1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

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

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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)

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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

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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)

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Kanimambo – Tananas

Tananas

Tananas

On a first listen to this piece by one of our favourite instrumental groups, I guessed that Gito Baloi had a lot of influence in the writing of it. Why, you may well ask? Well, it seems to have a bit of a Latin sound going on there and being from Mozambique, Baloi would have had more of a Latin connection than his fellow band members. So I hauled out my copy of ‘SA Top 40 Hits Of All Time Volume 6’ to check out who wrote it and, well, it is credit to all three band member (Baloi plus Ian Herman and Steve Newman).

However, no matter how much input each band member had into the song, it  turned out to be an earthy piece with a cyclic relaxed rhythm circling around some fancy, yet understated guitar work while a female voice repeats the title and a somewhat thoaty male vocal adds some ‘way-i-i-o-i-i-o-ah’ into the mix for good measure. Then about two thirds of the way through, a 60s psychedelic organ wonders into the studio to give it a bit of a psychedelic feel.

This is a beautiful piece of music that seems to encapure the warmth and relaxed mood of both Africa and Latin America. It will make you want to go out and buy a hammock, string it up between two palm trees on a white sandy beach and gently sway to its rhythms while pretending to be able to play a guitar half as well as Steve Newman does.

Where to find it:
SA Top 40 Hits of All Time Volume 6 – Various Artists (2001), Sting Music, STIDFCD037

Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie – Frank Opperman

Kombuis Musiek

Kombuis Musiek

Kovers of Koos Kombuis’ song abound. Some are great and some not. A lot are covers of ‘Lisa Se Klavier’, this one is not. This one opens the Kombuis tribute album ‘Kombuis Musiek’ and, in my humble opinion, is the best track on that album.

Opperman was probably better known as an actor than a singer, coming to South Africa’s attention as Neels, the car mechanic in the sitcom ‘Orkney Snork Nie’ and having a role in the film ‘Boetie Gaan Border Toe’. However, in 1999 he turned his hand (or should that be voice) to singing and produced a great album called ‘Serial Boyfriend’ with a band called Prime Time Addiction. It was probably on the strength of that album that he was asked to submit a cover version for the ‘Kombuis Musiek’ compilation.

‘Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie’ starts off with a contemplative piano (is that Lisa playing?) before a relaxed beat starts and then Frank’s gruff vocals come like rough sandpaper over the smooth music. And it is the juxtaposition of the relaxed, melancholic instrumentation against the dirty and almost disturbing vocals that make this cover work. It gives one a feeling of being safe while travelling through a land littered with outcasts and junkies, needles strewn around the place, people lying around looking dead, a sort of voyeuristic feeling.

Opperman seems to get to the core of the song, a sense of caring about ‘Johnny’, yet acknowledging that the world that he lives in is seedy and fraught. A classic cover of a classic song.

Where to find it:
Kombuis Musiek – Various Artist, Fresh music (2002),FESHCD125

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Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top – Joy

Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top - Joy

Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top – Joy

‘Paradise Road’ became a South African classic that still reverberates around the local music world to this day. But before Joy brought us that chart topping hit, they had a lesser know song make number 11, about 6 months before ‘Paradise Road’ cracked the charts and that was ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top’.

Like ‘Paradise Road’, ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop…’ was written by Fransua Roos and Patric van Blerk and both tracks appeared on the album called ‘Paradise Road’. However, unlike the soulful chart topper, ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop’ is a straight on disco floorfiller. From the moment the funky bass starts up (about 3 seconds into the song), you know that you are going to be dancing to this one and that is soon confirmed as that disco beat (you know the one I’m talking about) hits in. And while that is strutting around your turntable (remember those?), you are hit with a voice that is not too distant to that of one of the greats of the disco era, Donna Summer.

Interestingly, 2 years after ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop’ was released in 1980, Joy covered the Jon & Vangelis song ‘State Of Independence’ around the same time that Donna Summer released her own cover. Co-incidence? Well listen to ‘Ain’t gonna Stop’ and I think you’ll agree that Joy knew how to do disco the same way Donna Summer did.

Joy actually did not stop once they managed to get to the top because apart from the cover of ‘State Of Independence’ mentioned above they had one more song make the Springbok charts, but that’s for another entry on this blog.

Where to find it:
Singles Bins

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Sleep Tight Margaret – Vusi Mahlasela

Silang Mabele - Visu Mahlasela

Silang Mabele – Visu Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela has a beautiful voice. Well, that’s a bit like saying water is wet because, just as anyone who has felt water would tell you that it is wet, anyone who has heard Vusi would tell you he has a beautiful voice. So what happens when a beautiful voice collides with a beautiful song? To start with the word ‘collides’ takes on a velvet smooth kind of merger or combining rather than its usual harsh clashing together of objects. And with ‘Sleep Tight Margaret’ we have this coming together of the voice and the song.

‘Sleep Well Margaret’ is a lullaby that sits like a comfort blanket on your soundsystem with gently plucked guitars, hushed drumming and a muted bass which slide by you in a dreamy state, Vusi’s tender vocals caressing your ears, taking you on a aural trip into dreamland.

But, as with a lot of Vusi’s material, there is more to the song than beautiful voice meeting beautiful song. The lyrics reveal a pain in the Margaret that Vusi is singing to as he sings, ‘Carry you to a new day/New day, new life/Releasing the misfortunes/That carried us through yesterday’. There is a deep care for this ‘Magaret’ and Vusi is trying to help her through this pain, singing her to sleep, and bringing her peace so that she can face the ‘new day’ with optimism. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that the Margaret in question was Margaret Singana, but I can’t say this with certainty.

A song is often the best envelope in which to deliver a message of hope and no more so in this bittersweet, soul-filled offering from Vusi.

Where to find it:
Silang Mabele – Vusi Mahlasela (1997)

Chapel Of Love – June Muscat

Chapel Of Love - June Muscat

Chapel Of Love – June Muscat

The Chapel of Love is one of those Las Vegas places when you can rock up and get married on the spur of the moment. Apparently this one also offers (or used to offer) a drive thru service. It is therefore quite fitting that when Dan Hill was fretting about the fact that the vocalist who was meant to sing on the version of ‘Chapel Of Love’ they were recording hadn’t turned up (was she in a drive-thru somewhere?). June Muscat was working as a secretary at G.R.C. (aka Gallo Record Company) and happened to walk into the studio at that time. Dan Hill immediately married her to the song and it became a huge hit for her in 1964.

The song was a cover of the well know tune which was first made famous by The Dixie Cups and also recorded by Darlene Love as well as The Ronettes. Listening to these versions by those luminaries of US soul and then comparing it to June’s version, the one thing that struck me was how much to the fore June’s vocals were pushed. While there is nothing wrong with the other versions, its worth checking out June’s one purely for the strength of her voice which rings out like a chapel bell over a warm, brassy and funky sound.

It is always difficult to compare different versions of the same song, especially when people have a favourite version, or stick to the one they first heard, but for many South Africans this may well be their version and it is easy to see why they would stick to this one as it is a strong cover of the song which was probably played at many a wedding in the country during 1964 and, I’m sure, for a good many years thereafter.

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

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