1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “1001 Songs”

The End Is Near – Malopoets

The End Is Near - Malopoets

The End Is Near – Malopoets

The Malopoets formed way back in 1978 and, although not as successful as contempories such as Juluka and Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, they were no less important. Bringing us some of the rootsy-er sound from the township, the ploughed their own furrow.

‘The End Is Near’ is not an end of the world song that the title would suggest to some. It is a message about the impending end of apartheid. Released on their 1988 album, ‘Life Is For Living’, the song contrasts gentle and quite beautiful music with a harsh message. The message comes in the form of an impassioned speech from Rev Allan Boesak. So while the band sing a melodic refrain of ‘Nkosi Sikilele’ (that phrase, not the anthem and not to the same tune of the anthem) surrounded by bubbling marimba sounds, Boesak interjects with a hard-edged voice, telling of the atrocities of apartheid.

‘This is no joke/this thing that we are engaged in’ are the words that Boesak opens the song with. The Malopoets were serious musicians making serious music. This is not one to dance around to in an abandonded manner. You need to listen to it. It was protest music at its most beautiful. Sadly, the title of the song was all too true about the band and they split up, but they left a great legacy with this song and Malopoet, Patrick Sefolosha left a legacy to NBA basketball as his son Thabo played for the Oklahoma City Thunder team. So while the end came for the Malopoets, their name lives on in memorable tracks like this one.

Where to find it:
Life Is For Living  – Malopoets (1988), Vinyl release

Video:

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Only When It Rains – Mean Mr Mustard

Only When It Rains - Mean Mr Mustard

Only When It Rains – Mean Mr Mustard

Beatles fans amongst you will recognise this band’s name, only your immediate thought would be, that’s a track off the ‘Abbey Road’ album isn’t it. Well yes, you are right, and I’m guessing that South African band Mean Mr Mustard’s name had nothing to do with Mr Coleman.

Despite the Beatles connection with their name, their sound was not Beatle-esque. It is more melodic rock somewhat akin to Just Jinger and ‘Only When It Rains’ (which co-incidently it is doing as I am writing  this – weird that) is a beautiful track that is perhaps a little less hard edged than some of the Mustard’s other tracks. It features some emotive vocals by Mark Beling with some measured guitars underpinning them. There is a heartfelt appeal in his voice, begging his love to stay.

There is also a comforting feel about the record, as if they are offering you protection from the storms of life. This was Mean Mr Mustard at their very best and it is no co-incidence that the track is the opening one of their ‘Best Of’ album released in 2008. So as the rain pours down and The Beatles fans move away from this review having learned a little bit more about things Beatle related, but not actually The Fab Four, I just need to leave you with the thought that this Mean Mr Mustard who sang ‘Only When It Rains’ apart from not being themselves a Beatles track, are also not a small take out restaurant in Hendsersonville in North Carolina, just in case you got confused there (Google the restaurant, I’m not making this up).

Where to find it:
Only When It Rains – Mean Mr Mustard (2002), Ster Musiek

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House Of The Rising Sun – Hot R.S.

House Of The Rising Sun - Hot R.S.

House Of The Rising Sun – Hot R.S.

‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ had been around for a while (possibly having its early origins in the 17th century), but was flung into popular culture by The Animals who took this traditional folk tune and introduced a rock element into it, so the song has become used to trying out different genres. And in South Africa it decided to see what it sounded like as a pounding disco anthem.

Cue Kevin Kruger and Dan Hill who assembled a band calling themselves Hot R.S. (I wonder where they got the name from). They drafted in a certain Rabbitt called Trevor Rabin, a chap called Cedric Samson, another called Duncan MacKay and for a sexy feminine touch a pre-Via Afrikan Rene Veldsman was called upon. They then set out turning this old folk tune into a mammoth dance track.

With drums pounding and atmospheric keyboards swirling around in your head, you can bust more than a groove on the dancefloor to this one. But don’t start out with the John Travolta moves as you will need to preserve your energy because the song, which takes up the whole side of the LP, clocks in at nearly 15 minutes, so build up to that moment when you swing your white suit jacket round your head.

And you may just have to have a cold shower standing by for the end of the song because as you head into the last 4 minutes or so, Rene Veldsman, who has been slinking sexily around the song, moves into orgasmic overdrive in a way that makes Meg Ryan’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’ effort seem positively faked. This must have had the mother grundies turning in their graves before they even died.

