Saturday, July 13, 2019

New York Dolls are fun to play with

I read about the New York Dolls for the first time in the August 1974 issue of Hit Parader magazine when the band was mentioned in a piece about the nascent New York punk scene, as a pioneer of the then current New York scene. The piece mentioned that David Johansen had a new project and that Johnny Thunders, the Dolls’ lead guitarist, and Richard Hell, from Television, had joined to form The Heartbreakers. 

This piece was also my introduction to these names and bands such Television, the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads, all of whom became well-known and successful.

It was only from 1977, when I became a regular reader of the New Musical Express (NME), that I learnt more about the Dolls. Hit Parader had regularly mentioned David Johansen and his solo career (and influenced me to buy the records when I saw them) but by then the Dolls were history and Hit Parader was all about what was currently hip and fashionable.

The first two significant facts I learnt about the New York Dolls was that the band played tough, Stonesy rock and roll and that the band members, way before British glam rock, dressed up in women’s clothes, not as trannies, but as accessories to their streetwear, for a bit of old fashioned, rock and roll glamour. According to the NME, the Dolls were part of a trilogy, with the MC5 and The Stooges, of influences on the UK punk bands of the late seventies, in that they were rebellious, outrageous, and played stripped down, loud, fast rock and roll, the antithesis of prog rock and heavy bands of the mid-Seventies.

During 1975 Malcolm McLaren, soon to be the manager of the Sex Pistols, managed the last incarnation of the Dolls and made them wear red leather, and no longer the funky feathers, satin and tat of their early years, to suggest something far more radical and dangerous.  McLaren’s ideas and guidance failed to revive or sustain the Dolls’ career.

The original band released two albums, New York Dolls(1973) and Too Much Too Soon(1974) and neither of them ever made it to the one Stellenbosch record store at the time. I did however buy the first three David Johansen solo albums but probably only from about 1984 when they were floating around in bargain bins.

It was more than 40 years after the Dolls’ albums were released, that I started hearing tracks from them, starting with “Trash” on a compilation of songs that influenced UK punk, and then “Personality Crisis” and “Looking for a Kiss,” presumably three of the band’s best known and most loved songs, but it wasn’t until I joined the streaming service Apple Music that I had ready access to the New York Dolls entire output, as well as that of Johnny Thunders, solo and with The Heartbreakers, and Johansen again. There were also videos of performances by the Dolls and the David Johansen Group on YouTube.

The bounty, and irony, of services like Apple Music and YouTube is that, at the age of 60, I can finally listen to music that was contemporary when I was a teenager but not commercially popular enough to receive airplay on South African rock radio or to be available in record stores, yet became legendary far beyond its time and commercial impact. So, instead of investing time in keeping up with contemporary music, I spend more time seeking out and listening to music of the past, and no longer so much the important acts of the Sixties, but the Seventies bands that played the kind of hard, fast rock I enjoyed then, and still do. These bands were active when I was a spotty teenager and yet I was completely ignorant of their existence.  Today I want to explore the musical landscape of my youth, that was closed to me at the time, partly because I was living in Stellenbosch, a conservative backwater even as a university town, and partly because the bands were obscure to everyone but the cognoscenti and rock critics who had no impact on commercial success despite their continuous praise. 

Johansen is a good, witty lyricist with a marked New York sensibility and the music has tunes, power and groove, and the proverbial Stones-ian swagger that’s so often held up as the hallmark of a great rock and roll group. I suppose Johansen and Thunders could have been presented as the Jagger and Richards of the Dolls, if less legendary, though they weren’t the exclusive song writing partnership in the band.

It’s fun to listen to the Dolls because the music isn’t just dumb fun, though it is tremendous fun, exhilarating and tuneful, and has the same pop savvy that the later punk bands, both US and UK incarnations, had. If they rebelled against the status quo, it was a young person’s rebellion against the establishment with the aim, however vague, to replace that establishment with a new approach to music and fashion that would also achieve commercial success. 

First you want to write songs to perform, then you want to record the tunes for posterity and then you want an audience for your gigs and who’ll buy your records. Bands like the New York Dolls don’t set out to be cult successes and influences on later, more successful bands; they don’t just want to sound like the Stones, they want to be as wildly successful too. sometimes it just doesn’t happen though.

The Dolls had long hair like the hippies but didn’t wear tie dye and natural fabrics. They didn’t live on the farm or in a rural commune. They probably preferred amphetamines, cocaine and, ultimately for some, heroin to weed. As young, hormonal, horny urban guys with a bohemian streak, they dared to brighten up their look with fashion items previously associated with women, a fashion statement presumably as a poke in the eye of the more conservative, straight, older generation, even the older rock generation, and having fun with the English concept of effete heterosexuality, and androgyny. It’s a basic tenet of showbiz that you have to get the attention of the people who can shape your career and of the people you want to persuade to pay hard earned money to attend your gigs and buy your records and merchandise, and that the best way to do this, is to be outrageous and dangerous-looking. Image and attitude is everything when you start out; when you can back that up with decent music, you should be a winner.  

The New York Dolls never made a popular breakthrough, not in the USA and not in the rest of the world, for various reasons. Some of it’s down to the drug troubles within the band. Their first drummer, Billy Murcia, died of a drug overdose, and Johnny Thunders and bassist Arthur Kane had their issues. Failure to launch might also be due to inept management, poor record company support and the lack of hit singles.

It’s sad for the Dolls that the first version of the band only managed two albums, in the same way we have only three MC5 albums and two Stooges albums, but it’s great for us that we have at least that and the best part is: not only are these albums are good to excellent, but the musical snapshots are frozen in time with no lengthy discography of albums over a forty year career, with evermore diminishing returns as time goes by, as is the case (for example) with the Rolling Stones. 

The Dolls (only Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain) did reunite in the 21stcentury and released three more studio albums but those will not be the records and songs for which the New York Dolls will be remembered. There is also a slew of live releases of gigs and collections of demo recordings from the Seventies, that are historically important for completist fans, but hardly vital or necessary. If, with The Dictators, you only need Go Girl Crazy!, with New York Dolls, you need only the first two albums. That’s all she wrote.

The raw power of Iggy Pop and The Stooges

Raw Power(1973) is the culmination and peak of what The Stooges were trying to achieve yet it’s also not quite how they sounded on the first two albums, The Stooges(1969) and Fun House(1970), because James Williamson’s guitar playing is so different and much fiercer than Ron Asheton’s on the first two records.

I think I’ve heard the 1973 David Bowie mix of Raw Powerand now I’ve listened to Iggy Pop’s 1997 remix of it too. Some prefer the originally authorised mix, some prefer the rawer, later Pop version. I’m one of those people who listened to the original album and wondered what the fuss was all about; it seemed slick, anaemic and ineffectual, hardly the stuff of legend or a record that could have been an influence on the punks of the late Seventies.  The Iggy Pop mix makes the record exciting and vital.

