1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die”

Heart – Gene Rockwell

Heart – Gene Rockwell

Heart – Gene Rockwell

Anyone who was pointed to ‘The Best Of SA Pop Volume 1’ as an introduction to South African popular music, would have become aquainted with Gene Rockwell and his ‘Heart’ by the time they hit the second track. With its heartbeat bass line underpinning the whole track, you can identify with the song from the very start. A heartbeat is what keeps us alive, so that sound is always a comfort to hear.

But Gene is not feeling comfortable as his yearning vocals soon elaboarate that the song is about unrequited love. Released in 1965, the emotion in Gene’s voice tugs at the heartstrings, dragging you into his world of despair. And that is perhaps what made the song so popular as most people have experienced the pain and anguish of unrequited love. Gene captures that feeling and bottles it into this 3 minutes of 60’s pop perfection. You are taken with him on his journey of despair and wrapped up in the emotions. Yet the whole time the heartbeat is there, subtly bringing comfort and as the song begins to fade, Gene tells his heart that ‘we will find somebody new’.

Gene would be one of the most successful local acts on the Springbok Charts, seeing 10 hits make the top 20, however, ‘Heart’ was not one of them. The only thing I can put this down to is that the song must have been released early in 1965 and the charts only started in the June of that year, otherwise I am sure it would have done well on the top 20.  

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


Johannesburg – Margaret Singana

Johannesburg - Margaret Singana

Johannesburg – Margaret Singana

Not too many South African cities have been the subject of songs. I can think of Ballyhoo’s ‘Take Me Down To Cape Town’, David Kramer’s ‘Bloemfontein Blues’, Valiant Swart’s ‘Bloemfontein’ and the somewhat obscure ‘Durban And Me’ by Babadoll (found on the C-Weed’ compilation album and will appear on this list at some point). There is also the traditional song ‘We Are Marching To Pretoria’. But our cities seem to lose out to the little dorps and suburbs of our country as we have hits mentioning Matjiesfontein (Sonja Herhold’s ‘Trein Na Matjiesfontein’), Weltevreede (The Bats ‘Weltevreede Stasie’), Montagu (David Kramer’s ‘Montagu’) and Durbanville (Valiant Swart’s ‘Die Son Sak In Durbanville’).

However, we do have a song about our biggest city. The song started life in 1977 when it appeared on The Julian Laxton Band’s ‘Celebration’ album and around the same time Laxton along with Patric van Blerk produced a version with Margaret Singana on lead vocals. There is very little to choose between the 2 versions, in fact it almost sounds like the same backing track is used and just different vocals overdubbed. So it will depend on whether you enjoy Eugene Havenga’s wailing, heavy rock vocals which are found on the Laxton Band version, or Margaret’s disco (a la Donna Summer) delivery. There is not much in it though and I could as easily have gone for the Laxton Band version, but felt that Margaret just edges it.

Either way, both version feature a pounding, almost primal, beat with grunted chants that brings to life the heartbeat of eGoli with its busy-ness, its vibrancy, the density of activity. It’s a fast moving in-your-face song to match the pace of life of the city. It would certainly have been heard at many a Joburg disco in the late 70’s. The song appears on Margaret’s ‘Tribal Fence’ album which also features her cover of the Freedom’s Children’s ‘Tribal Fence’ and Hawk’s ‘Orang Outang’ both of which, like ‘Johannesburg’, are powerful, dense sounding disco tracks that brought the power and energy of Joburg to the dancefloor.

Where to find it:
Great SA Performers – Margaret Singana (2011), Gallo CDPS085


Lifeline – Rabbitt

The Hits - Rabbitt

The Hits – Rabbitt

Rabbitt slowed things down a notch when they recorded this one. Their bigger hits such as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’, although not frenetic or particularly noisy, were certainly rockier affairs. But here we are in slow rock ballad mode. There are some aaahh’s underpinning the verses which are not that far away from the similar part on 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’, but where 10cc keep it cool, Rabbitt do throw in some electric guitars every now and then to remind one that they knew how to handle an axe.

‘Lifeline’ really shows off the craftsmanship of Trevor Rabin and the boys when it came to putting a song together. The production is also slick, giving this love song a velvety feel as it seems to glide along on a cushion of air.

While their rockier numbers like ‘Charlie’, ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’ had chart success, ‘Lifeline’ prefers to hang around in the background, taking a slow seductive approach compared to the more ‘in your face’ sound of the hits. It showed another side of Rabbitt that I’m sure the girls loved just as much as their bouncier side.

Where to find it:
Boys Will Be Boys – Rabbitt (September 2006) RetroFresh, freshcd 153 (CD)
The Hits – Rabbitt (1996) Gallo, CDRED 602


Going Away – David Kramer

David Kramer

David Kramer

‘Baboondogs’ is one of Kramer’s less popular albums but is one of his more critically acclaimed. Apart from containing his marvellous ‘Dry Wine’, there is also this little gem called ‘Going Away’ which ironically is more about staying than leaving.

