Archive for June, 2010

South Africa – Vol. 2

June 18th, 2010 4 comments

South Africa is currently awash in flags. The country”s multi-coloured banners are flying everywhere, especially on cars. Shops are decorated with flags from the more glamorous nations taking part in the World Cup “” lots of Brazil, Spain, Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, England; not so much North Korea, Honduras and Slovakia. But especially South African flags, which I expect will continue to fly even when the host team’s tournament is over, most probably after the final group game against France on Tuesday.

South Africa clearly is proud to host the World Cup, to be in the world”s eye for a month. There are those who hope ““ secretly or flagrantly ““ that SA will fuck it up, but even if there should be problems, the country has prepared well in creating a vibe. People have been wearing football jerseys to work or school on Football Fridays, the unattractive din of the vuvuzela (the plastic trumpets) has been embraced and even practised by otherwise relatively sane people (and insanely hated by many TV viewers), and people who would ordinarily hate football are liable to shout at random the name of their favourite team. South Africa ““ at least that part of the population that isn”t hungry and freezing in inhumane conditions ““ is having a massive party.

South Africans are very hospitable. Some of our criminals might get violent with the occasional tourist, but generally visitors are safer than locals; and tourists are as likely to get mugged or pickpocketed in Rio, Venice or LA as they are in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban. We like having guests from “exotic” places overseas (evidently not so much from other parts of Africa, as the xenophobic hate-gangs have made clear). The reason for that resides in the long international isolation under apartheid as well as the geographical distance from those countries with which South Africa would like to measure itself. The World Cup is our debutante ball. Please include us in the community of real nations.

Flag-waving über-patriotism generally tends to bother me. Flags are fun, but they can also be symbols (and weapons) of a dangerous nationalism. It is not a coincidence that the swastika was ubiquitous in Nazi Germany and that it often is the fascist, racist thug who has his flag tattooed on the neck. I find the USA”s obsession with and exaggerated reverence for the Stars and Stripes profoundly disturbing in the way it symbolises a sometimes particularly nasty national chauvinism. And yet, I welcome South Africa”s current flag-waving.

The flag is helping unite a deeply divided nation, much as the 1994 elections, the rugby World Cup wins in 1995 and 2007, and the African Cup of Nations win in 1996 did. Here, the flag is a symbol of what will be a fleeting national unity. But as a symbol of unity, however fleeting, it will serve as a permanent admonition that South Africans can be united. The World Cup may not bring South Africa all the promised material rewards (and we”ll need a collective shower to wash off the praetorian grime of our association with FIFA), and it will not solve all our problems. But as crucial contribution to the on-going project of nation-building, it will prove to be an inestimably valuable exercise.

With that out of the way, here are some more randomly selected South African songs.

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Elias & his Zig-Zag Jive Flutes – Ry Ry (1958).mp3
We previously met Elias “” actually it”s Jack Lerole “” in The Originals Vol. 31 as the composer and original performer of that staple of football grounds, Tom Hark. Ry Ry (which could be translated as “Go! Go!”) was the b-side of Elias & his Zig-Zag Jive Flutes” 1958 hit, for which its writer received a pittance. Another pennywhistle number, it is spirited, if not quite as much as Tom Hark. Lerole was influential in the development of South African music, first in the kwela genre, then in mbaqanga. He abandoned the pennywhistle in the 1960s, as did the other giant of the pennywhistle, Spokes Mashiane. While Mashiane died young, Lerole was an early member of the next group.


Mango Groove ““ Special Star (1989).mp3
Mango Groove – Dance Sum More (1989).mp3

Mango Groove were not the first multi-racial band in South Africa, nor the first to have hits with a fusion of white pop and African genres. Juluka (up next) and Hotline were the big pioneers in that regard. But were Juluka”s African roots were rural and traditional, Mango Groove incorporated the old urban kwela sounds of Sophiatown (discussed last week) and the townships. And the enjoyed much greater commercial success in South Africa. Jack Lerole left Mango Groove before they had their breakthrough. I think I”ve read once that it”s him growling on the infectious Dance Sum More. The superior Special Star, with Mduduzi Magwaza”s great pennywhistle solos and singer Claire Johnston”s gorgeous vocals, is dedicated to Spokes Mashiane.


