1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

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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Acid Rain – Wendy Oldfield

Acid Rain – Wendy Oldfield

Acid Rain – Wendy Oldfield

Acid rain is not good for the planet. According to Wikipedia, ‘Acid rain is a rain or any other form of precipitation that is unusually acidic, meaning that it has elevated levels of hydrogen ions (low pH). It can have harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals and infrastructure.’ But you can’t always rely on what you read on Wikipedia now can you. Because if your acid rain of choice happens to be this little masterpiece by Wendy ‘she of Sweatband fame’ Oldfield it won’t be as destructive. In fact it is designed to counteract the effects of the rain Wikipedia refers to.

Appearing on her 1999 album, ‘On A Pale Blue Dot’, this ‘Acid Rain’ has a haunting quality to it that is somewhat apocalyptic. It drags emptiness and desertion in its wake as it ploughs a lone furrow across a descimated landscape. The echo-ey music wraps a cold hand around Wendy’s troubled vocals while a heartbeat beep runs through the song like a delicious Chinese drip torture.

And this is all strangely beautiful. It has a pulse that thobs to a sultry rhythm. It burrows itself into your mind, causing your complete surrender to the dark landscape it conjures up. This is quite different to the Sweatband stuff. It’s not rocky and poppy. It’s serious and seductive. The end of the world never sounded so good.

Where to find it:
On A Pale Blue Dot – Wendy Oldfield (1999), Scorpio, SMSPCD819

Video:

Mango Mango – Tidal Wave

Mango Mango – Tidal Wave

Mango Mango – Tidal Wave

Tidal Wave’s ‘Mango Mango’ once held the record for falling out of the Springbok Top 20 from the highest position as it spent its last week in the chart at number 7. It held that record for over 6 years before Celi Bee & The Buzzy Bunch’s ‘Superman’ left the chart from number 5. The song was banned by the SABC after having spent 9 weeks in the chart. One can only guess at why it was banned, but it could have been the catchy chart of ‘69 ,69, 69’ which the song starts with where the censors suddenly woke to the fact that this could refer to a sexual position. Although there could be any number of other reasons they thought up.

Copies of the top 20 listing from the SABC archive, actually have ‘Mango Mango’ listed at number 13 the week it left the chart, but this was crossed out and every song moved up 1 position with a new one at number 20.

However, we did have 9 great weeks to enjoy this bouncy number which Mike Pilot and friends brought us. The song stomps along with a prominent drum sound that a piano plinky-plonks next to while a strong vocal pounds out the chanting chorus of ‘Maaango, Maaango’. As the song heads towards its climax the vocals become echoey and some yelps and screams give it a stereotypical jungle like feel.

‘Mango Mango’ would also make the LM Radio charts, enterting them on 17 January 1971 at number 5 (2 places higher than the position it left Springbok charts from). However, it was the 14th song to enter those charts at 5 or higher (counting from 15 March 1970), so that was not unusual. After entering at 5 it dropped to 17 the next week and then spent another week at 17 before leaving the chart, maybe it proved to be too fruity for the LM people as well as the SABC guys.

Where to find it:
Tidal Wave – Spider Spider – The Best Of Tidal Wave (2007), RetroFresh

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Jenny Jenny – Dickie Loader& The Blue Jeans

Jenny Jenny – Dickie Loader

Jenny Jenny – Dickie Loader

When Dickie Loader sang about Jenny Jenny and invited her to ‘come and do the shake with me’ he was taking on Little Richard as the latter had also invited Jenny to ‘come along with me’. This Jenny (who was obviously so good that they had named her twice) must have had a tough time trying to decide which of these to go with as they both have very insistent pleas for her attention.

While Little Richard uses sexy sax and plenty piano to woo her, Dickie goes for the jugular with some great guitar work, you know that raw guitar that blistered through a good number of early rock ‘n’ roll songs. Dickie woops and shrieks his way through this fast paced cover of the Little Richard song, injecting it with all the wild teenage hormones that he could summons.

This was a great take on the song, capturing all the right elements of the early days of rock n roll and is perfect for anyone wanting to relive some of those times when grease was the word. Loader and his Blue Jeans’ version of ‘Jenny Jenny’ would make it to the top of the LM Radio charts in 1964 and its not too surprising given the tight way this song shakes, rattles and rolls.