Written at a time of huge upheaval in the country with the State of Emergency in place, the violence that beset the country and the very uncertain future for white South Africans, many people contemplated leaving the country in what was known then as ‘the chicken run’. There is no judgement from Kramer of those who chose to leave. He understands why people wanted to leave, but he knows what he will do, the words ‘As for me, I don’t think that I’ll be leaving/I belong here, I’ll be staying where I was born/These people are my people/These places are my places’ he sings, making it clear.

Most of ‘Baboondogs’ shows the serious side of Kramer. His hits were the ones that were carefree and about more trivial issues. Songs such as ‘Hak Hom Blokkies’, ‘Meissie Sonder Sokkies’ and ‘Die Royal Hotel’ while often having a line or two in the lyrics for those looking for deeper meaning, ‘Going Away’ and the rest of the ‘Baboondogs’ songs don’t have any of the frivolity that those hits had. ‘Going Away’ also features that rare thing, a saxophone on a David Kramer song. It is understandable why ‘Baboondogs’ was not as commercially successful as some of his other albums, but it is also completely understandable why it is one of his most critically acclaimed albums with tracks like this and ‘Dry Wine’ it finds the red veldtskoened one at his lyrical best.

Where to find it:
Vinyl – Baboondogs – David Kramer (1986), EMI, EMCJ(V)4051001


Living For The City – Disco Rock Machine

Living For The City - Disco Rock Machine

Living For The City – Disco Rock Machine

When Stevie Wonder recorded ‘Living For The City’ it was a slick and funky song. When Disco Rock Machine got hold of it, they turned it into a rocking, floorfilling, stomp-a-thon with a killer female vocal that grabs hold of the song and shakes it by its commuters. While Wonders version is silky and somewhat laid back, rather like a drive through the suburbs, Disco Rock Machine’s version struts down a busy Wall Street, head held high.

As the band’s name suggests, they combined the burgeoning disco sound with a rock sensibility to create a hard-edged song that you can dance to. But who were the cogs in this machine. Well, the names of this studio outfit should ring a few bells as we had none other than Trevor Rabin (Rabbitt and later Yes in case you’ve been living on another planet for the last 40 years) on guitars and keyboards while Kevin Kruger (possibly better known for his production work) on drums and a certain Rene Veldsman (she of Via Afrika fame) providing those powerful vocals. It is quite difficult to picture the voice on this song going on to give us the earthy, ethnopunk of ‘Hey Boy’ which is a credit to the vocal versatility of Veldsman.

The band would also record a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, but would not find any success on the Springbok Charts, perhaps it was lines like ‘To find a job is like a haystack needle/Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people’ from ‘Living For The City’ that put the old SABC off giving this cover version a good run in the public’s ears. However, you can get to hear it now if you can lay your hands on the ‘Disco Fever’ CD, otherwise, there is always Youtube.

Where to find it:
Disco Fever – Various Artists, (July 1999), Gallo, CDREDD 627 (Out of print, so you may struggle)


Makin’ out With Granny – Falling Mirror

Falling Mirror & Granny

Falling Mirror & Granny

There are two ways you can start makin’ out with granny, you can either       storm the loft and pound it out on the piano or head off to the chemist and howl and yowl. Now if that sounds a little cryptic, weird, or downright unsettling then let me explain. There are, as far as I know, 2 different recorded versions of the classic Falling Mirror track ‘Makin’ Out With Granny’. The first appears on the ‘Zen Boulders/The Storming Of The Loft’ 2for1 CD which starts with a ominous piano riff. Then there is the version that appears on the ‘Johnny Calls The Chemist’ CD which start with a yowl and howl of guitar.

Whichever version you chose, both are a bit weird and downright unsettling. And that what makes it such a great song. Nielen Marais’ vocals are edgy, dirty and quite frankly psychotic. The lyrics about a granny holding shotguns to your head, wounded minds and grannies filled with hate, do nothing to ease the sense of unease within the song. Throw into this Alan Faull’s searing guitars (in one version) or a hypnotic, slightly psychedelic but menacing repeated piano riff (in the other version) and you have a perfect mix for the perfect psycho-rock-pop song.

‘Makin’ Out With Granny’ is as tense and edgy as the name of the band. Falling Mirror counjures up images of slow motion scenes predicting impending disaster and bad luck if the mirror shatters. ‘Granny’ is not a slo-mo-vrou, but everything about her screams out a disaster about to happen. The song is the musical equivalent of a good horror movie.

Where to find it:
Johnny Calls The Chemist – Falling Mirror May (2001) RetroFresh, FRESHCD 112
Zen Boulders/The Storming Of The Loft – Falling Mirror (2002), Retrofresh, freshcd124


Pambere – Mapantsula

Forces Favourites

Forces Favourites

Okay guys, we’re going to make an album for the End Conscription Campaign and we want your song to open it. Remember this was the eighties and the government of South Africa did not take too kindly to people trying to persuade young men not to go and fight. How would you have reacted? Well Mapantsula seemed to think, sod it, we’re up for the challenge and we will do something as upbeat and joyful as we can. Perhaps they wanted to persuade the youth of the country that not fighting was something to be happy about and that dancing was a far better idea.