Juluka ““ Scatterlings Of Africa (1982).mp3
Johnny Clegg & Savuka ““ Asimbonanga (1987).mp3

Johnny Clegg had two groups. First there was Juluka, his band with Sipho Mchunu, whom he met in Johannesburg when they were teenagers (apparently one challenged the other to a guitar contest, and they became close friends thereafter). Clegg, who was born in Rochdale, England, founded Savuka after Mchunu decided to retire to farming in the mid-1980s. With Savuka, Clegg recorded the beautiful and haunting Asimbonanga, an anti-apartheid song for the then imprisoned Nelson Mandela, with its roll-call of assassinated political activists. Savuka also re-recorded Scatterlings Of Africa in 1987. I think I prefer that version with its more prominent flute , though the 1982 original with Juluka is equally a great. That version certainly is the South African classic.


Henry Ate ““ Just (1996).mp3
One of the most popular songs I”ve posted on this blog is Pachelbel by Karma (get it HERE). I”m rather surprised about that. It”s an obscure album track by a South African band whose charismatic singer, Karma-Ann Swanepoel (not much of a rock & roll name), never made her deserved breakthrough as a solo singer. So it must be the exceptional lyrics that caused the track to be so popular. Karma was the alternative name, used for one album, of Henry Ate, a folk-rock group that was very popular in South Africa from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, despite the horribly punning name which they took from one of their songs. The beautiful song featured here is from their 1996 debut album; like Pachelbel, it’s the closing track. Karma is now living in Florida.


District Six – Shine A Light (1994).mp3
A song from the wildly successful District Six ““ The Musical. I wrote about District Six last week; the musical tells the story of how a tight-knit community was uprooted and destroyed by the racist apartheid regime. The musical gave a voice to the immense pain felt by the displaced people, much as Richard Rive”s excellent novel Buckingham Palace, District Six did. I remember vividly the tears of the Muslim man in the row in front of me when I saw the musical in 1989. Shine A Light, one of several highlights, tells of a doomed interracial relationship; other songs speak of daily life in District Six and its characters, the humiliation of living under apartheid, the helplessness of being forcibly removed, the defiant hope of return. For such sad subject matter, much of the musical is very funny. In one song, characters tell of being chased away from amenities because these are reserved for whites. Then a gangster tells about a dream he had about dying and going to hell. The devil, however, sends him back, because “this place of mine is reserved for whites”.

The musical was written by the very successful, Olivier Award-winning team of David Kramer, a white Afrikaner, and Talip Petersen, who was born in District Six and was classified Coloured (mixed race) under apartheid. Petersen was murdered at his home in December 2006. His wife Najwa was convicted of conspiracy to murder him. The title of the film District 9, with its theme of forced removals, was obviously inspired by District Six.


Jonathan Butler – Sing Me Your Love Song (1990).mp3
For a country with such a wealth of talent, South Africa has produced relatively few international stars. One who made it was Jonathan Butler, a guitarist who is active mostly in the field of jazz-fusion but had chart success with the soul track Lies on the Jive label (founded by Durban-schooled Mutt Lange). Butler comes from Cape Town (Irish readers will be amused to learn he grew up in a suburb called Athlone), and his large, musical family has been involved in many bands on the city”s live jazz circuit. Occasionally, Butler comes home and records with old friends, as he did with the great Tony Schilder. A collaboration of them will feature later in this series. Sing Me Your Love Song was released in late 1990 on the aptly titled Heal Our Land LP; with its gentle African vibe it appealed to a country that was blinkingly emerging from apartheid.