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

Run Alive Run – Felix Laband

Felix Laband - Thin Shoes In June

Felix Laband – Thin Shoes In June

Felix Laband came out of the the African Dope stable of high quality dance/chill acts from Cape Town and his first album, ‘Thin Shoes In June’ on which ‘Run Alive Run’ can be found, was a classy set of electronic jazzy chilled out instrumentals.

There is a hypnotic repetitiveness to the track with a relaxed drum ‘n bass style beat over which a velvet gong chimes like half a door-bell ring. After about a minute into the track a further electronic snippet joins the repetition. In his review of the ‘Thin Shoes In June’ album, SA Rockdigest’s Stephen Segerman says ‘and if David Lynch had based ‘Twin Peaks’ in Cape Town’s City Bowl, then this would work as the soundtrack.’ And there is some truth in that if one presumes that ‘Twin Peaks’ set in Cape Town (would that be Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak?) would be a brighter, sunnier affair than the actual ‘Twin Peaks’ as ‘Run Alive Run’, while having the sort of dreamy jazzy feel to it like the Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack to ‘Twin Peaks’, does not have that dark broody feel.

This is a song for your Sunday morning while you sip your orange juice, eat your toast and marmalade and read the Sunday papers. It’s for relaxing to, despite the title having the word ‘run’ in it (twice!). It’s go-with-the-flow music that gets under your skin like a gentle massage.

Where to find it:
Felix Laband – Thin Shoes In June, 2001, African Dope, ADOPECD003

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Work All Day (Sleep All Night) – Zeroes

Zulu Stomp

Zulu Stomp

I don’t know how many of you would have said, when seeing the name of the band for this entry on the list, ‘ag naught man!’ But the Zeroes were not a nothing band. They hailed from Port Elizabeth and they brought us this fuzzy, buzzy 3 minutes of psychedelic pop which can be found on the compilation albums ‘Savage Sounds From South Africa’ or ‘Zulu Stomp!! – South Africa Garage Beats!!’. From what I can tell neither are readily available on CD although the latter seems to have had a CD release in Portugal.

‘Work All Day (Sleep All Night)’ was a cover of a song by The Mark Four from 1966. The Mark Four would eventually become The Creation. Their version sounds a little rougher than The Zeroes, more akin to the 13th Floor Elevators sound. While The Zeroes also have a 13th Floor Elevators fuzz to it, it is not as pronounced but it still has the slightly frenetic pace and stretched vocals.

South Africa did manage to produce some very good garage band music back in the early 60s which has become the subject of a number of international releases. ‘Work All Day (Sleep All Night)’, which was produced by Graeme Beggs, was one of those great tracks where the band did not seem to have produced an album, but their singles made enough of an impact on someone for them to include them on a compilation of rare SA Garage rock.

Where to find it:
Various – Savage Sounds From South Africa (2003) Springbok Beat,
Various – Zulu Stomp!! – South Africa Garage Beats!! (2010), Nosmoke,

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She Always Gets What She Wants – Prime Circle

All Or Nothing – Prime Circle

All Or Nothing – Prime Circle

When bands like Springbok Nude Girls and Just Jinger either moved to the US or started going through the break up/make up/break up phase of life, there was a bit of vacuum left in the rock section of SA music. And into that gap came bands like Seether (till they also left for the US), aKing, The Parlotones and Prime Circle.

And its not too difficult, listening to ‘She Always Gets What She Wants’, to see why Prime Circle was one of those filling the gap as it is a very solid rock tune. It has the rough edged vocals, a solid beat, guitars and a great melody to make for some great rock music. Bands like Nickelback and The Wallflowers come to mind when listening to this laid back but with an edge track.

Undoubtedly there is a tipping of the hat to Just Jinger as it is clear that they had an influence on Prime Circle’s early stuff. Listening to their latest album, ‘If You Don’t, You Never Will’, they seem to have mellowed further with age, and while this later offering is certainly worth a listen, I have to say that I do prefer the earlier offering of ‘She Always Gets What She Wants’. The song won the SAMA record of the year award in 2009 and its not too surprising that it did. If she wanted a great rock tune, then she would have gone for this track, because…well you know what the title says.