I bought the first two albums probably in 1984 or 1985, well after the heyday of the punk explosion of 1976, but when I heard “1969,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun,” I heard punk rock, or at least the two or three chord musical concept of it, played by people allegedly picking up a guitar for the first time. With the dumbed down two chord riffs there were also the incongruous, psychedelic freak out lead guitar parts that seemed to be from a different band altogether and the 10-minute plus tedious dirge of “We Will Fall” could have been a third band of pretentious twats.

On the second album, “Down in the Street,” “Dirt” and “Fun House” upped the ante again from the defiantly dumb debut to the scarily intelligent second act, with ferocious, tough grooves and scornful vocals. This was post punk and beyond.  Fun Housewas not only ahead of its time, it hasn’t dated and still sounds cutting edge.

The Iggy Pop mix of Raw Poweris the visceral business though and the roaring rhythm guitar parts are a blueprint for punk to come, from the New York scene to the UK scene, and they blow you away. Ron Asheton had a completely different sound and approach on the first two albums and that was effective and supported Pop’s musical vision. James Williamson seems to BE Pop’s musical vision. The guitars are loud, they are awesome, and they absolutely drive the performances. There’s no sloppiness, no raggedness, no quirkiness, just brute power and acceleration. If ever a record was mixed to be played at extreme volume, it’s this one. Even the ostensible ballads rock hard.

I’m not a huge Iggy Pop fan. The Stooges are where I’m at and his solo career has never inspired me to buy the records, though I’ve always felt bad for not getting hold of The Idiot(1977) and Lust for Life(1977) when they were released, because it was then, from the NME, that I learnt who he was and how he’d been an influence and inspiration for the punk Class of 1976. I have listened to those records, much later, and if they are contemporary to their time and have some classic songs, like “Nightclubbing,” “China Girl,” “Lust for Life” and “The Passenger,” the music is too smooth, too groomed and too sophisticated for me, especially when I know The Stooges’ first two albums.

Do you remember Hüsker Dü?

American hardcore was not exactly a direct descendant of the original New York scene that gave us Television, Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads, who were directly inspirational to the UK punk scene in the late Seventies, but, almost ironically, was  a reaction to the UK punks, in different parts of the United States, where kids had nothing going for them  in the repressed, religious middle American heartland, and the soul deadening suburbs around affluent cities.
UK punk was a social, fashion and musical revolution against the stultifying circumstances of Great Britain in the late Seventies but the bottom line of most punk, especially the first wave, and of the successor New Wave bands, was that melody and tune were as important as fast paced noise rock. The Sex Pistols wrote and performed pop songs, as did The Clash, The Damned or The Jam, as much as they tried to outrage the establishment with their conduct or statements. Their songs had choruses and hooks, they were hummable and memorable. The same applies to the Ramones or any of the other New York proto punk bands.
In fact, apart from the fact that the musicians were younger, dressed differently and expressed political opinions, there was not a huge difference between the punk bands and the glam. pub rock and post-Stones rock and roll bands that preceded them.
Over the past year I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries on the variations of US hardcore from the late Seventies to the Nineties, and beyond, and the one single impression is that, at least at first, the point and purpose of hardcore was to make a fast, loud, aggressive noise with no regard for melody, tune, hooks (apart from a shouted chorus), structure, or any element that would appeal to anyone not in the scene or who has an appreciation for old fashioned musical values. I can imagine an older, straight-laced person who might mistakenly have wandered into a hardcore gig, to be physically, emotionally, psychologically and conceptually repulsed by the wall of noise the bands produce on stage.
Hardcore, like extreme metal, seems designed to be liked, if one could truly like such a thing,  only by the people who make it and their fans, who want an exclusive club of outsiders who take pride in making and listening to a style of music that will not and cannot ever, be mainstream. This tribalism also leads to the accusation of “selling out” against bands who develop a more commercial sound, probably because the musicians have more ambition, and eventually develop the technique, to play something more than basic noise rock and who believe it’s time to earn a living from their art.  After a while, it must be exhausting to anyone to keep on doing the same old noise schtick. Everyone grows older, and matures, and grows to like more diverse styles of, and more sophisticated, music.
Hüsker Dü did not receive much, if any, airplay on South African rock radio in the Eighties (and neither did the UK punks when they emerged), and I knew  of the band only because the NME, Spin and the other rock publications I bought at the time, regularly covered the band and heaped praise on it, and in fact followed guitarist Bob Mould in his solo ventures too.
A handful of the early hardcore scene bands became semi-famous, such as Minutemen, Black Flag and Hüsker Dü, and the take on the latter was that it was the first, or one of the first, hardcore bands who progressed from loud, fast songs with shouty vocals to loud, fast songs with recognisable melodies and a pop sensibility that, ultimately, influenced the pop punk generation who broke in 1994, with Green Day and Offspring leading the pack. Hüsker Dü can’t be classified as pop punk but the musical ambitions and abilities of Bob Mould and Grant Hart, the two songwriters, led them closer to that point and further away from their noise roots than they and their audience might have anticipated at the start of their career.
The double album Warehouse (Songs and Stories)(1987) was the first Hüsker Dü album I bought, and probably about 20 years later, Zen Arcade(1984) (coincidentally also a double album), in its CD format, was the second. I don’t even know whether any other Hüsker Dü records were readily available in Cape Town when they were released but, frankly, Warehousedid not inspire or motivate me to buy anything else by the band. I didn’t even listen to the record much or record it on audio cassette as I customarily did with my records, to save the vinyl.
Apple Music has given me the opportunity to catch up on what I’d missed in the Eighties (and, for that matter, the Sixties and Seventies) and I’m ambivalent. Back then the contemporary rock I liked could be represented by most of what U2 released, The Cult, John Mellencamp and Guns N’ Roses. I wasn’t a Smiths or R.E.M. fan.  I never heard US hardcore so it’s impossible now to tell whether I would’ve have been a fan. Doing a quick catchup of Hüsker Dü’s albums before Warehouseconfirms, on the surface, that I probably wouldn’t have cared much for the music but that’s probably just from listening once and not giving anything enough chance to grow on me. 
