Grazing In The Grass – Hugh Masekela
Not too many South Africans can claim to have had a US number 1 single. Manfred Lubowitz who was born in Johannesburg and who was the driving force behind the bands Manfred Mann and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a number 1 hit with ‘Do Wah Diddy’ (as Manfred Mann) and ‘Blinded By The Light’ (as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band). But the only solo South African to top the US charts has been Hugh Masekela with his hit ‘Grazing In The Grass’. He spent 2 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with this instrumental track.
The song starts off with a kind of cowbell sound (well who else grazes in the grass?) and then begins to play off Hugh’s trumpet against a jazzy piano which, despite being played by an American (William Henderson) does manage to get a sort of African Jazz feel going. The piece is as warm and as lazy as a day spend lying in the grass in the fields on a sunny afternoon. It is credited to a certain Philemon Hou as song writer, but this was in fact just an alias for Masekela. It was released in 1968 and hit the top spot in the US in the July of that year.
The year after Hugh’s version had its success, the song was once more in the US charts, this time with a vocal added. The band that revived Hugh’s song was Friends Of Distinction and their band member Henry Elston wrote the lyrics. That version made it to number 3. Since then the song has been recorded by a large variety of artists including Miriam Makeba, Meco (remember his disco version of the ‘Star Wars Theme’?), local band Joy (who brought us ‘Paradise Road’), Paul Young and Dexy’s (previously known as Dexy’s Midnight Runners). The song lends itself to being jazzy, soul-ey, funky and disco-ey if you want it to be. Since its 1968 release it has not let the grass grow under its feet. Well how could it if people keep on grazing?
Where to find it:
The Collection – Hugh Masekela (2004), Spectrum Music, BUDCD1218