Rabbitt ““ Charlie (1975).mp3
While the rest of the world had the Bay City Rollers, South Africa had Rabbitt, whose biggest hits were Charlie and a decent cover of Jethro Tull”s Locomotive Breath. And when Leslie McKeown bailed the sinking ship BCR, the renamed Rollers replaced him with Rabbitt singer Duncan Fauré. But it would be unjust to regard Rabbitt as teenybopper merchants. They were serious musicians. After his three albums with the Rollers, Fauré, Rabbit”s main songwriter, turned to more songwriting and producing, but bandmate Trevor Rabin made the greater impact, first as a member of Yes “” we may blame him for Owner Of The Lonely Heart “” and then as the writer of many scores of hit movies. US sports fans will recognise his Titans Spirit from Remember the Titans.


Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Umqobothi (1986).mp3

Arguably South Africa”s most popular female singers were Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie, one a dignified vocalist and the other lively pop star. Yvonne Chaka Chaka, whose real name is Yvonne Machaka, combines both qualities, and is one of South Africa”s foremost musical artists. Makeba herself described her as “my baby”. Yvonne is an astute woman: her LPs are released on her own label, she is a successful business woman, an activist in areas such as women”s and children”s rights activist and malaria, and an advocate in public administration. Reportedly she teaches adult literacy part-time. My favourite Yvonne Chaka Chaka song, Makoti, appeared on my second Africa mix. This is her massive 1986 hit which featured in the opening of the film Hotel Rwanda. Umqombothi is a home-brewed Xhosa beer, made of sorghum, corn and yeast. The official beer of the World Cup in South Africa, however, is the American pisswater Budweiser.


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In Memoriam – May 2010

June 15th, 2010 2 comments

I realise that this is coming rather late in the month, and there has been the death of Marvin Isley in the interim. Anyway, the two big deaths in May were those of the stunning Lena Horne and heavy metal legend Ronnie James Dio. Another particularly notable death is that of country musician and songwriter Slim Bryant, who died at 101. He had one of his songs recorded by the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, who died in 1933, and played guitar on his 1932 song Mother Queen Of My Heart, and collaborated with the seminal fiddler Clayton McMichen.

Siphiwo Ntshebe, who died of tuberculosis, was a promising South African tenor, who merits inclusion by dint of having been slated to sing at the World Cup opening ceremony on June 11.

I owe the Chubby Carrier song to the marvellous Cover Me blog, which posted it on May 15, apparently unaware that Carrier had died 12 days earlier. Read more…

Intros Quiz: 1985 edition

June 7th, 2010 3 comments

We continue on our five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes, going on to 1985, with 20 intros to hit songs from 1985,  of 5-7 seconds in length. All were released as singles or had their chart peak that year. There admittedly is a bit of a UK bias here: US readers should not despair at not getting the first track (though it was posted on this blog before). Number 9 was a hit in the UK only early 1986, but in the US in late 1985.

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday “” please don’t post your answeers in the comments section, in case it inadvertently spoils the fun for somebody else. And if the pesky number 10 bugs you, e-mail me at halfhearteddude [at) gmail [dot] com for the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz ““ 1985 edition


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Step back to 1977 – Part 1

June 4th, 2010 8 comments

1977, the year I turned 11, was a pivotal year in my life, perhaps more than any other. My family was torn apart by my father”s sudden death, I discovered love and became a serious fan of pop music. We”ll deal with the first two in part 1. As always, I must stress that all songs are included here because they have the power to beam me back to the time under discussion. Some I like, and some I most certainly do not endorse. Don”t despair, things will get better as I get older”¦
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Electric Light Orchestra – Livin” Thing.mp3
Until this point, the Electric Light Orchestra had passed me by, and they would again do so until 1979/80, when I really liked their hits Don”t Bring Me Down, Confusion and Shine A Light from the Discovery album. There were other songs in between, and every friend”s long-haired, bumfluff-moustached older brother had a few ELO albums, alongside the ubiquitous Heart LP (the one with Barracuda, which to this day remains Annoying Older Brother music to me). But I didn”t dig ELO. Except Livin” Thing. Perhaps not coincidentally, it sounds much like the Discovery era ELO. The production is brilliant, of course (the strings especially), but it”s the chorus that must have grabbed me then. For all values that I have come to appreciate about ELO since then, I don”t think they were that great with choruses.


