1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Ella Mental”

Pressure – Ella Mental

Pressure – Ella Mental

Pressure – Ella Mental

When thinking Ella Mental, the 2 songs that usually come to mind are ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ and ’30 Million Lonely People’ with the former making the Radio 5, Capital 604 and Radio 702 charts and the latter making the 702 and 604 ones. But if you were put under pressure to name another Ella Mental hit, you could certainly make that pressure work for you to name the only other Ella Mental song to make any of the 3 main radio station charts as ‘Pressure’ by them got to number 22 on the Capital 604 charts.

It is perhaps not as catchy as ’30 Million Lonely People’ or as rocky as ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ but there is a persistent stomping beat that underpins Heather Mac’s somewhat ominous vocals. The pounding beat is in tune with the theme of the song as the persistence of it emulates the way pressure bears down on one. It can be relentless as it tries to beat you into submission.

So why listen to a song that reminds you about all the things you need to do and all the bosses you need to please? Well, because there is a message of hope within the song. ‘I’m getting stronger every day’ sings Heather. She is overcoming the problems. Also if you listen to the guitar and plinky-plonking keyboards that wonder around the beat of the song, there is a kind of laid back feel to them, almost as if they are circling round this ‘pressure’ beat, with a puzzled expression on their faces, as if say, why do we do this to ourselves.

So my advice is put the track on, absorb the pressure of the beat and then stand back and join the guitars and keyboards in smiling at the pressure and get stronger everyday.

Where to find it:
Uncomplicated Dreams – Ella Mental (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd127

Video:

See Yourself (Clowns) – Ella Mental

See Yourself (Clowns) - Ella Mental

See Yourself (Clowns) – Ella Mental

Don’t be fooled by the word ‘clowns’ stuck in the brackets of this song’s title. This is not a red nose, honking horn, large shoe, custard pie in the face song. There is something dramatic about this song from the tension building strumming guitar that opens it, through the silkily ominous alto vocals of Heather Mac to the chorus ending staccato, ‘Self!!!’ which echoes into a moments silence before the song resumes again for another go at your senses.

Ella Mental were one of the big bands of the 80s in the country. ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ topped the 702 charts, made number 9 on Capital 604 and 15 on Radio 5 (what were those 5 jocks thinking letting it flounder so low in the charts while letting Wham! top the charts that week?) and is not only one of Ella Mental’s memorable songs, but also one of the songs of the 80s.

They performed the song live at Operation Hunger’s ‘Concert in The Park’ and this version can be found on the CD release of that event. This version has the band speeding the song up drastically for the last chorus, becoming an almost thrashy punk version of its former self. The audience at Ellis Park that night were also treated to some fine guitar licks from Tim Parr. It’s worth checking this one out as well as the studio version.

Where to find it:
Uncomplicated Dreams – Ella Mental (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd127

Video:

Concert In The Park version:

Backroom – Tim Parr

Backroom - Tim Parr

Backroom – Tim Parr

It starts with a haunting, twisting sax dancing an early-hours-of-the-morning-when-the-joint-is-closing-but-you’re-still-dancing-with-your-girl shuffling dance and it never really leaves the room. It is an intense song that draws you into it as it snakes through your brain, opening those dark thoughts that you throw into the backroom of your mind and hope that no one ever sees it.

It was a little odd coming to this song, knowing that Tim had worked firstly with Larry Amos in Baxtop and then was the guitarist in Ella Mental. Both of those previous bands produced some great songs which have/will also made this list, but theirs were more pop-rock numbers. His first solo album ‘Still Standing’ opens with this song which is aimed at a more serious listener than a youngster wanting something to headbang to. It is more bluesy-rock than pop-rock and shows us a more serious side to one of the countries talented guitarists.

But it’s not just his guitar on display here. One can understand why in Ella Mental he didn’t take the lead vocal role – they had Heather Mac. Had they not been blessed with her voice and were looking for someone else to step up to the mike, then, based on what one can hear here on his solo material, Tim would have been more than capable of fulfilling the role. He moves from sardonic verses to soaring choruses with ease and injects the words with a desperate edge that compliments the music. Although not as successful as his previous bands, this opening song of his solo album is quite worthy of the accolades ‘Jo Bangles’ or ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ got.

Where to find it:
Standing Still – Tim Parr, Tim Can Records

Video:

30 Million Lonely People – Ella Mental

30 Million Lonely People – Ella Mental

30 Million Lonely People - Ella Mental

30 Million Lonely People – Ella Mental

According to one website I found, in 1985 when this song by Ella Mental was released, the population of South Africa was 31,307,880. This meant that if Ella Mental were referring to South Africa, then only 1,307,880 people weren’t lonely. This is a very low percentage of the population. However, listening to the song, I don’t think we should be looking for statistical accuracy. Furthermore, the song has a more positive message than the title suggest as Heather Mac sings “There is an answer”.

Strangely this song did not feature as a bonus track on the Retrofresh release of ‘Uncomplicated Dreams’ the bands only South African release (they did make a second album in the States which seemed to get very little coverage back home). Beginning with some moody guitars, the song soon swings into gear and, as Heather’s distinctive vocals kick in, it is recognisable as classic Ella Mental. The strong chorus plays off against the slightly quieter verses and there is a great instrumental break to allow Tim Parr free reign to show off his guitar skills.

The song made it to number 11 on 702 Radio’s charts, but failed to get on to the Springbok Radio, Capital 604 and Radio 5 charts. Perhaps it was the slightly political undertones – the line “Why are people hungry” possibly a reference to the downtrodden in the country. But at a time when Bright Blue were incorporating ‘N’kosi Sik’ilele’ into a Radio 5 number 1 hit (‘Weeping’ if you really didn’t know) there was no excuse why this song didn’t climb at least onto that chart.

Where to find it:
Singles bins if you’re lucky

Video:

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