Can I hear anyone say ‘Amen’.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

Video:

Living For The City – Disco Rock Machine

Living For The City - Disco Rock Machine

Living For The City – Disco Rock Machine

When Stevie Wonder recorded ‘Living For The City’ it was a slick and funky song. When Disco Rock Machine got hold of it, they turned it into a rocking, floorfilling, stomp-a-thon with a killer female vocal that grabs hold of the song and shakes it by its commuters. While Wonders version is silky and somewhat laid back, rather like a drive through the suburbs, Disco Rock Machine’s version struts down a busy Wall Street, head held high.

As the band’s name suggests, they combined the burgeoning disco sound with a rock sensibility to create a hard-edged song that you can dance to. But who were the cogs in this machine. Well, the names of this studio outfit should ring a few bells as we had none other than Trevor Rabin (Rabbitt and later Yes in case you’ve been living on another planet for the last 40 years) on guitars and keyboards while Kevin Kruger (possibly better known for his production work) on drums and a certain Rene Veldsman (she of Via Afrika fame) providing those powerful vocals. It is quite difficult to picture the voice on this song going on to give us the earthy, ethnopunk of ‘Hey Boy’ which is a credit to the vocal versatility of Veldsman.

The band would also record a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, but would not find any success on the Springbok Charts, perhaps it was lines like ‘To find a job is like a haystack needle/Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people’ from ‘Living For The City’ that put the old SABC off giving this cover version a good run in the public’s ears. However, you can get to hear it now if you can lay your hands on the ‘Disco Fever’ CD, otherwise, there is always Youtube.

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

Video:

Shouldn’t Fall In Love – City Limits

City Limits

City Limits

‘Shouldn’t Fall In Love’ was the first single by City Limits and it managed to spend 9 weeks on the Springbok Radio Top 20, peaking at 8 during that time. Written by John Weddepohl, this song starts of with a dramatic soaring mix of vocal and instrumentation before settling into a catchy rock tune which is driven by keyboards with the odd guitar wail going on. The vocals and feel of the song are solid AOR with shades of Boston and America coming through.

Just over half way through, the guitar suddenly takes hold of the song with some searing licks and the vocalist (not sure if it is Rick Wolff or John Weddepohl as both are credited with lead vocals on the album sleeve notes) has to react and does so by moving up a key or so and matches the guitars wails accordingly.

Sadly, the band failed to build on the success of their first album (they did have another top 20 hit from it in the shape of ‘When You Gonna Love Me’ which has already appeared on this list), but we didn’t hear any further musical output from the band. So we are left with this and ‘When You Gonna Love Me’ as testament to a band with an ear for a good rock tune and the ability to pull it off. The lads can be proud of what they did.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

Video:

Tulips For Toinette – Johnny Kongos & The G-Men

Tulips For Toinette - Johnny Kongos & The G-Men

Tulips For Toinette – Johnny Kongos & The G-Men

Before his sons were taking pounding pop rock music into the US and Canadian charts, and before he was taking pounding pop rock songs into the UK charts (after he dropped the ‘ny’ at the end of his name as well as the G-Men), Johnny Kongos and his G-Men were making rock ‘n’ roll music in the early 60’s. One of those songs is the rather beautiful ballad ‘Tulips For Toinette’ which was released in 1963 and in those days before the Springbok Top 20, it made number 2 on the LM Hit Parade.

The song was written in memory of a fan of the group (aged 11 if the lyrics of the song is anything to go by) who tragically died on her way to one of their concerts and as such has a rather sad tone to it. There is a cowboy riding his horse rhythm to the beat of the song while a piano gently tinkles in the background (which may well be Koos’ Lisa playing as is a mooiste melodie). This gently rocking and piano underpin some nice harmonies in the vocals which suggest that some Everly Brothers must have been on Kongos & his mates turntable at some point.

Yes, there were loads of American teen idols from the 50s and early 60s who made this sort of music. Names like Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee and Bobby Vinton come to mind, but this was a local lad who was doing it and doing it really well. The song has certainly dated, but as the opening track on the first volume of the original and very important historic record ‘The Best Of SA Pop’ series, it has cemented its place in SA rock history and I am sure the memory of little Toinette will live for a long time still.

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

Video:

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