Bay City Rollers – Yesterday”s Hero.mp3
In West Germany, the little girls maintained a rivalry between the Bay City Rollers and Sweet. If churning out the better hits in 1977 is the yardstick by which we shall measure victory, BCR won, even as the song”s title was becoming increasingly apt. Yesterday”s Hero is a bit of a stomper in the Saturday Night vein. Written by Harry Vanda and George Young, it was originally recorded in 1975 by John Paul Young, who”d score a couple of worldwide hits in 1977/78 with Love Is In The Air and Standing In The Rain (an Italian cardinal was such a great fan, he adopted the singer”s name upon becoming pope in August 1978). George Young, incidentally is AC/DC”s Angus and Malcolm Young”s older brother. With Vanda, George had been a member of the Easybeats. They then recorded as Flash and the Pan. They also produced AC/DC”s Powerage and High Voltage albums.


Bonnie Tyler – Lost In France.mp3
If any record my mother bought was going to excite me, then it had to be one that included the timeless lyrics: “Hoolay-hoolay hoolay-hoolay-dance”. It might have supposed to sound like ooh-la-la ooh-la-la dance, but Mrs Tyler (no doubt she was married, because she looked like a Hausfrau) gave the French phrase her own Welsh twist. Lost In France, which sounds like a Smokie song, was recorded before Tyler had an operation on her vocal chords, which gave her already smoky voice that distinctive rasp. Within a year Tyler had an even bigger hit, with It”s a Heartache, and in 1983 with the magnificent Jim Steinman production Total Eclipse Of The Heart.


Frank Zander – Oh Susie (Der zensierte Song).mp3
While my interest in German Schlager had diminished by 1977, I couldn”t escape the likes of Peter Alexander, Roberto Blanco, Costa Cordalis and Howard Carpendale on the radio or TV. Compared to those ingratiating chumps, Frank Zander was fairly cool. With his almost tuneless voice and faintly amusing lyrics (well, up to a point), he certainly stood apart from the chumps. He had first come to general notice in 1975 with Ich trink auf dein Wohl Marie, the supposed humour of which resided in his supposed drunkenness (hell, at nine years of age, I was amused). Two years later, he had moved from the adult Marie to jalbait Susie, of the “uncensored song” which through the medium of country-pop operates on the fun to be had with bleeped out double entendres. Oh, how we almost laughed. An “uncensored version” was also released, with Zander voicing over the supposed words that were bleeped out, but those were not really objectionable either; a comedic double bluff, in other words. Zander later became a full-time practitioner of the novelty song, doing unhilarious spoof covers of Trio”s Da Da Da and, under the pseudonym Fred Sonnenschein released particularly inane Scheiße.


Lynsey De Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom.mp3
Ah, the days when Britain still had a shot at winning the Eurovision Song Contest; before bitter regional enemies in the Balkans would divvy up the highest numbers of points between one another (except this year, when Germany won). Rock Bottom was the runner-up in the 1977 contest. France won that year, with Marie Myriam”s L”oiseau et l”enfant, a song I would not even pretend to recognise if it stuck its tongue down my throat while humming itself. And while Croatia is happy to give Serbia 12 points, Ireland gave Rock Bottom nil points. Austria”s entry, Eurovision cliché watchers will be pleased to know, was titled Boom Boom Boomerang. Mike Moran went on to produce David Bowie and write the theme for crime TV series Taggard. De Paul had already enjoyed a career as a singer and songwriter (including Barry Blue”s hit Dancin” On a Saturday Night). At around the time that Moran co-wrote Kenny Everett”s not entirely welcome Snot Rap, De Paul was singing songs for the Conservative Party.


