1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Darling It’s Wonderful – Virginia Lee

Darling It’s Wonderful – Virginia Lee

Darling It’s Wonderful – Virginia Lee

Way back in 1927 a girl called Virginia de Jager was born in Port Elizabeth. 39 years later in 1966, she recorded a song called ‘Darling It’s Wonderful’ which took her to her highest ever placing in the Springbok Top 20 as the song made it to number 3 and spent 9 weeks in the charts.

A country-tinged ballad, Lee had the perfect voice for such a song with enough of a twang to capture the country sound, but not too much of a twang to be irritating. Her voice is underpinned by a gently rocking guitar and beat. It has all the ingredients of those late 50’s early 60’s rock n’ roll ballads and when you realise that ‘Darling It’s Wonderful’ was originally recorded in 1957 by The Lovers, a duo consisting of Allen Bunn, the song’s writer, and his wife Anna Sanford. That version would make it to number 48 on the Billboard charts in the US. But most South Africans who know the song would probably look to Virginia’s version when wanting to stroll hand in hand with their gal/guy down memory lane.

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

Video:

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Endless Sleep – Group 66

Endless Sleep - Group 66

Endless Sleep – Group 66

Clocking in at around 1 minute 40 seconds, this little slice of bouncy beat pop, popped into the Springbok Radio charts on 24 June 1966 and spent 8 joyful weeks bopping with the 20 most popular songs of the time, reaching number 8 in the time it spent in the charts. Group 66 featured Brian Mulder on guitar and he brings a lot of the bounce to the song along with Peter Foyn who tackles the vocals. Brian Mulder would go on to have loads of success with The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

‘Endless Sleep’ was a cover of a number 5 hit in the US by Jody Reynolds, but the contrast between the 2 versions is quite stark. Where Group 66 take a song about a serious matter (‘I Lost my baby to the endless sleep’) and put it to a joyful upbeat tune (a bit like The Smiths did with ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’), Reynolds seems to be a bit more cut up about the loss of his baby as his is a much slower and angst filled version.

A lot depends on how one feels about the loss of one’s ‘baby’ as to which version would suit you, If you’re pretty cut up about it, then Jody Reynolds’ one would better suit your mood, but if you’re glad she’s gone to that ‘Endless Sleep’ then apart from being a pretty callous person, you should stick on the Group 66 version. Alternatively, you could just ignore the lyrics and bop round your bedroom to this bright piece of 60s beatpop.

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

Video:

I’m Only Joking – Kongos

I’m Only Joking - Kongos

I’m Only Joking – Kongos

If there was such a phrase as ‘a pound-a-thon’, it would be perfect to use to describe this track from the pound-tastic ‘Lunatic’ album that the kings of pounding, Johnny Kongos’ sons brought us. ‘I’m Only Joking’ does raise the question whether any drums were harmed in the making thereof because it is non-stop stomping from the moment it starts right through to the final, near chaotic drumming at the end.

There is a primal feel to this juggernaut of a track which starts with the line ‘There is a song/you’re trembling to its tune’. And tremble you might, for it sounds like a herd of elephants have gathered for a school disco. But there is an edge to what’s going on here. The chorus goes, ‘I’m only joking/I’m only f**king with your head’ and as you listen, there is a sort of mismatching in the beats of the drum which gives it an unhinged feel.

Kongos had a hit in the US and Canada with ‘Come With Me Now’, which was also from the ‘Lunatic’ album and while that song also feautres the Kongos family’s trademark pounding, it doesn’t have the slightly derailed feel that ‘I’m Only Joking’ has.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos (2014), Epic

Video:

Love Power – Wanda Arletti

Love Power - Wanda Arletti

Love Power – Wanda Arletti

It surprises me somewhat that Wanda Areltti’s (born Wanda Arletowicz in Hackney, England of Polish parents) brilliant album, ‘Love Power’ has never seen a digital release. One has to dig around in second hand vinyl shops if you want a copy of this.

The song ‘Love Power’ was written by a guy called Teddy Vann and was first recorded by a group from New York called The Sandpebbles. Their version made it to number 22 on the US charts. A year later Dusty Springfield recorded a cover of it and Wanda’s version appear the following year in 1969. Even jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson produced a nice organ led cover which featured George Benson on guitar.

Wanda brings a powerful soul voice and a liveliness to the song while a drum heavy instrumentation (courtesy of The Bats’ Eddie Eckstein) warmed by some wonderful brass, underpins a classy cover of the song.