Where to find it:
All Or Nothing – Prime Circle, 2008, EMI, CDEMCJ (WIS) 6433

Video:

I Won’t Give Up – Bruce Millar

I Won’t Give Up – Bruce Millar

I Won’t Give Up – Bruce Millar

Like a number of ‘local’ acts, Bruce Millar was actually born in what was then Rhodesia. But he moved to SA and his musical career took off then, so I have regarded him as a local lad. Not only did he have a successful career as a musician with 2 top 20 hits (including ‘1 Won’t Give Up) he also won a Gallo award for his role as Jesus in the musical Godspell.

‘I Won’t Give Up’ was an English version of an Italian song called ‘Inno’ which was recorded by Mia Martini in 1974. That original is a quiet, almost classical hymn like affair, but Millar’s version is more rock ballad with a march like beat to it. There is an organ and piano that underpin the song while Millar’s strong vocal (similar to Alan Garrity) add extra oomph to this strong rock-pop tune. The song is a builder, starting somewhat quietly, but with each verse, more is added to the mix with lush orchestration, an electric guitar and then backing vocals which give power to the track.

‘I Won’t Give Up’ spent 19 weeks on the Springbok Radio Top 20 and 6 of those weeks were at the top spot. The song also topped the charts in Rhodesia. Millar, who has also won a SARI for best male vocalist, has become one of the stalwarts of the SA Entertainment scene, doing a lot of work as a broadcaster. He was born in 1945 and is still going so it seems he meant it when her said, ‘I Won’t Give Up’.

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

Video:

Sarajevo – Jack Hammer

Death of A Gypsy - Jack Hammer

Death of A Gypsy – Jack Hammer

The name Sarajevo always conjures up the words war and genocide after the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1996. There were some horrific stories that came out of Bosnia and it’s capital Sarajevo. Jack Hammer, led by Piet Botha, seemed to capture some of that horror and violence in this hard-hitting song from their 1996 album, ‘Death Of A Gypsy’.

From the very first second of the song we are assailed by screaming guitars and pounding drums, which one could easily equate to the pounding of bombs and screams of those on whom the bombs and missiles were falling. But inbetween these barrages of sound, there is an ominous lull where the guitars become the background noise while Piet’s gruff voice half sings, half shouts the lyrics that tell some of the history. The delivery is somewhat akin to a prophet calling judgement upon the people, a voice in the wilderness. The chorus (sung by another member of the band, possibly Stean van der Walt) is the voice of a parent urging the children to ‘Go now go now child/Go with the night and go to the mountain’ to run away from the war.

The memories and news of Sarajevo and the atrocities that happened there were very fresh when Jack Hammer recorded this blistering political song. While this song is particularly about Sarajevo and the Bosnian war, it could easily apply to any situation in the world where such atrocities have happened (and we know that there are many of them). Perhaps what one can take from this, apart from a pounding of your aural senses, is the last line of the second verse, ‘Mother you must take your children/Away from the frontline’.

Where to find it:
Death Of A Gypsy – Jack Hammer (1996), Wildebeest, WILD001

Maid In Africa – Electric Petals

Polynation - Electric Petals

Polynation – Electric Petals

This is the second song from the solitary Electric Petals album, ‘Polynation’, to appear on this list. The punny title is a trademark of Danny de Wet, who was in early eVoid and went on to be one of the driving forces behind Wonderboom, and he also supplies the bittersweet lyrics.

The song is essentially a conversation between a white western tourist and a black South African ‘maid’. The tourist arrives in the country and buys up all the souvenirs on offer, even wanting to have the beautiful sky. But the ‘maid’ answers that, even if you were born and bred here, the sky is not ours to give. The the plight of the black people is raised and the tourist asks what can she do? But again the answer is that she can’t know that, even if she had been born and bred in Africa. The song then goes on to say that despite being down trodden, they still ‘shine through the ugliness’.

This bittersweet contrast between the ugliness of apartheid and the way that people can still ‘shine through’ brings a poingnancy to this song which subtly weaves a thin thread of township guitar into the predominantly western sounding song. This effect is further enhanced when the song moves into the ‘shines through’ section and a then, not very well known, Vusi Mahlasela delivers what the sleeve notes to the CD describe as a ‘one in a million vocal’ which underscores the ability to shine.

The album and the song were largely ignored by the general public at the time and that probably had more to do with the uncomfortable politics in the lyrics than the music itself as it is packed with great tunes with ‘Maid In africa’ being one of the standout ones.

Where to find it:
Polynation – The Electric Petals (1995), Teal Records, MMTCD-1906

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