The one thing I can say is that Grant Hart’s songs are more appealing than Mould’s because they are the pop heart of the generally abrasive Hüsker Dü output,  and he seems to sing where Mould prefers a hoarse bellow, but the post-hardcore music of Hüsker Dü somehow didn’t strike a chord. 
If I think about it now, it’s possible that I hadn’t listened to Zen Arcademuch either, having bought it because it was cheap and not because I was compelled to own it because of its “legendary” status. It seems, as is the case with my relationship to R.E.M., that I can perhaps appreciate that Hüsker Dü, though never in the same commercial realms as R.E.M., is regarded as a great, ground breaking band who deserves all the accolades, but that I will never like the music much.  At least, where I find R.E.M. generally just irritating, some of Hüsker Dü’s output rocks hard and is tuneful enough that I can dig the pop smarts and a cherry picked collection of their songs would be nice to have.
In 2003 Rolling Stone, insofar as it’s establishment views carry any weight, placed New Day Rising(1985) (the follow up to Zen Arcade)  in its list of the 500 best of most essential records of all time. It’s a pleasant record, with the usual mix of abrasive and melodic songs, yet I can hardly think of it as an essential album, much less featuring amongst the top 500 of them. It could be a useful example of the maturation of a style of rock, from confrontational to appealing, but no more.
To be honest, I prefer Flip Your Wig(1985), mostly because it has plenty of what you might call old school guitar, and even some riffing, on it, rather than the hardcore template. Even so, I still ask myself, if I’d bought the album when it was released (and I was 26 years old), would I have listened to it more than a few times, or more than I did listen to Warehouse? I guess not.
A thought that immediately occurs when I listen to this style of punk, is the question: how do the musicians remember the chord progressions of all these songs, and  some of the band specialised in many, extremely brief songs, when there are so many and they all sound similar?  That’s the thing: how does one distinguish one Hüsker Dü track from another over the length of 10 or so LPs, especially if you listen to all of them in sequence? After a while, one track of fast, raging guitar and hoarse, shouting vocals buried in the mix sounds like the previous one and the next one and the act of listening becomes an endurance contest or everything just becomes background white noise because one’s concentration goes.
In a club, when the audience is young, hormonal, drunk and/or stoned, and only a few feet from the band, this music can make sense as an escape from whatever reality the youth want to escape and as a dividing line between being young, cool and alienated from society, and being a member of the establishment of that society. Kids versus parents, if you will. Parents don’t like music they can’t understand and that seems to be a wilfully brutal noise with no apparent redeeming qualities, and kids want to have music that will piss their elders off, music that’s designed to be nothing like the music the parents understand.  Perhaps, in time, as these kids grow older, their rebel music will become orthodox and they, in turn, will hate the terrible music their kids are listening to or making.
Bob Mould has had a solo career (including the band Sugar, which with the album Copper Blue (1992) was his commercial highpoint, but he’s effectively remained no more than a major cult figure who would never have, and has never had, sustained, material commercial success. Whatever it is that he’s doing, presumably it’s successful enough as a low key career, with few of the pressures being a major commercial artist, and he can promote his brand amongst his devoted followers who will always at least attend performances and buy enough albums, whether hard copy or online, to make it worthwhile to continue recording songs.
Many of the rock acts that broke through in the Sixties are still touring and playing shows because there’s a market for it and a decent income to be derived from cashing in on nostalgia. Even major artists, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, however, have not made any essential contributions to their oeuvres although they regularly release new material. Regardless of how much critical praise the contemporary material receives, it’ll never be held in the same esteem as the songs and albums these guys released in, say, the first 10 years of their respective careers, though Young seems to have done rather better than Dylan. In both cases, too, there is an emphasis on archival releases of material that was never deemed commercial enough at the time of recording, or simply didn’t fit into record company release schedules. Now, there is the opportunity, and apparently the hunger, for previously unknown or legendary live recordings or outtakes to be released for fans, no doubt because this is also a new income stream.
Bob Mould might not be there yet, and perhaps never will be, because one can’t conceive of him ever being mentioned in the same company as Dylan and Young, for after all, if a critical darling, Hüsker Dü was just a big fish in the small pond of the rock sub-genre of Eighties hard ore punk. Conceivably there are hours of recorded live sets from Hüsker Dü, Sugar  or solo Mould, and as many hours of unreleased recordings and outtakes and alternate versions, and, equally conceivably, there might be a market, however selective, for this stuff but I really can’t see, other than for obsessive Hüsker Dü fans, why any of that would be essential listening or be regarded as essential rock archival material that would shed more light on the creative impulses and inspirations of a major rock artist. Obviously, my view is biased because I’m no great fan of Mould but I also believe, taking the rock orthodoxy of Hüsker Dü’s importance and relevance into account, that my assessment is correct.
The plan had been to listen to the Hüsker Dü albums on Apple Music in sequence, for a proper appreciation of the band’s output but I just couldn’t do it. It’s like my attempts to binge watch series. After a few episodes I get bored and must call a halt and most often it’s difficult , if not impossible, to get back to it. Few series are that compelling  that I’d want to watch seven seasons in a week, and that’s how I felt about Hüsker Dü’s music.  After two or three records it just felt like more of the same time after time, with nothing much to distinguish one song, or one album, from another, and I didn’t engage with the songs all that much in the first place. This isn’t the kind of loud, fast music I like.
Hüsker Dü was important and significant in its time and that was, and will always be, the Eighties. I guess I don’t get why it was ever a thing, or influential, and I never will,  File with The Smiths and R.E.M.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