During the song, Rene also pleads ‘Rise again baby’ and Kruger, Rabin, and Veldsman did so under the name Disco Rock Machine which also produced some brilliant rocking disco track as the 70s drew to a close and the 80s dawned on us.

Hot R.S.’s version of ‘The House Of The Rising’ is a classic epic that is like a gym work out. I am sure that those troubadours of the 17th century would have marvelled at how far and how many roads their song had travelled.

Where to find it:
House Of The Rising Sun – Hot R.S. (1991), RPM, CDRPM 1120

Video:

Predictions – Hawk

Hawk (Aka Joburg Hawk)

Hawk (Aka Joburg Hawk)

To include or not to include, that seems to have been the question that surrounded Hawk’s ‘Predictions’. The song originally appeared on the original 1972 South African vinly release of ‘Africa She Too Can Cry’ but did not make it onto the 1973 European vinyl release (yes the album was released outside our borders with the band taking on the name Joburg Hawk). It reappeared on an unofficial Japanese CD release of the album (circa 1998) but disappeared again when Retrofresh released the album locally on CD. So, who can, erm, predict what the next release will bring.

The song itself is a dense affair with claustrophobic and booming guitars, tumbling drums that fuzz out of the speaker, just on the right side of distortion, but with enough haze about the sound to be slightly unnerving. And over this soaring like a, erm, hawk, is the voice of Dave Ornellas. Back in the day, Dave had a wild bush of hair on his head and a voice that sounded as of it had been dragged through a wild bush. Its ragged sound only offset by it boom and it sort of sits somewhere between Ozzy Osbourne and Joe Cocker.

‘Predictions’ is a song that pummels you into liking it by is sheer force. It is an intense affair that you can, thankfully, find on the Retrofresh compilation Astral Daze. Perhaps they realised the mistake they made in leaving it off the ‘Africa She To Can Cry’ CD and with the wonders of modern technology and playlists, you can put it back in it’s rightful place as track 3.

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

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The Rising Tide – Bright Blue

The Rising Tide - Bright Blue

The Rising Tide – Bright Blue

Some great songs seem destined to live in the shadow of another offering from the same artist where one captures the public imagination to such an extent that it almost precludes listening to the other. For example ‘Taximan’ seems to play second fiddle to éVoid’s ‘Shadows’ and Clout’s ‘Save Me’ gets less attention than ‘Substitute’. To that list add Bright Blue’s ‘The Rising Tide’ which will always be overlooked in favour of ‘Weeping’.

Yes, ‘The Rising Tide’ is not as dramatic as ‘Weeping’ preferring to float on a cushion of laidbackness rather than loom large as its big brother does. However, just because it sounds more ‘on the beach’ than ‘in the city’ does not mean it didn’t have as serious a political message. While ‘Weeping’ took on the whole of apartheid and expounded on the senselessness of it, ‘The Rising Tide’ concentrates on a specifically ‘white’ issue, but which had ramifications for the blacks in the country too as it tackles the subject of conscription. (For any non-South Africans reading this, under aparthead white males were conscripted to serve in the South African Defense Force for a period of up to 2 years).

The song references David Bruce in the line ‘David, now that your eyes don’t shine anymore’. Bruce was one of the first to object to conscription on a purely political basis. Conscientious objection (i.e. that based on religious grounds) had been going on for years, but here was a guy prepared to face 6 years imprisonment (solitary confinement if the rumours were true) for his political beliefs. ‘The Rising Tide’ is an anthem of solidarity with David and the 22 others who took a stand against what the government of the day were doing. It is a beautifully crafted song which oozes a real sense of caring, not only about the issue of conscription, but also for the fate of those who objected.

So while not a big picture song like ‘Weeping’, this is still worthy of a listen every now and then reminding us of some of the specifics, while doing so, dare I say it, with a catchier tune.

Where to find it:
Every Now And Then – The Best So Far… 1984-2001 (2001) Universal

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Roger And Peter – Steve Newman & Tony Cox

About Time - Steve Newman & Tony Cox

About Time – Steve Newman & Tony Cox

Anyone who has followed the careers of these 2 guitar maestros from our fair shores will be familiar with this one as it is a staple of any live performance when the 2 of them play together. In fact, if you have seen them perform this piece live a few times, you can even visualise the actions the pair do while play, even if you are listening to a recording of it as the chuckles from the audience mark the places where these actions take place.

