1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

God Keep The People (Who Stay Awake At Night) – John Oakley-Smith

Matinees On Saturdays - John Oakley-Smith

Matinees On Saturdays – John Oakley-Smith

There is an artist in the UK who in 2012 ‘did a Rodriguez’. That is, he recorded an album in 1967 and then another one in 1971 and then disappeared from sight only to have success come and find him decades later. This guy was Bill Fay who, following much touting in ‘Uncut’, a UK music magazine, eventually had an album in the UK charts.

And we all know the Rodriguez story of how he made 2 brilliant albums that did nothing then disappeared from sight, only to make a huge global comeback. John Oakley-Smith’s problem is that he only made 1 brilliant album that did nothing in 1976, but that shouldn’t preclude him from getting the recognition he deserves should it?

Just have a listen to the beautiful ‘God Keep The People (Who Stay Awake At Night)’ and then try and figure out why this man did not get more accolades. Like Rodriguez and Fay, Smith had an eye for human characters that he brings into his songs especially in this one where as he asks God to look after those nightowls whom most of us hardly notice. And, like Rodriguez and Fay, he brings them to our attention through great tunes. But where perhaps he outdoes Rodriguez and to a degree Fay, (and I may be going out on a limb here) is that he has a better voice. His is somewhat akin to Nick Drake and that is perfect for the music he plays.

So while you are listening to ‘God Keep The People’ maybe one of you out there may think about making a film called ‘Seaching For Matinee Man’.

Where to find it:
If you’re lucky you may find a vinyl copy of his brilliant LP ‘Matinees On Sundays’ at a second hand shop. The song’s on that.


Pasadena – John Edmond

Pasadena - John Edmond

Pasadena – John Edmond

During the Second World War, it was Tipperary that was such a long way to. With inflation and all that followed, by the time we came to 1972 it was a long, long way (that’s double the amount of longs) that one had to travel and this time it was to Pasadena. For someone in South Africa (or Zimbabwe where John Edmond spent part of his life, or even Zambia where John was born), Pasadena was certainly further away than Tipperary (which is in Ireland in case you didn’t know).

However for John Paul Young (who sang the original of the song ‘Pasadena’) Tipperary would have been a long, long way from his native Australia while Pasadena (near the west coast of America) would only have been a long way.

Despite the distances one would have had to travel, John Edmond would make the trip easier with this little ditty. His version is a smooth, easy going one which has a slight country tinge to it, helping you to sit back and enjoy the ride. On the other hand John Paul Young’s version would give you a bumpy reggae beat tinged ride. Its up to you to chose which one to have on your playlist for the journey.

‘Pasadena was Edmond’s 4th SA top 20 hit which would make number 5 and spend 17 weeks on the chart, thus performing better in SA than John Paul Young would in his native Australia as he only managed to get to number 16 there with his version.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

John Edmonds:

John Paul Young:

Master Jack – David Marks

Hidden Years - David Marks

Hidden Years – David Marks

Sometimes it’s better to have someone else sing the songs you write and when you listen to David Marks working his way through this classic tune that he penned you can’t help yearing for the flowery pop of the Four Jacks and the beautiful voice of Jill (Glenys Lynne). However, there is something strange, strange and alluring about this version which can be found on David Marks’ album ‘The Hidden Year’.

He slows the song down, dismisses that lovely plucked guitar work and replaces it with a lush orchestration and electric guitar. It must also be said that Marks does not have the best singing voice (but better than some that have committed their voice to vinyl – Anneline Kriel springing immediately to mind) and he puts emphasis on words in what I would regard as strange, strange places.

Despite all this, Marks’ version is interesting as it gives one an insight into perhaps how the song originally sounded in his mind and its not often you get to hear this where the artist who had a hit with a song is not the one who wrote it. And here we get the idea that this song was about the beauty of the world around us, not only from the lyrics, but from the way Marks sings and arranges this version. There is a sense of a person in a beautiful landscape, with a wide sky full of stars above them, slowly swirling round to take it all in. There is a depth to this version that Four Jacks and A Jill’s one never had. Both are great tracks to listen to, Four Jacks for those frivolous moments when you don’t feel like deeper feelings, but just want to be happy, and Marks’ version for when you want to sit back and contemplate life, the universe and everything.

Where to find it:
David Marks – The Hidden Years – Songs from 1964 to 1994, 3rd Ear Music, 3eM CD 003

Waiting (For A Miracle) – Dog Detachment

Waiting (For A Miracle) - Dog Detachment

Waiting (For A Miracle) – Dog Detachment

After Dog Detchment announced themselves on 1983’s ‘The Last Laugh’ (having already released a few singles over the prior 3 years), we had to wait another 2 years for the glorious ‘Fathoms Of Fire’ to surface. While fans weren’t quite waiting for a miracle, they were possibly a little surprised at what did arrive. ‘Fathoms’ wasn’t quite as hectic and angry as its predecessor.