A Riposte and a Contrarian View, Part Two

  1. Jack Hammer – “Street of Love,” “Sarajevo”  
Piet Botha has kept Jack Hammer going as the parallel project to his solo career as Afrikaans rocker and on paper this Southern rock influenced band sounds exciting. I saw them play at a disastrous rock festival in the Good Hope Centre in the late Eighties and they were an impressive live act. Unfortunately, their early recordings, at least the CD albums Ghosts on the Wind (1994) and Death of a Gypsy(1996), from which these two tracks are taken, don’t do the music justice. The mix is terrible, with the vocals upfront and the guitars mixed way down, making the performances sound muddy and powerless. Where the band should roar and scamper, it merely bleats and plods. These are the most irritating set of mixes since the All Night Radio albums, which have the same issue.  It is only with The Pilgrim (2005) that the production values  are excellent and showcase the full extent of the band’s live power.
Apart from the ill-conceived mixing, Botha’s vocal styling, of not actually singing but kind of intoning, in a portentous ponderous fashion, his “meaningful” lyrics, tends to drag over the length of the songs, never mind the duration of a full album. This would have been mitigated had the guitars behind his voice been louder and more assertive, but the focus is so intently on the vocals that the irritation factor is quite high.
I bought these two albums because I’d read about Jack Hammer, remembered Piet Botha from the late Seventies and dearly wanted to love the music because it seemed that Jack Hammer played exactlythe kind of Southern guitar rock I like a lot. I was terribly disappointed and have hardly ever listened to the albums after I bought them.
Piet Botha might be legendary for his long musical career  with Jack Hammer and as solo Afrikaans act, but these two songs, at least as the tracks of the respective parent albums, are nowhere close to it.
  1. Just Jinger – “Sugar Man”
Art (now Ard) Mathews ran Just Jinger and then Just Jinjer from 1997 to 2000, and operated in the anthemic rock realm, also occupied by Watershed and Prime Circle, both of which are still active, which is not exactly my fave but these bands generally have a couple of good tunes one can sing along to a a festival while waving a lit Bic lighter.
In just Jinjer’s case “Shallow Waters” and “Stand in Your Way” represents the best of the bunch but there are other good, if unfamiliar to me,  tunes on the Greatest Hits(2001) album, probably the only Just Jinjer record one needs to own, which also includes the reverent cover of “Sugarman,” a signature song of a real legend, Sixto Rodriguez.
This version of “Sugarman” is nice enough but it’s not so different to the original or just a quirky interpretation to make it interesting, and neither the band nor this recording are legendary. It’s not even remotely the best the band did.
  1.  Koos Kombuis – “Who Killed Kurt Cobain”  
Although there are many Afrikaans speaking musicians in South African rock bands, and quite a few Afrikaans rockers, this list mentions only Piet Botha and Koos Kombuis. Valiant Swart must be as “legendary” and I suppose the list is of its time, 2002, and might look a lot different if it were more contemporary but I would seem, for whatever reason, that Brian Currin has never seen fit to update his picks. Perhaps he simply has no eyes for South African rock released in the 21stCentury.
 “Who Killed Kurt Cobain” is from Madiba Bay(1997), Kombuis’  4thalbum, and possibly the last good one, where he is an Afro-optimist, still basking in the light of the newly democratic South Africa led by President Mandela, still something of a rebel and fringe artist though he was already heading to the mainstream at a good clip.  He was shortly to be disillusioned by the new regime and its egregious failings, and in his later records he comes across as the chubby, White, middle class, ex-rebel he’s become. Nowadays he is in the mainstream, a national treasure.
Anyhow,Madiba Bay is the first, and possibly only, album where Kombuis performs a mix of Afrikaans and `English songs, possibly an attempt to pander to his English language following or to get some international exposure, who knows.  “Who Killed Kurt Cobain” is a predictable conspiracy song. It doesn’t number under the best songs on the album  and has never become a Kombuis classic, and rightly so.
  1. Julian Laxton – “Celebrate”  
Well, here’s a bone fide legend, innit? Laxton was the guitarist for Freedoms Children and an in-demand session guitarist after that and, as far as I know, owns a popular bar in Gauteng and possibly still plays low key gigs. 

Post Freedoms, he kicked on with a solo career and with this tune, and “Blue Water,” from Celebrate (1977) he gave us two prime examples of the fusion of rock and disco he called “glot rock” that are still exciting to listen to, especially at high volume. Pretty much dumb entertainment but joyful nonetheless.
  1. Little Sister – “No Man Shall Fall,” “Dear Abbie “ 
Because the band is led by sisters Debbi and Jenni Lonmon, one could see them as South Africa’s Heart, especially the late period, big power ballad Heart. Little Sister was a good, solid workmanlike ensemble, for the decade between 1989 and 1999, with no brilliance but some heart-warming tunes, such as these.
  1. Mauritz Lotz – “Six String Razor”  
How a faceless session guy could be a legend is a good question; perhaps he’s a legend in the studio amongst his peers and the acts he plays for. This track is the title track of his 1990 debut.
  1. McCully Workshop – “Buccaneer”  
McCully Workshop is a bit of a local legend, one of the pioneering South African progressive bands from the late Sixties / early Seventies, who found themselves with a couple of pop hits in 1977 with “Chinese Junkman” and “Buccaneer”  and the latter, in particular, is still the one song by which most people  remember them. There may have been other, earlier hits, but I don’t recall any.  I disliked both these songs when they were released and I still can’t stand them.
My only memory of the band is of a performance at a University of Stellenbosch  “Karnaval” gig around 1974 or 1975 (pre “Buccaneer”), where they were the headliners amongst presumably the cream of the then Cape Town bands, and performed a rousing version of “Midnight Special,” in which they used the F-word to outrage the nice, god fearing Afrikaans students. I have no clue what the other songs in their repertoire were because this was the first, last and only time I heard the band perform. (I was too young to be allowed onto the festival site and was forced to experience the gig from the other side of a fence, with the bands out of sight.)
For now McCully Workshop is just a nostalgic memory, and if they still perform, it’s far and few between. I guess it’s good to be remembered for at least one hit but it’s a pity that it’s “Buccaneer,” a rather silly, inconsequential tall tale song with a hummable tune and lovely harmonies but nothing else of distinction.
  1. Morocko – “Bowtie Boogaloo”
I don’t know who JB Arthur is or where he is now, but this 1981 release seems to have been his one and only shot at stardom, backed by names I recognise as some of the top session men of the day, and with a catchy tune that is borderline schlock. The SA Rock Encyclopedia bio mentions Prince as an influence; this is stretching the bounds of credulity. The music sounds like a  throwback to the bad disco of the Seventies with no hint of innovation or that, in fact, the Eighties have arrived.  
  1. Otis Waygood Blues Band – “Fever “
For some reason I cannot recall, Otis Waygood Blued Band was the first local   band (they hailed form Rhodesia, as it then was, but made their bones in Cape Town I took note of when I was about 10 or 11 years old and not very knowledgeable about pop or rock in general. 
I bought the eponymous debut album from 1970 in its RetroFresh CD format in about 2003, and the second and third albums a couple of years later, and was mightily impressed. The debut was an impeccably produced mix of blues, rock and progressive flute trappings that could stand its ground against anything of similar nature recorded in the UK or USA. It is a landmark album in the annals of South African rock.
Their feisty take on “Fever” is highly entertaining but the other tracks on the album are as good.
Simply Otis Waygood(1971) and Ten Light Claps and a Scream(1971) are hugely disappointing, not only because the band no longer plays blues but also because both sets sound like uninspired,  often piss-poor, improvised studio jams recorded in a day to fulfil contractual obligations. The records are not literally unlistenable but I can’t think why one would want to waste time on them when the inspired, energised and inspirational debut album is available.
Otis Waygood should have broken up after their debut and  their legend would have been wholly untarnished.
  1. Peach – “Nightmare,” “Complicated Game” 
In the wake of the success of Clout, there was a bit of a rush to manufacture the next all woman band, and there were a couple. Pantha gave us PJ Powers. Peach was the punk  / New Wave group, with a male guitarist, released one okay-ish album On Loan for Evolution,and also competed for a Sarie award with their debut single “A Lot of Things.” They wrote most of their own songs  except for “Complicated Game,” an exemplary cover of an XTC song.

It seems that the band members were of Johannesburg Greek extraction and every chose a nom de plume,of which Carol Wood-Greene was the most un-punk but possibly the most subversive too.

