1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Skokiaan – Johnny & G-Men

The G-Men (LP)

The G-Men (LP)

‘Skokiaan’ the song has been around since about 1947 and has been widely covered by a load of artists. It began life in the brain of one August Musarurwa, a Rhodesian (as it was back then). It was recorded by the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band and this scratchy version with its quacking, sqeaking brass over what sounds like a banjo, is a delightful African jazzy number from the era.

In 1954 Ralph Marterie gave the song a western orchestral sound and the song made the US charts and soon artists like Louis Armstong and Bill Haley & The Comets were recording their own versions.

Then in 1971 along came Johnny and his G-Men with their own take. Johnny (in case you didn’t know) was none other than John ‘Tokoloshe Man’ Kongos and he and his G-Men ditched the brass when recording their version, rather favouring the echo-ey guitar sound that the likes of The Shadows and The Ventures had a lot of success with. The G-Men made a good job of translating the song from a 50’s jazz piece into a 60’s Rock ‘n’ Roll instrumental, and they managed to do this in the 70’s.

Skokiaan is apparently an illegally brewed drink which from it’s description sounds a bit like the sorghum beer or homebrew that we have in South Africa, and is probably the biggest legal export of something illegal from what was then Rhodesia.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: The G-Men – Johnny & The G-Men (1971), RCA, 31.547

Johnny & The G-Men

Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band

When The Boogie Dies – Syd Kitchen

Quintessentially - Syd Kitchen

Quintessentially – Syd Kitchen

‘People get so lonesome when the boogie dies’. Well that’s what Syd Kitchen sings over a boogielicious guitar in this stripped down live slice of cheerfulness. It feels as if Syd’s fingers are doing a little dance across the strings as the sound bops around around the the slightly gravelly voice.

The song goes through a list of things that ‘people get so X when Y’ happens in Syd’s sharp-eyed observations on human nature for example, ‘People get so dangerous when they got no dreams.’ There is also room in the songs for a short spurt of scat and a momentary interlude of Syd showing off his guitar skills. The sound is a bit like what one would expect from the Aquarian Quartet, but with vocals.

This is not quite Syd’s usual style, but it is a joyful romp of a song which, as far as I can tell, is only available in the live version. It’s warm and cheerful toe-tapping stuff from the hippiest of hippies. So cuddle up to this song and don’t get lonesome.

Where to find it:
Quintessentially – Syd Kitchen (2004), No Budget Records


Apricot Brandy – The Third Eye

Awakening - The Third Eye

Awakening – The Third Eye

I’m guessing that most versions of apricot brandy start with some apricots and a distillery, but the one we’re talking about here began life with a Rhinoceros. A band called Rhinoceros in case you are confused. Formed in the late 60’s the band included members of an early version of Iron Butterfly (remember ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’?). ‘Apricot Brandy’, an instrumental track, was written by ex-Iron Butterfly Danny Weiss and ex-Electric Flag Michael Fonfara and is a funky guitar driven rock track which made number 46 on the Billboard Charts in the US in April 1969, the bands only charting hit.

That same year, local band The Third Eye, included a version on their album ‘Awakening’ but where the Rhino’s concentrated on guitars, The Third Eye decided to build the track around a manic organ and some brassy arrangements, only letting the guitars go wild a minute or so into the track. And while the original produced a clean and highly listenable to rock version of it which suggests a rhino going about its usual business of grazing, The Third Eye make it a thrashy melting pot of sound which conjures up images of a rhino that is a bit peeved and is charging around madly.

For those of you who like hearing different versions of songs, there is also the Danny Gatton cover which was recorded for the 40 year anniversary album for the Elektra record label. This is an electric guitar driven version which features a Motown-esque brass sound and is well worth a listen as well. No matter what your favourite tipple is, it is worth having a swing of this track and The Third Eye’s version of it is up there with the original.

Where to find it:
The Third Eye – The Third Eye (2010), Fresh Music, FRESHCD172(CD)


The Third Eye:


Danny Gatton:

Picking Up Pebbles – Cornelia

Picking Up Pebbles – Cornelia

Picking Up Pebbles – Cornelia

One thing I found a little odd when first hearing Cornelia’s ‘Picking Up Pebbles’ was where was she finding these pebbles because, as anyone knows, South Africa has sandy beaches, not pebbly ones. So I did a bit of research and found that the song had been recorded by a guy called Matt Flinders who was born in Alexandria in Egypt, then moved to the UK when he was 13 and then to Australia a year later. So maybe he picked up on pebbly beaches during his year in the UK. But further reading revealed that Flinders’ version was a cover of a track by UK artist Johnny Curtis and this made sense as the UK beaches tend to feature pebbles more than sand.