The band featured Kenyan born musician, Simba Morri and one can hear a slight East African influence in the guitar work and in the use of the word ‘uhuru’ in the lyrics, this was the Swahlili word for ‘freedom’. They also draw on the Portugese of Mozambique chanting ‘a luta contuinua’ which means ‘the struggle continues’.

The End Consciption Campaign, could hardly have asked for a better song to open the album, it was political, it was life affirming and you could dance to it. It bounces around your speakers as if the band had given their instruments free rein to do what they pleased, and the instruments liked to make upbeat music. Thrown into the mix is a lively sax which gives the song a bit of a ska feel to it. Revolution and music often go hand in hand and in ‘Pambere’ we had a song that grabbed us by the hand and took us skipping through the times that were a-changing.

Where to find it:
Forces Favourites – Various Artists (1986), Shifty Records (SHIFT10)
Shot Down (Resistance Music from Apartheid South Africa) – Various Artists (2006),Shifty Records

Hear here: Shifty Records Bandcamp (artists listed as Simba Morri)


Makoti – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Makoti is the Zulu word for a young married woman or a bride. Yvonne Chaka Chaka was young (the tender age of 16) but not married when she became the first black child to appear on South African television on a talent show called ‘Sugar Shack’. Since then she has gone from strength to strength, and in 2012, once she was married (and no longer that young), she publicly declared that she would not allow her husband to take a second wife.

But let’s forget the marital issues that the word makoti has conjured up and concentrate on the song as it has a beauty and innocence that its title suggests. Yvonne’s voice is strong and is underpinned by a choir of both male and female singers, the former adding a great bass to the higher pitched Chaka Chaka and the harmonies of the female singers. The music is a simple township bass, a beat that has one swaying gently on the dancefloor and a string effect synthesizer flitting in and out of the song.

Sometimes it pays to not understand the language a song is being sung in as the vocals and music can be misleading. Despite the beauty of the song, the makoti in question is not as prim and proper as one might think. She is apparently a gossip who spends her time on the phone trying to find out the latest juicy stories. This somewhat sullies the pure sound of Yvonne’s voice and the gentle lilt of the rhythm, but if you concentrate on the latter, you can forget about the faults of the makoti, the subject of the song, and just enjoy its loveliness.

Where to find it:
The Best Of – Yvonne Chaka Chaka (2008), Universal
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream


Second husband article can be found here.


I Like… – John Ireland

I Like... - John Ireland

I Like… – John Ireland

Go on, admit it, you did titter like a naughty schoolboy/girl when you first heard this song. I mean “I like hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo with you”, That was soooo naughty! Especially in those verkrampter days in 1980’s South Africa. And then there were all those 9½ Weeks outside the fridge scene images “Cold ice cream taken with a sticky spoon/Apple slice, ooh custard and banana”. What a turn on.

Looking back from an age where everything is sex-saturated, these are pretty mild images and the song seems almost old fashioned in its approach. Despite this ‘aging’ of the content of the song, it is still a powerful piece of music. Extremely sensuous and sexy as Ireland’s voice slithers around naked on the satin sheets of a lush orchestral sound. It slowly builds to an orgasmic crescendo before fading slowly into post coital bliss. One almost feels one needs a cigarette for when you have finished listening to this (but smoking is bad for you now). While one may no longer feel the need to be immature about the content of the song, it has stood the test of time and was not a wam-bam-thank-you-mam encounter.

The song got to number 7 on the Capital 604 charts, number 5 on the 702 charts, 4 on Radio 5 and made number 2 on Springbok Radio which was quite a feat given the SABC’s penchant for banning anything remotely naughty. Listen to the song again and get drawn into its majestic-ness and downright sexiness, then hit the ‘I Like’ button. Oh, and don’t forget to remember its name in the morning.

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


Night Of The Long Knives – Face To Face

Night Of The Long Knives - Face To Face

Night Of The Long Knives – Face To Face

While Face To Face’s ‘Here We Are’ made the Radio 5, 702 and Capital 604 charts in 1984, ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ the follow up single did not manage to emulate that success. And it is a little surprising as this song was as strong as its predecessor. Yes, ‘Here We Are’ was a slower ballad and ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ is more upbeat, but it was still as fine a piece of New Romantic music to be made in South Africa as anything else from that time.

With their NewRo hairstyles and airbrushed album covers, Face To Face were set to be our own Duran Duran, but they disappeared after only the one album. They had the looks, and with ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ they had the sound. Pulsing electric drums, rocking synths, the odd bit of guitar thrown in for good measure and a strong vocal. They also threw in a few French lyrics (which may possibly be the only ones to appear on an original South African song – but don’t quote me on that).

It was perhaps the fact that ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ was the name given to a Nazi purge operation in 1934 that prevented the song from gaining too much airplay. Interestingly though, while ‘Here We Are’ was their big hit, it was ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ from their set at the 1985 Concert In The Park in aid of Operation Hunger that made it onto the album from the event.

Where to find it:
Face To Face – Face To Face (2010), Fresh Music, FRESHCD180



Concert in the Park version:

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