I prefer “A Lot of Things,” to “Nightmare” but that could just be because it’s the tune I heard first. The music is gritty and tough, the attitude is suspect and one can’t escape the suspicion that this was band made by male promoters who discarded them  quickly when there was no more money to be made.  
  1. Rabbitt – “Hold On To Love,” “Charlie,” “Hard Ride”
Rabbitt represents my first experience of how a band can be hyped  and if they started as session musicians with serious chops, and a neat version of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath,” it was soon more about image, and the pretty boy good  looks of a post-Bay City Rollers rock band and teenage female hysteria. Rabbitt-mania, anyone?
“Charlie” was the first and possibly biggest, hit, a lovely, sweet ballad dedicated to a guy named Charlie, yet the music was mostly rock of a rather highly tooled sort, with the accent on the chops and sophistication of arrangements. Never really my taste because it was too smooth and over produced for my liking.
The band broke up after two albums, probably because they too, were screwed by management and label, and the various members went their own solo career ways. Duncan Faure, ironically, played for a late version of the Bay City Rollers. Trevor Rabin joined Brit prog rockers Yes and wrote their biggest ‘80s (and probably ever) hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Neil Cloud and Ronnie Robot achieved far less success.
For a while Rabbitt-mania was a thing, if heavily hyped and manipulated, and it was as exciting as it was short-lived. South Africa was just not big enough to support the career of an ambitious rock band and at the time, trying to “make it” anywhere else was not in the cards for SA rockers, hence the quick, bitter demise. 
  1. Radio Rats – “ZX Dan”  
“ZX Dan” was released in late 1978 and kind of in the wake of Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing.” Both songs featured lengthy, delirious, tuneful outro guitar solos that made them, to me, instantly memorable. The lyrics of “ZX Dan” told a banal sci-fi story of an alien who wants to tune in to rock and roll, and reminded one of Bowie’s “Starman,” though the comparison was unfavourable. 

Having said that, the tune had a lot of airplay on Radio 5 and became a solid chart hit, the first and last The Radio Rats ever had. Into the Night We Slide, the parent album, is a mix of  consciously weird, yet not very tough,  rock ‘n roll that was a bit of post New Wave fresh breath of air in the local scene but forty years later it sounds twee, amateurish and not nearly as strange as it might have been at the time. For all it’s rather terrible lyrics, “ZX Dan” is by far the best thing on the record.

Jonathan Handley, songwriter and guitarist, apparently kept Radio Rats going, and even developed a couple or other bands, but has never been more than a brief entry in the annals of SA rock.
  1. Margaret Singana – “Tribal Fence”
Margaret Singana hubristically called ‘Lady Africa,’ as if she were the only African female vocalist ever, became famous in South Africa, at least amongst the White public, as the voice of the recorded version of the musical Ipi ‘n Tombi and then achieved cachet with White musicians and radio as the acceptable face of local Black music. “Tribal Fence” was written by Ramsay Mackay of Freedoms Children and Singana’s recording must have been designed to be  cross over hit for her between Black and White popular music, much as PJ Powers and Hotline, albeit a few tears later, attempted the same.  Nice enough and perhaps a tad daring but hardly epoch shattering.
  1. Neill Solomon – “Roxy Lady”
I don’t recall ever hearing this tune from 1980 by Mr Solomon and the Uptown Rhythm Dogs but maybe I did because I think of it as yet another pseudo sophisticated jazzy funky pieced of pablum. The title is cringe worthy and though the band may have been amazing musicians, it’s a retro snooze fest.
  1. Stingray – “Better The Devil You Know”
As I understood it at the time, Stingray was a project band formed from seasoned session musicians with an eye on the kind of AOR rock success enjoyed by Boston, Toto  and similar melodic metal bands of the time.  this kind of soft rock, pop crossover was  tepid, by-the-numbers heavy rock with no nous, no verve, no power and no glory. This release was from 1979 and the band never saw the ‘80’s.
  1. Suck – “Aimless Lady”
in 1971 Suck was a shock rock band, apparently specialising in cover versions of heavy bands of the era, such as Grand Funk Railroad, whose tune this is, King Crimson, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and which released one album, Time to Suck, and disappeared, becoming legendary probably because of obscurity rather than the quality of their music. It’s extraordinary that a cover band could have been able to release a record and it’s probably a grand testimonial to the ‘underground’ scene of the time but none of the performances on the album are essential listening other than for the historical record.  The band didn’t quite suck, but they kinda blew.
  1. Sweatband – “This Boy”  
In 1984 and 1985 Sweatband, fronted by the young, sexy Wendy Oldfield and the guitar god John Mair, played venues in Stellenbosch, trying to make a name for themselves, and then moved North to the Big Smoke of Johannesburg where the career took a massive leap forwards, with big management and a record deal. When Sweatband returned to Cape Town in 1986, they had a swagger second to none and a  bunch of great tunes on a rather good debut album.  “This Boy” and “Shape of her Body” were the best songs but, apart from one weak track, the album was all killer and no filler and arguably the best SA pop rock album of the decade.  Mair could write a catchy tune or riff and play them with the insouciance of the truly talented. Sadly, the band fell apart after a few years, apparently, typically a victim of their own success, bad management and a debt crisis. Oldfield had a briefly successful solo career while Mair went back to paying solo gigs in bars, drank too much and died. Sweatband ought to have been much bigger than they were but the Eighties were not the best time to be a South African rock musician with aspirations.
  1. The Spectres – “Be Bop Pop,” “Teddy Bear”  
In about 1987 The Spectres, like so many other Johannesburg bands, played a bunch of gigs in Cape Town, probably during the festive season and impressed with high energy and a bunch of tuneful pop rock songs. At the time The Believers, with a similar line up, were active in Cape Town  one could make a direct comparison between a Cape Town band who was accomplished but seemed to put style before substance and the Johannesburg group who were as accomplished and yet more fun to listen to.

“Teddy Bear” was the big hit, a rather twee piece of fluff pop, and I was surprised by it because from the gigs they sounded more serious than that but I guess lyrics often didn’t translate well in a live situation, because of poor club sound. 

The Spectres had a couple of radio hits, then disappeared without trace. Their one album contains the hits and filler, which suggests that the talent wasn’t really much to speak of. Tara Robb, the vocalist, died in 2000.
  1. Tribe After Tribe – “Damsel (As I Went Out One Morning)”  
I went to see Tribe After Tribe  play a New Year’s gig at  the Weizmann Hall in Sea Point in probably 1984, and for the first 30 minutes or so Robbi Robb did nothing but harangue the crowd, whether he was genuinely pissed off about something or it was simply a device to get the blood going, until the audience, who put up with his abuse, was audibly pissed off in turn, yet stayed put, and then the band played a blistering set of the toughest, loudest, densest rock I’d ever heard from a local act, comparable only to Sweatband’s home coming gigs in 1986, after making a breakthrough in Johannesburg, and Arno Carsten’s New Porn collective in, of all places, Wellington, in October 2004.  
The original rhythm section comprised of Fuzzy Marcus (bass) and Bruce Williams (drums) previously of Baxtop, while Robb came from Asylum Kids;  hippy rock roots with punk / New Wave roots.
“As I Went Out One Morning (Damsel)” (the correct title) is a take on a Bob Dylan song from John Wesley Harding, a surprising choice for a cover, especially of a Dylan tune, and though well played, not that captivating. Perhaps it was the only palatable song from the debut album that the SABC was prepared to give airtime to at the time.
Robb took the Tribe After Tribe brand to the USA, Los  Angeles to be exact, and  followed a longer career path there than he did in South African and I don’t even know whether the band has ever played in SA again. 
  1. Via Afrika – “Hey Boy”  
Via Afrika’s early Eighties mix of electronics and African rhythms still sound revolutionary and innovative to this day. René Veldsman had a brief, unsatisfactory solo rock career before Via Afrika, before she hit creative pay dirt in a collaboration with two comrades who were not necessarily the greatest musicians but had attitude and the inquisitive, we-can-do-anything energy of youth.
The two albums, Via Afrika(1983) and Scent of Scandal(1984) are South African classics and, for my money, both number among the top ten best local rock albums of the decade. Nobody else sounded like this and more than 30 years later the records still sound avant garde.  “Hey Boy” was a club hit in Cape Town in the late Eighties.

