As we researched and then listened to the South African music that charted on Capital Radio throughout the 1980s we were surprised at how many good South African songs did not make the station’s Top 40. We were also surprised at how few actually made the charts at all: there were years when there was on average less than one South African song per month on the charts. So our thoughts turned to a second season of mixtapes in which we offer up playlists for each year which feature songs that we think should have made the Top 40 countdown but which did not do so. This exercise is partly critical of the music management at Capital Radio: those people who decided on what music should make the weekly Top 40 Countdown, but the issue is much broader than that: sometimes musicians recorded demos but record companies were not interested in signing them, other times record companies did not market music as well as they could have done, or perhaps they didn’t release songs as singles which had the potential to be popular amongst listeners.
To be fair, several songs on this ‘Missed the charts’ mixtape were play-listed on Capital but did not make it to the Top 40: the sounds of Baxtop, Dog (later Dog Detachment), Falling Mirror, Roger Lucey, Ramsay MacKay & the Bushveld Pygmies, Letta Mbulu, Colin Shamley and Wild Youth all drifted out of the Port St Johns studio back in 1980 (although not very often). And Harari and Juluka did do very well on the countdown charts in 1980 but with only one song each. We think those songs should have been followed-up on the charts with the songs we feature here.
Also included on this mixtape are songs by musicians who, like Letta Mbulu, were living in exile at the time: Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, both of whom never made it to the Capital charts in the 1980s but who did release music worthy of any South African Top 40 chart. Local stalwarts Blondie And Papa and The Movers who both didn’t survive very long into the 1980s surprisingly also didn’t feature at all.
Fringe artists like Baxtop, Corporal Punishment, Dog, Falling Mirror, Roger Lucey, Ramsay MacKay, National Wake, Colin Shamley and Wild Youth desperately needed extended radio play to become known more widely than in the local areas where they performed and yet they did not receive that support. David Marks at Third Ear Music and Benjy Mudie at WEA were excited by what they were hearing and signed some of these musicians when nobody else would do so, but a record deal needed to be followed by radio play and then hopefully record sales and larger audiences at gigs and concerts. Unfortunately that did not happen and some of these bands imploded, without a viable musical future ahead of them. But in 1980 all the fringe musicians featured here were hopeful that they would get a break. There is an excitement and energy in the music, together with some poignant lyrics commenting on issues of the time. Sadly it wasn’t heard by a wide audience but nevertheless we are fortunate that it was written and recorded and that we can at least listen to it today …
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Chris Prior was one of the original dee jays on Capital radio when it first aired in 1979. He spent the late 1960s and first half of the seventies travelling the world before joining the SABC, initially for a brief spell with the news department and then the English Service where he was with Radio Today for two and a half years as a radio journalist and then he was appointed as editor of Audio Mix round about 1978. And then at the end of ’78 Capital Radio took him on as their specialist music presenter, programmer and he was with them for two years. After a brief period overseas he joined SABC’s Radio 5 at the end of ’81, beginning of ’82 and was with them into the early-mid 1990s. During this time he became known as the ‘rock professor’ for his knowledge of blues and rock music which was reflected in his playlists. Since the mid-1990s he has continued to host specialist rock shows through various outlets and is currently hosting The Rock Professor Show every Friday evening on MC90.3 Plettenberg Bay and Knysna 97.0 FM (also available as a Podcast).
Reflecting on South African music in the 1980s he lamented “the type of material that the record companies had chosen to record and the lack of effort that they put behind musicians of real worth and calibre …the type of crap that they thought the listeners should hear. You know, the kind of music that they were selling, that they actually put a bit of money behind – it was never much – was the sort of Euro-centric disco twaddle that really wasn’t worth anything at all. And that in essence was all that South African music consisted of. Fortunately in the ’70s there was the sort of underground element, and I think in terms of Mike Dickman playing guitar, and Abstract Truth were a very nice band. I mean now they’re horribly dated, but in those days they were jolly interesting and innovative. Julian Laxton and Freedom’s Children and all that stuff. I mean Baxtop: great, great, great! And in the ’80s we had bands like Falling Mirror. I mean there were always bands that were just a little outside of the outside. But what was available as a DJ to play was pure shlock.”
Fortunately Chris Prior has been able to provide us with a grooving playlist of South African music from the late 1970s into the early 1990s which we can enjoy, from the Radio Rats, Finch & Henson and Baxtop in the late 1970s to Neill Solomon & the Uptown Rhythm Dogs in the early ’80s, eVoid, Cherry Faced Lurchers, Falling Mirror, Tribe After Tribe and Edi Niederlander in the mid ’80s, the Genuines and Celtic Rumours in the late 1980s and Mauritz Lotz in 1991.
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Darren Scott is the first guest DJ on Mixedtapes ZA, offering us his choice of South African music; in this case his Top 20 South African songs of the 1980s, including songs from 1979 which were around at the beginning of 1980.
This is the first of our occasional series of Guest DJ mixed tapes compiled by former Capital Radio DJ s.
These are ranked from No 20 through to number 1 on the mixed tape. Enjoy!
If you want to see the play listing prior to listening to the countdown you can view the order of the songs in this week’s poll below.
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