Space – Magic Fly.mp3
This was a bit of an instrumental novelty hit in the way that there always was at least one every year in the German charts. Unlike some of the others, however, Magic Fly is rather good. Space were a pretty cool French disco act whose music might well be sought out by aficionados of the genre. I had the single of this. It got stolen at the last church youth camp I bothered attending, in 1979. The youth leaders didn”t even bother to investigate the theft of my records (the violation of the commandments about theft and coveting thy neighbour”s goods notwithstanding). That annoyed me, because in 1976 they had a whole scene from The Shield going when some hapless goon stole a popular guy”s pocketknife. Nobody asked what the cool guy was doing with a knife in a church camp in the first place. But to the religious church camp regime, rightful ownership of weapon clearly was more important than pop music. So, you know, fuck them.


Oliver Onions – Orzowei.mp3
I actually didn”t like this song that much; my younger brother was a great fan of it (and, yeah, the chorus is quite catchy, in the way choruses with the phrase “nananana-nananana-nananana-na-na” often are). Little bro” was also a great Bud Spencer and Terence Hill fan, so he had an Italian obsession already which would only later incorporate the finer aspects of that country”s rich cultural heritage. Oliver Onions (named after the British writer) were Italian film writers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, who wrote for Bud Spencer & Terence Hill movies. Orzowei was the theme song for what I think was an Italian mini-series titled in Germany Weißer Sohn des kleinen Königs, a story about a white boy brought up in an African tribe. It was a German #1 in late May and early June, which was, as we will see in the next entry, a rather significant point in my young life.


Julie Covington – Don”t Cry For Me Argentina.mp3
In early June, my mother bought the single of this. One night she played it for my father, a theatre and opera buff who probably would have liked any of the crap inflicted upon us by that revolting grease-head Andrew Lloyd-Webber. And, indeed, Mom and Dad, sitting together on the green suede lounge suite, really enjoyed that song together. A couple of nights later (the anniversary of which is on Saturday), a shrill scream echoed through our house, alerting me to the notion I was now fatherless. My father had collapsed with a heart attack at work; we had been notified that he had been taken to hospital, but didn”t know that he made his final, apparently artificial breath in the ambulance.

In the subsequent weeks, my mother was totally obsessed by Don”t Cry For Me Argentina, playing it over and over and over, her loud sobs disregarding Evita”s injunction not to shed tears for her or, by extension, my father. I cannot have an objective opinion of that song”s merits. I love that song because it evokes such intense emotions. And I hate it for the same reason. Catch me on the right day, and you’ll find that the strings that open Don”t Cry For Me Argentina can still produce a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, or a tear in my eye.


Smokie – It’s Your Life.mp3
Readers who are familiar with the oeuvre of Smokie will rightly question my good judgment in including this song, and, if there had to be Smokie, not one their bigger hits of 1977, Living Next Door To Alice (and you may very well ask politely who is Alice) or Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone, both far less rubbish tunes than this. But the point of the series is to include songs that have the power to transport me back to a particular time. It”s Your Life, a tempo-changing mish-mash of cod-reggae, bubblegum pop and Beatles-homage, does just that. It evokes the summer of 1977. When it comes to the bridge, and the backing singers start singing: “How does it feel”¦” I am inclined to continue “”¦one of the beautiful people”. The fleeting similarity to the Beatles” Baby You”re A Rich Man is not subtle. And the chorus borrows more than a bit from George Harrison”s My Sweet Lord (or, indeed, The Chiffons” He”s So Fine).


Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Yes, I know, it was a hit in 1975. Yet it belongs here. In August 1977, my brothers and I went on a church camp. The regular reader may recall from the 1976 installment that the previous year”s camp (the one with the pocketknife incident) had been intolerable due to my older brother”s Gauleiter complex, bullying me mercilessly. This year, he was totally cool. The whole group of about 40 kids from 9-15 was great and grew close over two weeks. It was one of the best fortnights of my life. And I fell in love with the lovely Antje, with her dark hair and little freckles on her nose. Of course I was too shy to do much about it, other than carving her name on my bed”s headboard (and anywhere else I found suitable). A night or two before our departure “” the day we received news of Elvis” death “” we had a disco evening. I was intent on asking Antje for a slow dance, and practised with one of the youth leaders, the generously bosomed Doris, to Ralph McTell”s Streets Of London. The next ballad would be my cue.