However, while they may have lost a few hardcore punk fans, they would have gained a whole lot of new fans who had not quite taken to the angry noise of punk. Songs like ‘Touch The Sky’ and ‘Cheri Amour’ started to get airplay along with the brilliant ‘Waiting (For A Miracle’.

Imagine, if you will, sitting outside on a warm summer night, the crickets reminding you that you are in Africa. From somewhere inside the house, someone plays a somewhat eerie melody on a piano. Then the guitars take over and the Armstong brothers (and Mike and Adam) suck you up into that great expanse of sky above the house with their vocals that sound close, yet somehow faraway. The guitars carry a floating melody, the bass booms an ominous beat and still that haunting piano keeps you attached to earth by the merest of threads. What bliss! This is otherworldy punk that you can travel on.

The song made number 15 on the 702 charts and was their only hit on any of the music radio stations in SA during the 80s. Perhaps the army is to blame, as the Armstrongs were called up just when they were really needed to promote the album. Perhaps the chorus of ‘Waiting for a change, waiting for a miracle to come’ scared a few at the SABC into not playing the song too much. Could that possible have been about looking for the end of apartheid?

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


Bonely Bonela – Gries Heimer

David Gresham

David Gresham

For those in the know (and those of us who looked it up on Google) a guiro is a scraping instrument which produces a sound by scraping a stick over a notched piece of wood to create a fast clicking sound. And why, you may well ask, do we need to know this. Well because it is used in the chorus of ‘Bonely Bonela’ and I’m sure when you listened to it back in 1972, you sat there going, ‘what on earth is making that strange sound on this record? Is it scratched?’

And you probably would have been even more convinced of a pressing defect had you heard the original Italian version by Filipino singer Antonio Morales Barretto who went under the name of Junior as that version is guiroless (not a word you hear everyday, admit it). The instrument had its origins in South America and it’s not surprising that Gries decided to add it to his version of the song as it has a a flavour of songs from that part of the world. It’s a gently flowing pop tune with a quick rumba beat.

But who was this mysterious man called Gries Heimer. Well take away the “i” in his first name, join the 2 names, change the “ei” in the second name to an “a” and drop the “er” at the end… okay I’ll tell you, it’s easier that way. David Gresham. Yes this was Gruesome Gresh who scored a number 19 hit on the Springbok Radio charts (yes, the ones he used to present – no wonder he changed his name on the single) and spent a week there on 6 October 1972. So keep you feet on the ground, reach for the stars and enjoy this pleasant pop tune. As Frankie Valli put it, ‘Gries is the word.’

Where to find it:
Singles bins if you’re lucky


Here Comes The Sun – Hawk

African day - Hawk

African day – Hawk

Imagine, if you can, that John, Paul, George and Ringo had been born in Bloemfontein instead of Liverpool. And that they had been born about a decade later than they were. Apart from them not having scouse accents, and that they may have been called Jan Lennon, Paul Makhati, George Harrismith and Ringo Stêr they may have brought a different whole new sound to the world.

Have a listen to Hawk’s cover of the Fab Four’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and you’ll get an idea of what they may have sounded like. This cover version is a rare thing in that it has an Afrorock take on a Beatles Classic. Written by George Harrison, Dave Ornellas & Co take this pretty little tune, drag it through the African bush, let a few elephants trample on it, get a witchdoctor to chant some spells over it and then set it loose to roam the plains.

It’s a dusty take on the original that starts off calmly like and African sunrise, but as that great orange ball in the sky breaks loose of the horizon and the day begins to heat up, so does the song. Up till this point, it has kept closely to the original tune (tune, not style), but then it begins to speed up, Ornellas bursts out in a rant and the song become a herd of buffalo rampaging through the Kruger Park. It’s the aural equivalent of the great migration.

Where to find it:
African Day – Hawk (2001), Reftrofresh, freshcd 108


The Kid He Came From Hazareth – Freedom’s Children

Astra - Freedom's Children

Astra – Freedom’s Children

This song was originally called ‘The Kid He Came From Nazereth’, but had a name change as those moral guardians at the SABC at the time didn’t like this because of the obvious Christian references. So they went back into the studio and recorded ‘The Kid He Came From Hazareth’ and this is possibly more appropriate as there seems to be a haze of fuzz and and intrigue and echoes banging around inside a studio on this intense song. It’s packed full of guitars and organs and wailing, ethereal vocals that pound the senses and warp the mind. It almost needs a “Hazareth materials” warning sticker on it.