The song is one about the loss of youth, told from the point of view of a grown up remembering the games of their youth. Both Flinders’ and Curtis’ version are melancholic offerings and while Cornelia brings a feminine voice to the song, she beautifully maintains the feel. As we all grow older, we all look back at those innocent times of our youth and it was probably that nostalgia to some degree that rocketed Cornelia’s version to the top of our charts where it sat for 4 weeks. Flinders managed to get to 4 in Australia while Curtis’ version doesn’t appear to have charted anywhere, which suggests that either Cornelia’s version of the song had more appeal, or we South Africans are just more nostalgic. I like to think that it’s a bit of both.

‘Picking Up Pebbles’ was one of those songs that has an innocence intertwined with a maturity that somehow appeals. And Cornelia’s delivery of this short but sweet song certainly appeals, especially to one like me who loved to skim stones as a youngster.

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


Matt Flinders:

Johnny Curtis:

Fort Lauderdale – Jack Hammer

Anthology - Piet Botha & Jack Hammer

Anthology – Piet Botha & Jack Hammer

The subtitle of this Jack Hammer classic is ‘Ballad Of Andre Stander’. For those who may not know it, Andre Stander was a South African policeman who was also one of the countries most notorious bank robbers. He would sometimes go out during his lunch break while working as a policeman, and rob a bank, later returning to the scene as the investigating officer. His life is captured in the 2003 film ‘Stander’.

But what has Fort Lauderdale got to do with all this, you may well ask (unless of course you know the story). Well the law eventually caught up with Stander in South Africa, but he managed to escape to the US. He was eventually found out and ended up being killed by a policeman in Fort Lauderdale.

That is probably why Piet Botha and his Jack Hammerers sing ‘don’t go to Fort Lauderdale’ in this song which tells the story of Stander in 3 minutes and 40 second, while the film takes nearly 2 hours. There is something about Stander, the barefaced cheek of what he did, that seems to appeal in the same way that Bonnie & Clyde and Ma Baker have intrigued people for years. And Jack Hammer tell the tale in their typical raw-edged guitar and growling vocals way. Although it has a similar subject matter, one can’t compare ‘Fort Lauderdale’ to Georgie Fame’s honky tonk ‘The Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde’ or Boney M’s disco ‘Ma Baker’. This is a completely different genre. I wonder what it would sound like if The Police did it.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Jack Hammer (January 2000), Wildebeest Records, WILD020


Money Baby – Tidal Wave

Money Baby – Tidal Wave

Money Baby – Tidal Wave

‘Money Baby’ was the last of 4 Springbok Top 20 hits that Tidal Wave would have. It would spend 3 weeks on the chart and peak at 15 which was not as strong a showing as ‘Spider Spider’ and ‘Mango Mango’ (both of which went top 10), but did peak 1 place higher than ‘Green Mamba’, their other hit. The moral of the story is that if you are called Tidal Wave, sing songs that repeat words in the title.

That said, one has to give credit to the band for not just, erm, cashing in on the success of their repeated word title hits and trying out different avenues. ‘Money Baby’ is a 70’s rock song and proud of it. It has hints of the glam rock that was beginning to find popularity in the UK. There is a full on guitar sound, strong chirpy vocals and, that vital ingredient, a plethora of drums. Thrown into the mix is some swirling organ which neatly links the song with some of the 60s psychedelic stuff without sounding like it.

While not as catchy as ‘Mango Mango’ or as pysch-y as ‘Spider Spider’, ‘Money Baby’ sits neatly on the progressive path that rock music was taking and showed a band that was not only in touch with what was happening in the music world but was also able to adapt to the changes.

Where to find it:
Spider Spider – Best Of The Tidal Wave, The Tidal Wave, Fresh Music,  FRESHCD 159


Tribal Fence – Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 - Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest

Whatever happened to Bushrock 2. Wildebeest migrated into our world in 1981 and made an album called ‘Bushrock 1’ and then the herd scattered before they could do ‘Bushrock 2’. Presumably when they put the ‘1’ behind the name of the album, there were plans for a follow up. However, we have to live with the fact there was only 1 Bushrock by this group of musicians although the alert among you may point to Anton Goosen’s 1996 album which also went under the title ‘Bushrock’ as perhaps a son of Bushrock 1.

Recorded live, the album opens with this cover of the Freedom Children’s classic, ‘Tribal Fence’ and given that former child of Freedom, Colin Pratley was on the drums, it’s not too surprising. However, instead of the growling vocals of Brian Davidson that the Freedom’s version had, we are treated to some swirling Kate Bush-esque vocals from Karlien van Niekerk, giving the previously testosterone fuelled song, a femine touch. But its not a pot-pourri, floral dress feminine touch, this is a haunting, witchy feminine.