Like most songs of they era, it it over too quickly, clocking it at just over 2 minutes. But what a wonderful 2 minutes. The song is uplifting with Wanda’s sassy voice compliemented by such SA luminaries as Una Valli, Stevie van Kerken and Judy Page providing Motown-esque backing vocals, this is one of the stand out tracks of the brief period in SA music when we were doing some burningly great soul music. And that’s saying something, for although the volume of this type of soul in SA was not great the quality was very high. In amongst great tracks from The Flames, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Una Valli, ‘Love Power’ certainly has the power.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: Love Power – Wanda Arletti (1969), NEMS301

Video:
Wanda’s version

The Sandpebbles

Dusty Springfield:

Lou Donaldson:

Toe Vind Ek Jou – Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

This is what it has all been about. Anton Goosen’s ‘Bloemetjie Gedenk Aan Jou’, Bernoldus Niemand, Koos Kombuis, Johannes Kerkorrel and the whole Voelvry movement, the blues guys like Valiant Swart, Piet Botha and Die Blues Broers, Arno Carstens and the Springbok Nude Girls, Afrikaans punk from Fokofpolsiekar. All of these guys were building up to this one perfect Afrikaans song.

‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is undoubtedly the best Afrikaans song I have heard. It has everything, atmosphere, emotion, a great tune, brilliant vocals and harmonising. It is no wonder that at the time of writing this, the Youtube video had already had over 4.6 million views and spawned numerous cover versions (the Varsity Sing version is one of the better ones). In comparison Bok van Blerk’s ‘De La Rey’ which was also hugely popular and which has been around a lot longer only has 1.6 million views. I had sort of got to thinking that there were no surprises left in the Afrikaans music world but ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ proved me wrong I’m pleased to say.

This song with its almost understated soft drumming highlights the talents of 2 leading lights of South African music. Francois van Coke found his way to this song via the noise of Fokofpolisiekar and the heavy rock of van Coke Kartel while Karen Zoid has been ploughing her own furrow as our foremost ‘rock chick’ for a good while now. And while ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is essentially a ballad, there is a feeling of a tension underlying the vocals and the lyrics hint that this relationship was not always a bed of roses. The first line ‘Ek lê my wapens neer’ (‘I lay down my arms’) introduces the surrender of the couple to their love which has survived a stormy relationship and as they have matured the anger of youth has dwindled and they are left clinging to each other. Possibly the best moment in the song is when Francois and Karen sing the lines ‘Ek het genoeg gegee, Ek het genoeg geskree, Ek het lankal terug geleer’ the second time around when Karen’s higher pitched voice goes head to head with Francois’ gravelly one and the result is something quite beautiful.

There are no pretensions in this song but plenty of control. Zoid and van Coke could have been tempted to make this just another Afrikaans rock song, but somehow they turned it into something special.

I have gone back to wondering if there will now be no further surprises coming from the Afrikaans music scene in South Africa, but I’m a little less certain of myself this time round.

Where to find it:
Francois van Coke – Francis van Coke (2015)

Video:

Varsity sing version:

You’re Late Miss Kate – Otis Waygood Blues Band

You’re Late Miss Kate - Otis Waygood Blues Band

You’re Late Miss Kate – Otis Waygood Blues Band

Better late than never, or so the saying goes and this Miss Kate who was remiss with her time keeping took her good time to reach our ears in the version performed by the Otis Waygood Blues Band as it was just over a decade after Jimmy Dee first recorded his rock-a-billy version of the song that our local lads turned it into a bluesy stomp-a-long cover.

Featuring as the b-side to their single, ‘Fever’, the Otis Waygood Blues Band gave it the gravelly voiced treatment and warmed it up with some bassy sound while a Jerry Lee Lewis-ey piano frantically marks off the seconds that Miss Kate is keeping everyone waiting. It is difficult to think that the band was having anything but a great time recording this as it fairly bounces along at such a pace that it’s a wonder they didn’t spill the whiskey that surely must have fuelled some of the vocals here (or maybe they did).

The band came to the fore at University of Rhodesia and ‘You’re Late Miss Kate’ was their tune. According to the liner notes of the Retrofresh re-release of ‘Otis Waygood Blues Band’ (the album that is), when lead vocalist Rob Zipper, stood up to talk to the Student Union he was drowned out by cries of ‘You’re Late Miss Kate’ which gives a good indication of the impact their vesion of the song had even before it was committed to what was known back then as hot wax.

Miss Kate may have been late, but this song is timeless.

Where to find it:
Otis Waygood Blues Band – Otis Waygood Blues Band (2001), Retro Fresh, Fresh CD109

Video:

Hurts So Bad – Danny K

Danny K

Danny K

‘Hurts So Bad’ appeared on Danny K’s eponymous debut album in 2000 and with its polished boy band-esque pop sound it rocketed to the top of the SA Rockdigest Charts and spent 5 weeks there.

The song features some Spanish sounding guitars over which K’s blue-eyed soul voice weaves a pattern of love and heartbreak while a solid dance beat bounces around. There is a kind of gentle funky strut feel to the song. It is the kind of song that requires singers to be dressed in an open white jacket and to clutch at their heart often to show exactly where it hurts so bad. The chorus, when it comes, rises in breathy harmonised vocals that would make Boyzone, Westlife and such like all proud.