A Riposte and a Contrarian View, Part One

Taken from the SA Rock Encyclopedia, the following 40 acts are, according to Brian Currin, a list of supposed Top 40 South African Rock Legends. These artists are undeniably South African and some of them might have been popular, and good, but I think calling all of them “LEGENDS” is hyperbolic. When these acts arrived on the scene and were prominent for a while, the local rock scene was a fraction of what followed after 1994 and these acts could not only be touted as the best gigs in town, but pretty much as the only gig in town. The competition wasn’t very stiff and often mediocrity won simply because the musicians had the ambition and the drive to record their tunes and release them, regardless of quality. Obviously, this list is based on Currin’s opinion and reflects his taste for AOR (classic) rock and though I concur with some selections, I don’t agree with all of it and believe that another view is important; if it’s a revisionist view, so be it. Not everything released in this country is good; there’s lots of mediocrity and downright awfulness too.

It’s all very well to support your local artists but boosterism that’s blind to the reality that not all musicians are geniuses or can write good songs, and that one shouldn’t confuse technical ability with creative talent,  serves no-one.  Firstly, it doesn’t provide the reader with an objective as possible appreciation of any record or performance, and, secondly, unreservedly praising musicians regardless of whether they’re doing well or giving us workmanlike crap, doesn’t give them the opportunity of an unbiased outside view that could be of more use than only praise. Good musicians know when they’re playing badly or make mistakes and don’t much like it when fans don’t have the confidence to tell the truth.

Currin is of the “don’t criticise local acts” school of music appreciation and bis support for South African rock is admirable. In my mind, the best of what our musicians have produced over the years, need not stand back for anything so-called “international” acts have done and the mere fact that a band is from the UK or USA doesn’t automatically make then good.

I own, and have listened to, many of the records Currin deals with and my critical view is derived from this independent assessment and I believe (I would though, wouldn’t I?)  that my view is more practically valuable than Currin’s.

Having said that, the SA Rock Encyclopedia is a good source for those researching  SA rock music history.

  1. The A-Cads – “Hungry For Love,” “Roadrunner”
A mid-Sixties band I’ve never heard.
  1. Asylum Kids – “Fight It With Your Mind,” “Schoolboy,” “No, No, No, No”
Agit-pop alternative rockers (influenced by punk and New Wave). Robbi Robb, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, subsequently formed Tribe After Tribe  and later decamped to Los Angeles to make  a go of it. He might still be gigging but has hardly set the world alight.

”Schoolboy” made it to the shortlist of the Springbok Radio Sarie Awards (the SAMA of its day) as part of the best pop, or rock, or alternative, list and if the entry was forced on the band by the record company, it’s still an oddity in the band’s CV as well as being a stupid, trite song.

“Fight It With Your Mind” is the best track, a feisty, fiery slice of angry confrontation with the powers that be and a song Asylum Kids should be remembered for rather than the simplistic “Schoolboy.”