And while the ‘Beests keep true to the heavy rock of the original, there is a more contemplative feel to this version. They have not made the sound as dense as what Freedom’s Children made it, which frees the song up a little to make it more accessable to those who were not keen on total onslaught rock. This version is clearly moulded on the original, but with the female vocals and the slightly reduced sound, it makes for an intruiging and highly listenable-to cover which, in case you didn’t know, features Piet Botha on bass.

Where to find it:
Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest (1981 – reissued in 2010), Fresh Music, freshcd171

Crazy Over You – Zen Arcade

Snowflake - Zen Arcade

Snowflake – Zen Arcade

I don’t know if you, like me, were first introduced to the band Zen Arcade through this little gem, ‘Crazy Over You’, possibly through the 2001 5FM compilation album ‘Showcase 3: Unearthed’. If you were, then probably, like me, you were immediately taken by the group as this is as good an introduction to a band as you could want.

It starts with a broody guitar, drum and vocals and then these are joined by a slightly ominous violin (or perhaps cello, I’m not great with telling the difference), as it gathers momentum, sliding effortlessly from the quieter part into the soaring and aching chorus. This song gathers together a number of vital ingredients – a great vocal, edgy guitars, perfect string instrumentation, measured drumming – and, under the masterful production hand of Neal Snyman, takes these individual bits, which all shine on their own, and counjures up a magical synergy to create a quite perfect six minutes and six seconds of rock.

It is hard to believe that this song is nearly twenty years old as it still sound fresh and alive all these years later. When I first heard this, I immediately put it quite high in my personal top 100 favourite SA songs list, mindful of the fact that new releases tend to enter that list quite high and then slowly sink as repeated listens wear off the gleam. But with ‘Crazy Over You’, the song still remains a firm favourite of mine and still rides high in my all time favourite SA songs list. I guess one could say I’m still crazy over it.

Where to find it:
Snowflake – Zen Arcade (2001), Zen Arcade, ZACD001


Colourful – Parlotones

Radiocontrolledrobot -Parlotones

Radiocontrolledrobot -Parlotones

If you want some good solid rock tunes from South Africa, then you need look no further than The Parlotones who had been around for a good number of years before their big break came with the album Radiocontrolledrobot. ‘Colourful’ was one of the tracks on the album and helped propel the ‘Tones into stardom. And its no too surprising listening to the track.

‘Colourful’ is strong from the very first note, starting out in a relaxed mode, it builds to the big chorus with Kahn Morbee in fine voice. It is also a love song, with an opening line of ‘Honey you’re my favourite/I wonder do you feel the same’. The combination of rock and love song has been a formula for success for many a band. It’s not quite the rock-ballad that was popular in the 80’s, those could be a little too schmaltzy sometimes. This is a more mature take on that formula.

Apparently the band did not really like the track themselves, but the South African public seemed to take to it. The accompanying video should, however, come with a ‘do not try this at home’ warning as it depicts the band members jumping out of a plane without parachutes. They land in a cartoon world along with all their instruments intact. Most people who jump from aeroplanes without a parachute don’t land on their feet, but The Parlotones with this track, certainly did.

Where to find it:
Radiocontrolledrobot – The Parlotones (2005), Sovereign Entertainment, SOVCD 025


Hey Where’s The Jol – Aeroplanes

Greatest Hits - Aeroplanes

Greatest Hits – Aeroplanes

I don’t know about the youth of today, but certainly when I was growing up, the phrase ‘Hey where’s the jol?’ would have been used quite a lot, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. It was really only a matter of time before someone brought out a song that used that phrase in it. Cue the Aeroplanes, a bunch of industry misfits whom, back in those days, only Shifty could love. And thank goodness they did as they enabled us to enjoy this quirky song which spliced together all the fun of a jol with an almost vitriolic rap about the state of the country and the local music industry back on the 80’s

‘Hey Where’s The Jol’ has a punky, anarchic feel to it right from the start with its funky guitar intro  and almost random organ which tumbles into the vocals which sound a little like the singer has been on the jol for a little while and lost any inhabitions. But you hardly have time to settle into this joyful chaos before the rap comes along and reminds us about how the state controlled all the radio and in particular the music. ‘I’m music, pop music/I’m a vehicle of the state’.

But just before it becomes too political so as to ruin the jol, the original singer bounces back into the the room to remind you that he’s ‘daaancing, oh yeah!’ and everthing seems alright again. But is it? The vocals just sort of stop and the music continues to wonder around, feeling slightly uneasy with itself.

This was protest music that didn’t just use the lyrics to get a message across. The contasting feelings the music brings out in you makes you swing between comfortably have a great night out with your mates and having to face up to the realities of apartheid that seemed to sit side by side in the country at the time. It’s a jol, a really serious jol.

Where to find it:
Greatest Hits – The Aeroplanes, (1986), CDCJM001


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