This may not be to everyone’s taste, but it a highly accomplished song of this particular genre that would not have been out of place in the UK charts had Danny K managed to get an international break. Danny is probably South Africa’s best one man (boy) band.

Where to find it
Danny K – Danny K (2000), Gallo Records, CDGURB011

Video:

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner – Finch & Henson

Free & Easy - Finch & Henson

Free & Easy – Finch & Henson

Brian Finch and Kenny Henson have produced a number of notable songs, some of which will eventually appear on this list, but for this entry we look at a great cover version that Henson recorded as part of Harambee and which appears on the Finch & Henson ‘greatest hits’ ablum ‘Free And Easy’. ‘Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner’ was a song written and originally recorded by Warren Zevon. It would be the last song Zevon would perfom live before his death in 2003.

The song tells the story of a fictional Norwegian mercenary, Roland, who gets caught up in the Congo Crisis between 1960 and 1965. He is such a good Thompson gunner that the CIA arrange for his head to be blown off by a fellow mercenary called van Own. Roland’s ghost then roams around and eventually catches up with van Owen in Mobassa where he ‘blew van Owen’s body from there to Johannesburg’.

Perhaps it is the South African connection of where van Owen’s body ended up that attracted Finch & Henson to record the song. Whatever the reason, both their version and Zevon’s seem to spit out a venomous distaste for the actions of the CIA in the story in the song. Both versions are worth listening to, for their rock sensibilities as well as the tale of revenge that the lyrics tell. While this song is available on the ‘Free And Easy’ compilation, you can aslo seek out the harder to find ‘Giving A Little Away’ album by Harambee and hear it in its original crackly vinyl glory.

Where to find it:
Free And Easy – Finch & Henson (1993), Tusk, WOND 116

Video:

Amadlozi – Bongo Maffin

The Concerto - Bongo Maffin

The Concerto – Bongo Maffin

Bongo Maffin were one of the front runners in the Kwaito world. They were formed when Oscar Appleseed (DJ Appleseed) moved from Zim down to SA and hooked up with Stoan (Seate) and Thandi (Mazwai) to form the band. They threw dance, house, kwaito, techno, rap and reggae into a big township melting pot and ‘Amadlozi’ was one of the tracks that appeared on their 1998 debut album, ‘The Concerto’.

It’s a funky piece of dance music, with a steady beat underpinning some somewhat ethereal keyboard noodling that becomes almost hypnotic. Thandi’s vocals are light and, although not whispered, it feels like she is telling you a secret. This sounds like a natural progression from the Township jive sounds of the 1980s. You could lose yourself on the dancefloor with this without the aid of drugs.

‘The Concerto’ would win the band the 1999 Best African Pop Album at the South African Music Awards and in 2001 Bongo Maffin would be voted the Best African Group at the Kora Africa Music Awards. With tracks like ‘Amadlozi’ it is not too surprising that they did this. Kwaito was just beginning to mature when Bongo Maffin released ‘Amadlozi’ and this would go on to be one of the tracks of the genre.

Where to find it:
The Concerto – Bongo Maffin (1998), Columbia, CDCOL8080
Kwaito – South African Hip Hop – Various (2000), Earthworks, STEW42CD

A Man Like Me – James Stewart

A Man Like Me - James Stewart

A Man Like Me – James Stewart

One time member of The Usual, James Stewart makes beautifully crafted pop songs. And ‘A Man Like You’ is no exception. On this sentimental song, his emotional-without-being-X-Factor-warblingly-irritating voice floats over the gentle instrumentation. The song seems to glide along on a shiny surface of polished production and plush sounds.

The words tell the familiar tale of a man feeling lucky with the woman who has fallen in love with them. Men are often criticised for not showing their true feelings, but when James sings here about ‘feeling like a stranger in this world’ and how he does not really feel deserving of love, then he will ‘thank my lucky stars each night Because they’re the only reason I can see Why a beautiful woman like you could ever love a man like me’.

‘A Man Like Me’ topped the SA Rockdigest charts back in 2002 and spent 2 weeks there and it was no surpise. The album that produced this chart topper along with 2 other songs that topped those charts (‘Shine’ and ‘Gravity’) has a list of personnel involved that is packed with names from the who’s who of SA music. Bright Blue’s ‘Dan Heymann and Tom Fox help out in the instrumentation department along with Paul Tizzard, Yoyo Buys and Voelvry-er Jannie van Tonder. On the production side, it’s only McCully Workshop’s Richard Black behind the desk with James Stewart and Joe Arthur pops in to help master the final affair. With talent like Stewart’s and friends like his, it’s not surprising we got a song as good as this from a man like him.

Where to find it:
A Man Like Me – James Stewart (2004), Street Level, CDSLS(CLF)135

Hear here:
https://jamesstewart.bandcamp.com/album/a-man-like-me

Video:

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