For those who haven’t a clue what I am talking about, then let me explain. ‘Roger And Peter’ is a piece that the 2 guitarist put together which is their idea of what would happen, musically speaking if Roger Moore and Peter Sellers had an affair. The result is the James Bond Theme Tune brilliantly weaved into a duet with the Pink Panther Theme. But not satisfied that Peter and Roger are seeing each other, Steve and Tony take them out dancing and they end up performing a tango before heading off to the circus with a fast paced ‘Circus March’.

Not only is this is a clever merging of the two theme tunes to good comic effect, it is always executed superbly by 2 guitarists who must have been playing guitar in the womb to end up be this damn good. When they play it live, they do the dramatic head turns of the tango and some little shoulder shrugs in time to the music.

This piece has been around at least since the duo’s 1983 live album ‘101 Ways To Use An Acoustic Guitar’ and probably from long before that. It has appeared on a number of recordings the 2 have made and is a part of South African guitar culture. Its plucking brilliant.

Where to find it:
About Time – Steve Newman & Tony Cox, 2001, Sheer Sound

Video:

Waikiki Man – Jessica Jones

Waikiki Man - Jessica Jones

Waikiki Man – Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones hailed from Glamorgan in Wales, but made her way to South Africa and decided to stay. Perhaps scoring a number 1 hit with ‘Sunday Monday Tuesday’ persuaded her to make SA her home. Her second hit, ‘Wake Up Wake Up’ went to 9 and ‘Waikiki Man’, which was produced by none other than David Gresham, made it to 13.

Despite the title referring to Waikiki, a beachfront neighbourhood of Honolulu in Hawaii, the sound of the song does not conjure up images of white sands, blue seas and flowery garlands, it is too much of a glam pop stomp to do this, starting as it does with a guitar intro that Damon Albarn and the boys from Blur surely must have heard before they wrote the intro to ‘Parklife’.

The song was written by Dutch producer and song writer Peter Koelewijn who also penned Maria’s ‘Clap Your Hands And Stamp You Feet’ and its quite appropriate becase this is a song designed to clap your hands and stamp your feet to. It was a European hit for Bonnie St Clair, going to 4 in Belgium, 5 in Holland, 14 in Austria and 30 in Germany. Not to be outdone, Jessica’s version was also a hit beyond our borders, getting to number 1 in what was then Rhodesia and managing to keep David Bowie’s ‘Sorrow’ off the top spot there. It also managed to get to 12 in New Zeland according to the information I have found although the sleeve notes to ‘Yesterday’s Best Vol 1’ say that it topped the charts there, but I have not been able to verify that.

Jessica has since returned to the UK, but she certainly made her mark on the SA pop scene in the 1970s and ‘Waikiki Man’ was one of those noticeable marks.

Where to find it:
Yesterday’s Best Vol 1, 1995, Teal, MORCD502

Video:

Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow – Dealians

Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow - Dealians

Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow – Dealians

The Dealians were a band with an eye on the future. Well that is if the title of their first Springbok Top 20 hit was anything to go by. ‘Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow’ would go all the way to the top of the Top 20, spending 3 weeks at number 1 which was an illustrious start to their hit career.

It’s not too surprising that the song had the success it did as it is an upbeat affair with warm brassy bits and some swirling organ underpinning the strong and breezy vocal. The beat is quick and it feels almost like a race to get to the end of this perfect pop ditty.

Despite all the positiveness in the music, the lyrics tell a slightly different story. The theme of the songs is the dilemma of trying to chose between 2 woman, something that was revisited by Ballyhoo’s ‘Man On The Moon’ and Dog Detachment’s ‘Heartwheels And Mindmills’ which featured recently on this list.

‘Look out here comes tomorrow/That’s when I’ll I’ll have to choose/Oh how I wish I could borrow/someone else’s shoes’ are the first lines of the song and it goes on to to mention the poor 2 girls by name with either ‘Mary oh what a sweet girl’ or ‘Sandra long hair and pig tails’ about to get the boot.

The song was a cover of a Monkees track that was written by Neil Diamond, but its not one of The Monkees’ best, their version sounds a bit flat and sluggish, almost as if the band were just going through the motions when they recorded it. The Dealians, however blow fresh air into the song to make it one of the great local pop tunes from yesteryear.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)

Video:

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:

 

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:

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