After loads of Sweet and T Rex songs, played by my DJing older brother, the opening notes of Rod Stewart”s Sailing sounded. Being totally sexy in my tight white jeans and navy T-shirt, I got up and made a beeline across the dancefloor for the lovely Antje. Halfway down, approaching from the right flank, came a chap called Roland. I had not known that he too had taken a fancy to the lovely Antje. For all I knew, he might have had his sights on any number of girls cliqued together in the lovely Antje”s vicinity. Still, somehow I sensed his intended target right at that moment.

It was like High Noon; tumbleweed blowing as nervous eyes darted here and there. Little me and big Roland, both after the same girl, with the entire crowd watching from the sidelines. Our paths met. Instinctively, I shoulder-charged my rival out of the way. As he tumbled away I reached the lovely Antje, stood in front of her and boldly asked her to dance to Rod Stewart”s Sailing. She looked inquiringly at her best friend, who nodded her consent. So Antje and I had our awkward first “” and, alas, last “” dance, with all my pals giving me the thumbs up, and Roland plotting a revenge which never came. After the camp, I never saw Antje again. But not a year goes by when I don”t think of her, of the feeling of my hands on the back of her slightly clammy T-shirt and her soft breath brushing against my neck.

So when I think of 1977, the shock and grief caused by my father”s death comes to mind, but also the intensity of my puppy love and the comfort of my holiday with a great group of people. The year had awoken in me an intense consciousness of life, and I would soon direct that intensity towards the fanatical acquisition of music.


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Murder songs Vol. 2

June 1st, 2010 3 comments

It has been a while since I inaugurated this series of songs about murder. In the three songs for the second instalment, we observe a musician killing in self-defence, a crime of passion, and a family making excuses for their very fucked-up son.

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Bill Brandon ““ Rainbow Road (1969).mp3

This deep soul track by the little known Bill Brandon used to be very rare. Thanks to the Internet, it is now accessible to a wider audience. And what an absolutely breathtaking record it is. The song apparently was written for Arthur Alexander, who has previously featured on this blog, but Alexander recorded it only in 1973. In the song, a down-on-his-luck singer is discovered and takes the fork in the road marked success, the Rainbow Road of the title. The mentor pays of his debt, clothes our friend in finery. “And then one night a man with a knife forced me to take his life,” Bill tells us. As bad luck would have it, he finds himself before an unsympathetic judge who clearly does not buy the self-defence line. So instead of his signature shining in bright lights, he is wearing a number instead of a name. But “I still dream about Rainbow Road”.


Conway Twitty ““ Ain”t It Sad To Stand and Watch Love Die (1968).mp3
The killing of passion was a staple in 1960s country. Porter Wagoner based a whole, excellent album on it. One can understand what drive the narrator to murder: not only was his woman cheating on him, but he caught her in the act with his best friend. So it”s not only a sense of jealousy and possessiveness the triggers the killing, but the anger of a double betrayal. There isn”t much confrontation: the narrator shoots them “were they lied”. He records his unfaithful wife”s last words, which evidently do not elicit mercy from our friend, because having watched love die, he is not open to negotiation.  The neighbours are coming over, posing the reasonable question: “Oh my God, what have you done?” His response is unnerving; putting the gun to his head, the narrator asks repeatedly: “Neighbour, ain”t it sad to stand and watch love die?”


Warren Zevon ““ Excitable Boy (1978).mp3
The great Zevon imparts a valuable lesson: if your son mistakes Sunday lunch for an occasion to rub pot roast all over his chest, don”t laugh it off. And when he bites the usherette on the leg, don”t put it down to the high japery. Because next, he”ll take little Suzie to the junior prom, then rape and killed her, and take her home. And his idiot family still thinks it”s because he”s just being “excitable”. After ten years he is released from custody at an appropriate facility, and promptly goes to Suzie”s grave, digs her up and take her bones home. And guess what the family is saying?

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