Taken from the band’s second, and many would argue their best album, ‘Astra’, it features the burning guitar of Julian Laxton, the thundering bass of Ramsay MacKay, the pounding drums of Colin Pratley, the swirling organ of Nic Martens and the exploding vocals of Brian Davidson all sloshing around in a belly of a beast.

It’s not really a song you listen to, it’s one that you experience. It will suck you into its whirlpool of noise, make you giddy as it swings you round and round, battering your ears and senses before washing you up onto a deserted shore with thunder rolling ominously in the background and you are left wondering is it really all over.

Where to find it:
Astra – Freedom (2005 reissue), RetroFresh, freshcd 145


Born To Be Wild Medley – Buffalo (featuring Peter Vee)

Born To Be Wild - Buffalo

Born To Be Wild – Buffalo

There is something a little amusing that a song called ‘Born To Be Wild’ is covered by a band whose name is one of the Big 5 animals. But then again, the original was by SteppenWOLF. However, where the original was a rock song, Peter Vee and his band turned it into disco rock. The medley stats off with Crazy Elephant’s ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’’ moves into Tommy James & The Shondells (Billy Idol’s version hadn’t been invented back then) ‘Mony Mony’, spends some time running through an instrumental tribute to The Kinks (‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and ‘You Really Got Me’ before finally easing into the old Steppenwolf classic.

Clocking in at just over 14 minutes, this would have been a DJ dream back in the late 70s early 80s. The mixing was already done, the songs were classics that everyone on the dancefloor could sing-a-long to, the beat was just right for the time, the guitars meant you could really crank the volume up and given the length of the track, you could just leave it playing while heading off to grab a drink, or chat up a girl.

So, find an old mirror ball somewhere, set it going in the middle of the lounge, send the neighbours away for the evening and then dance the night away, just you and your air guitar and of course Buffalo’s ‘Born To Be Wild Medley’

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


Beach Girl – Natalia



There is something Joni Mitchell-ish about this song from young (she claims to be sixteen in the song) Capetownian singer Natalia. This is a slightly strange comparison to make especially if you remember Natalia from her short-lived punk band Janie Jones. But on this solo effort, it’s just Natalia, her voice and her guitar, something that Mitchell would have done. And the best thing is that on ‘Beach Girl’ Natalia’s voice is not nearly as irritating as Mitchell’s. Having now probably blasphemed in the eyes of ardent Mitchell fans, I will say that Mitchell does have a great voice, but I can only handle it in small doses. On ‘Beach Girl’, Natalia employs a sweet, innocent girl voice to coincide with the lyric ‘Because he’s 25 and I ain’t even 16 yet.’ (I wonder what her father thought of this one?) and it works well.

The song is about a young beach girl falling for an older waiter and contains all the dreaminess that one associated with a young girl in love. However, despite this seemingly twee subject matter, Natalia injects a maturity into her pure vocals and the plucked guitar can surely not come from one so young. This prevents ‘Beach Girl’ from becoming seaside candyfloss and makes it sound more like a good chardonnay sipped on Clifton Beach on a Sunday arvie.

Where to find it:
Long Street Lullabies – Natalia (2007), Indie Release

Apie – Chris Chameleon

Screenshot from the video for Apie

Screenshot from the video for Apie

A chameleon goes ape. Well, it’s not quite as bad as all that, but if you weren’t familiar with Chris Chamelon and his amazing voice, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a chameleon on helium as he employes the upper part of his range for this fun filled frolic that is as cheeky and cute as a monkey. However, those in the know will know that Chris Chamelon has such an amazing vocal range that he was able to execute this song without the aid of studio wizardry or extra tight trousers (and that includes the cartoon like aping of the ape of which he sings).
Aside from the vocal talents on display in this song, we can also hear the influence of Europe (Belgium and Holland in particular) where he has had some success, initially as a member of Boo! but also as a solo artist. This shows through in the street-busker accordion that pervades the song.
After the break up of Boo!, Chameleon seemed to be heading in a more serious musical direction as his solo material had less of the light-hearted feel of that he created in the group, but there were still the occasional smile-inducing tracks around and none more so than ‘Apie’. Others in a similar vein include ‘Soen’, ‘Kersfees In Afrika’ and ‘Klein Klein Jakkalsies’, and when one contrasts these to some of the more serious material (which in itself is very good and I’m by no means dismissing it here), you realise just how versatile this Chameleon is and no matter what your mood, you can find a song of his to suit it. ‘Apie’ is for your more playful moments.
Where to find it:
Kyk Hou Lyk Ons Nou – Chris Chameleon (2009, Rhythm Records


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