  1. Robin Auld – “Baby, You've Been Good To Me,” “Perfect Day”
Auld is still living, recording and gigging around Cape Town and is now a senior statesman remnant of the mid-Eighties school of local rockers. Originally cast as  the blond, blue-eyed surfing guitar player, he led  a rocking band (Z-Astaire) and wrote some affecting, emotive tunes, of which “Baby, You’ve Been Good To Me” (1985) is probably the best and to this day still a nice little earner from radio play royalties. The other big hit is “All of Woman.”
“Perfect Day” (not the Lou Reed song), is cast in similar reflective vein, though hardly as classic  as “Baby, You’ve Been Good To Me.”  Auld is a journeyman rather than an example of brightly burning creativity. Seemingly, he surfs, he smokes a bit of weed, and he writes philosophical songs that are entertaining enough in concert. Auld’s greatest achievement is longevity and continued appeal, probably mostly to the audience who were young when he was, and partied along on a summer weekend afternoon in front of the Da Gama Hotel in the Strand.
  1. Ballyhoo – “Man On The Moon”
A bunch of South Africans fronted by a Brit, Stewart Irving, who wrote and sang this crappy, cheesy pop ballad, and whose keyboard player, Attie van Wyk, became a big player in the local music scene by founding Big Concerts.  “Man on the Moon:” (1980) was a monster, irritating pop hit and receives a surprising amount of air play to this day. Typical one hit wonder stuff. This song, though it hit a chord with the lowest common denominator of pop fan, is just bad, one of those tunes that only grates on the nerves when one hears it.
  1. Baxtop – “Jo Bangles” 
In 1979 Baxtop won a Pop Shop Battle of the Bands competition with this song. Not only did the band, in the punk and New Wave era, look like a tragic throwback to the by then archaic, obsolescent hippy era, but this bluesy soft rock tune also sounded out of time even if it was catchy. It’s by far not the best song on the band’s one and only LP, Work It Out(1979.)  “Dr Watson”, “Golden Highway” and “Night Time Train” are probably the best guitar driven rockers but the lyrics generally are at best workmanlike, at worst just lazy. 
Larry Amos, lead singer, songwriter and lead guitarist, is still working in Gauteng, and Tim Parr, the second guitarist, formed the more successful EllaMental in the mid-Eighties and is now a solo artist, but Baxtop didn’t last, leaving us just one album of derivative, retro guitar rock, expertly played as it was, but not very engaging. Again, a one hit wonder, and I would rather call Baxtop an example of wasted opportunity.
As an aside: Piet Botha also competed in this Battle of the Bands, as leader of a leaden, plodding heavy band called Raven.
  1. Big Sky – “Waiting For The Dawn,” “Slow Dancing”
Steve Louw was the founding member, lead vocalist, songwriter and rhythm guitarist for my top favourite local band of the Eighties, at least as a live incarnation, because their two albums mostly sucked, All Night Radio, which didn’t amount to much commercially. When that band failed, he formed Big Sky, a kind of project band, with session musicians to help him indulge himself in his passion for, well, big sky pseudo-Americana. Sadly, the concept sounded better than the execution.  Even so, Big Sky has a much larger recorded legacy than All Night Radio ever did and benefitted from much better production. The tunes sound good, the lyrics have improved and the musicians put some back into it but, as with All Night Radio, Louw’s weak, colourless voice ruins the effect and the playing is too slick for proper roots style music.
Louw is the perfect example of ambition and drive triumphing over actual talent. He became a rock musician, and star of sorts, not because he is amazingly creative but because he simply went ahead and did it. He wrote songs, recruited musicians, recorded the songs and released them. That’s how a career in the arts can be achieved.  A mediocre talent who works hard at achieving his goals will do better than a genius who can’t be arsed. Louw cannot sing, writes middling songs and prefers recording where all the gritty parts are smoothed out and buffed to a sheen, avoiding anything quirky or, indeed, rocking. If you want to be a roots rocker, you gotta have some grit, some roots and some genuine feel for a groove. Steve Louw ain’t got none of that. 
He’s not legendary. He built a musical career on hard work, not on talent, and not on creative achievement
  1. Piet Botha – “Goeienag, Generaal,” “Sien Jou Weer”  
Piet Botha has a dual career” (a) as leader, songwriter and vocalist for Jack Hammer, his version of AOR Southern Rock, I guess; and (b) as solo Afrikaans troubadour.
‘n Suitcase Vol Winter(1997), from which the above songs were taken, was his Afrikaans debut and is probably the best of the releases that followed, with the best known songs, except for Die Mamba(2003), which is a true classic of creative song writing, inspired playing and high production values. Botha’s schtick is a way of talk-singing that  is supposed to lend weight to the ruminating, philosophical, trite, songs but often just weighs them down into boring plods. Botha never counts down a fast rocker. 
Lyrically, he investigates the past, from the futilities of the Border War in Namibia  (”Goeienag, Generaal”) to the ravages suffered by die Afrikaner population during and after the Second Anglo Boer War. It’s at the same time indicative of an alternative, critical Afrikaner view of Nationalist politics and a kind of celebration of it. Namibian War is bad: Boer War is good.
As pioneer of adult Afrikaans rock, I guess one could call Piet Botha a legend, and also for the longevity as working musician in South Africa but whether he could ever be considered one of the greats, and not just a survivor, is open to argument. 
  1. Bright Blue – “Weeping,” “Window On The World” 
With “Window On The World” Bright Blue announced itself as a  lively, literate, somewhat subversive, mbaqanga influenced pop band from Cape Town but seemed lightweight and frothy, of little consequence, yet with “Weeping” the band cemented itself in the popular music pantheon with a stone cold classic of a protest song, born in the heart of the darkness of the South African State of Emergency of the mid- to late- Eighties. “Weeping” is, as the cliché has it, a sweeping indictment of the National Party government and its repressive policies yet it became a hit, and received much airplay on Radio 5, before the people who decided these things realised what the song was about and promptly banned it from the airwaves.

In this case I would say that “Weeping” is the legend, not so much the band, which didn’t last any longer than most South African bands of the era.
  1. Circus – “Conquistador”  
Hmm, Circus, a legend?  I doubt it.  The band was a late Seventies would-be glam prog rock group, with a vocalist in a harlequin costume and make up, and was one of the bands of the time that fell victim to managerial sharp practises and record company ruthlessness, but that’s about all. “Conquistador” wasn’t a bad little number though it’s a cover of a Procol Harum song, and the other ‘hit’ that Circus managed was Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s “Delilah.”  From this one would imagine that Circus earned their living as a human jukebox in hotels and bars in Johannesburg but had little of their own creativity to contribute. 
  1. Johnny Clegg – “Kilimanjaro” (with Juluka), “Scatterlings of Africa” (with Savuka)
Mr Clegg has moved, like Koos Kombuis, from operating guerrilla-like on the rebellious fringe of the South African rock scene to being an elder statesman in the middle of the mainstream, heaped with honours and adulation for his steadfast championing of Zulu culture and consistent battle against the erstwhile political establishment. The National Party is gone and Johnny Clegg lives on.
I’ve never been a fan. I generally like the music of Black South Africa, especially the old school mbaqanga and jive variants, but I’ve always had my doubts about Clegg’s cultural appropriation of traditional Zulu music, adapting it for a White, and, (notoriously) in the Eighties, for an international audience, to create a pop hybrid that has little appeal to me but. Has been commercially successful for Clegg.
In the early to mid-Eighties, when  Juluka was a revolutionary innovation in local music, it seemed that every liberal, left wing student  household had one or two Juluka albums, possibly as a badge of how cool the owner was.  Some Juluka tunes received airplay, despite the subversive nature of the band, such as “Scatterlings of Africa” and ”Summer African Rain,” and I always questioned how much of a dangerous maverick Clegg could be if the SABC, notoriously prone to censorship, was prepared to play his music. 
When Sip[ho Mchune, the second founder member of Juluka, left the band, Clegg regrouped as `Savuka  and it was about this time that his “White Zulu” status became legendary in France and his record company started promoting him as a breakout South African artist, with “international” (dance) remixes of his most popular tunes. These “international tracks” might have been of their time but they grate even more than the original versions. However, along with Mango Groove, Clegg became a big concert attraction in South African too, fully leaving behind the modest, guerrilla beginnings of his career. Hard graft and persistence paid the usual showbiz dividends.
Johnny Clegg, is probably legendary for what he’s achieved,  and rightly so, but  a lyrically trite song like “Kilimanjaro”  is hardly the epitome of a legendary tune or even one of Clegg’s best. ”Impi” is my favourite.

  1. Dog Detachment – “Waiting For A Miracle”  
If I have it right, Dog Detachment started as a punk or New Wave type group, and  then developed into a mid-Eighties type of “alternative” band, looking to the melodic, anthemic style of the likes of Duran Duran, and proto-Goth bands,  and began writing some big tunes, like “Waiting For A Miracle,” from their best album Fathoms of Fire(1985), which gave them a popular hit on Radio 5 but, alas, didn’t propel them into a long, successful career.  They released three albums, lasted perhaps 9 years and didn’t survive the Eighties.
The songs were pleasant and hummable, but this is not a legendary band by any stretch of the imagination. They just didn’t have the legs.
  1. Lesley Rae Dowling – “”Grips Of Emotion”, “The Spaniard”  
Ms Dowling is what one would now call a grand dame of the AOR side of the South African music scene, emerging as a piano playing singer songwriter in Cape Town in the late Seventies, with an extraordinarily warm, deep voice, writing literate, adult songs. As far as I recollect, she was a contemporary of David Kramer, who achieved a great deal of commercial success, while she got married and seemed to prefer being a farmer’s wife to being a working musician.

Dowling did maintain a musical career  but not high profile and these two songs are early tunes, both from her debut album Lesley Rae Dowling(1981.) it‘s telling that none of the later compositions ring a popular chord; although there was radio exposure once, I wouldn’t think she fits the programming demographic of any local station at the moment. Perhaps Lesley Rae Dowling can be listed under legendary because she was a ground breaker at the time, not being a frothy pop performer, but a serious musician, though she hardly bestrode the South African music scene like an unchallenged colossus.

  1. EllaMental – “See Yourself (Clowns)”   
Tim Parr followed the backward looking Baxtop with the very much forward looking, contemporary, sleek Eighties pop rock of EllaMental, featuring the striking looks and vocals of Heather Mac. For a while, from the mid- to late-Eighties, EllaMental represented the intellectual, activist side of the local scene, had some hits and were featured on rock radio, touted to be a big thing indeed. It didn’t last and the attempt to build an “international” career, in the days of the cultural boycott, didn’t work out.
“See Yourself (Clowns)” (1985) is a good example of the bright overproduced Eighties style but it’s hardly a classic nor can EllaMental ever truly be considered a legendary ensemble. The band didn’t achieve enough or last long enough.
  1. éVoid – “Shadows,” “Taximan”   
Lucien and Erich Windrich were obviously influenced by the British New Romantic movement of the early Eighties and then discovered, perhaps with a nod to what Adam Ant was up to, that a bit of cultural appropriation would provide a striking image, threw in some electronic beats and came up with a couple of striking tunes, in 1983 and 1984 respectively, to brighten up the local scene, like Via Afrika, with African inflected pop, lightweight as it was.
Eventually, like EllaMental, the Windrichs tried to further their music career in the UK and seems to have made more of a success of it, though by now, I guess, it’s as a nostalgic act, repeating their few hits ad infinitum, rather than as innovators.
Again, though the tunes would fit in nicely amongst the  others in a neat compilation of SA pop, this is not legendary stuff.
  1. Falling Mirror – “Johnny Calls The Chemist,” “Making Out With Granny” 
For roughly a decade from 1979 Nielen Marais/Mirror and Alan Faull ran the Falling  Mirror project, from the prog rock post punk oddity of Zen Boulders, with the earnestly, and often risible, poetic lyrics of Mirror and the highly accomplished but slightly out of fashion music of Faull, and after three albums they came up with Johnny Calls The Chemist(1986), arguably the duo’s best and most definitive record and possibly one of the top five South African rock albums of the Eighties, not so much because it’s that good (and it isn’t as wonderful as some would like you to believe) but because of the popular nerve it hit, the zeitgeist it illuminated and because, plain and simple, this is the record that made Falling Mirror. 
“Making Out with Granny” is from Zen Boulders.
Mirror’s lyrics are pretentious, he tries to be oblique and mysterious yet is simply  obscure, silly and unpoetic. The music is still reminiscent of prog rock and still sounds surprisingly good and the songs would have been so much better if Mirror was a decent lyricist.
  1. Freedoms Children – “1999”  
Freedoms Children may well be legendary, from the days when “underground” meant heavy prog rock and when having long hair was a radical anti-establishment stance in South Africa. Astra(1970), from which this tune is taken, is the best of the three albums the band released. Despite the promising title of Battle Hymn of the Broken Hearted Horde(1968), it’s  just late Sixties heavy, prog pop and Galactic Vibes (1971) re-treads Astrawith diminishing returns.

Although Julian Laxton was a driving force in the band, the music on Astraseems to be dominated by keyboards, in true prog fashion, rather than being a full blown heavy guitar record, and “1999” is an interesting choice, probably just a favourite, as the featured tune to characterise Freedoms Children. This is one of those records where listening to the whole thing is definitely more rewarding that the isolated parts.
  1. Crocodile Harris – “Give Me The Good News,” “Miss Eva, Goodnight”  
Mr Harris is really Mr Graham from Somerset West, who had a mixed bag of a pop career from the fiery glam rocker “Miss Eva, Goodnight” in 1974, through a hiatus to the bigger hit of “Give Me The Good News” in 1982, a few minutes of feelgood MOR schlock that to this day, if the man is still performing, would be the elongated showstopping finale to gigs. I prefer the earlier tune, because it’s a rock and roll thing and because it was released when I was 15 and very susceptible to this kind of froth, where the slower tune was released when I was doing National Service, not in need of this type of alleged good news, and still very much a louder, faster kind of guy.
Okay, so Crocodile Harris is a two hit wonder, but he’s no legend. He’s just a pop performer who’s possibly managed to parlay a career out of these songs but hasn’t given us anything else of value.

  1. Hawk – “Here Comes The Sun”  
I tend to think of Hawk and Freedoms Children as two sides of the same early Seventies South African “underground” rock coin, but there are few similarities other than sharing a geographic neighbourhood. Hawk started later and were, perhaps because of the times, more focused on the African cultural influences around them than Freedoms Children, though both bands were strongly progressive. “Here Comes The Sun” is an anodyne version of an inconsequential  George Harrison tune, well performed but pointless, unless it was a cynical attempt at commercialism from a band that hardly have thought of itself, or be considered by its audience, as a pop group. 
Hawk may be legendary for much the same reasons as Freedoms Children, and must be given credit for trying to make it in the UK, as Jo’burg Hawk, but this tune is an idiosyncratic, and inexplicable, choice to illustrate what Hawk was about.
  1. Hotline – “You're So Good To Me,” “So Cold”
Hotline had two stabs at stardom. The first was as a bog standard, plodding heavy band, featuring the powerful vocals of PJ Powers, and the second one was as pioneers of the fusion of rock and mbaqanga, and this second wind was where the success lay, with  hits such as “Feel So Strong” (with Steve Kekana) (1982) and “Jabulani” (1984.)
These two tracks are the A and B sides of the single from the debut album Burnout(1981.) My guess is that they get zero radio play nowadays. “Jabulani” is the lovely little earner to this day, and probably still in P J Powers’ set list as closing number.  
The lesson to learn from Hotline is that they adapted, however cynically or commercially driven, when they realised that their Afro rock fusion (“Feel So Strong”) was more popular and appealed to a larger audience than the  heavy sludge. A bunch of White rockers listened to mbaqanga, and presumably other African stuff, learnt some licks, sanitised for the broadest possible market, and rode the commercial wave for as long as it lasted. 
Hotline and PJ Powers must be lauded for bringing the township to South African rock radio and for going to the townships to show solidarity. 
  1. John Ireland – “You're Living Inside My Head”
“I Like…” (1982) was probably a bigger, more memorable hit in a recording career lasted from 1978 to 1986, but the earlier hit from 1978 is pretty good too. this does not make him a legend, though. Just a musician who had the opportunity to record his music for a good innings though only managed the two hits.