During early lockdown in South Africa, in May/June 2020 former Capital Radio 604 listeners were invited to vote for their favourite South African songs of the 1980s. 18 people submitted their top 20 charts, in order of preference. For this mixtape we have decided to feature the top 25 songs from that chart. Songs were given 20 points if a number one on someone’s chart, all the way down to one point for a song listed at number 20.
Given that songs need to be known (and liked) by several people to be voted onto a chart like this, it is not a surprise that most of these songs are familiar to us, and are songs we would expect to see on an all-time-greatest chart. It is also not unexpected that many artists feature more than once: Bright Blue, Lesley Rae Dowling and eVoid all have two songs, and Juluka has three songs, with Johnny Clegg’s other band – Savuka – featuring a further song. Probably all of South Africa’s 1980s classics are included here. We hope you enjoy listening to them.
In no specific order, they are:
- Weeping – Bright Blue
- Clowns (See Yourself) – Ella Mental
- Shadows – eVoid
- Taximan – eVoid
- Scatterlings Of Africa – Juluka
- Man On The Moon – Ballyhoo
- Window On The World – Bright Blue
- Paradise Road – Joy
- Jabulani – Hotline
- Burnout – Sipho Mabuse
- Hey Boy – Via Afrika
- Here We Are – Face to Face
- Once In A Lifetime –Petit Cheval
- The Spaniard – Lesley Rae Dowling
- December African Rain – Juluka
- Slow rain – Celtic Rumours
- Johnny Calls The Chemist – Falling Mirror
- Ancient Dust Of Africa – Edi Niederlander
- Weekend Special – Brenda & the Big Dudes
- Baby You Been Good – Robin Auld
- Grips Of Emotion – Lesley Rae Dowling
- Mysteries And Jealousy – The Helicopters
- Lies – Jonathan Butler
- Africa – Juluka
- Asimbonanga – Savuka
In 1985 seventeen South African songs featured on the Capital countdown: the most of any year in the 1980s. Although most of the songs could be described as some or other variation of pop or rock there was some variety: the township pop of Sipho Mabuse and Steve Kekana; the smooth pop of Jonathan Butler, the Afro-rock of Tribe After Tribe, the slightly rock-edged pop of Robin Auld, the more mainstream pop of Lesley Rae Dowling, Syndicate, Ella Mental, Stewart Irving and The Helicopters and a turn towards a more international sound from both Juluka and the solo Johnny Clegg.
The top artist on the Capital Countdown in 1985 was Sipho Mabuse with two songs reaching the top 10: ‘Let’s Get it On’ peaked and number 5 and ‘Burn Out’ reached number 6 where it spent three weeks. ‘Fever’ – Juluka reached number 8 where it spent two weeks, as did Lesley Rae Dowling with ‘Give a little’. Also peaking at number 8, but for just one week, was Jonathan Butler with ‘I’ll Be Waiting for You’ while ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ – Ella Mental reached number 9. Robin Auld peaked at number 10 with ‘After the Fire” and number 15 with ‘All of Woman’. Steve Kekana peaked at number 11 with ‘Paradise’ (Tip Of Africa)’ while ‘Only for you’ – The Helicopters spent two weeks at number 14 and ‘Don’t Go Into Town’ – Syndicate also reached number 14, but just for one week. John Irving’s ‘Superstar’ peaked at number 15. None of the other South African songs made the Top 20.
We would like to thank Marq Vas for his help in tracking down a copy of Lesley Rae Dowling’s ‘Give a Little’. This is not the first time Marq has come to our assistance. We recommend his YouTube channel of South African music – some very rare songs that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. He also has a Facebook page which is a wealth of information.
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As with 1983 there were less than 10 South African songs on the Capital Countdown charts of 1984. No artist charted more than once and there was a far more commercial imitative character to the songs that charted than in 1983, with Juluka’s “Work For All” and Bright Blue’s “Window on the World” being the only songs that didn’t sound like the performers were copying USA or UK sounds. Indeed, Benjy Mudie at WEA is proud of the part he played in signing innovative South African bands like National Wake, the Asylum Kids and eVoid but he admits that the Working Girls were “the one time in my life to my absolute and internal disgrace I actually signed a band to make money.”
Juluka and Bright Blue on the contrary involved musicians exploring musical ideas, infusing South African and western musical influences. As Tom Fox of Bright Blue described, he listened to performers like the Soul Brothers and he “wanted to find out about the style, but not in a commercial sense. More like, really interested in the guitar interplay and the vocal harmonies, the chord structures and the rhythms and things like that.”
Many of these musicians were regarded as part of the cream of the crop of South African music at the time. In January 1985 the Concert in the Park (Ellis Park) was arranged to raise money for Operation Hunger to help children affected by hunger in South Africa. To attract a large audience the top acts of the time were invited to participate. Of those who charted on Capital in 1984, Pierre de Charmoy, Ella Mental, Face To Face, Feather Control, Juluka and the Working Girls all performed at Ellis Park. Bright Blue were invited but could not make it and instead wrote the song “Hungry child” and donated it to the cause. On the day it was performed by an ensemble of the performers at the concert and it was released as a single.
It was a generally poor year for South Africa musicians on the Capital Countdown in 1984. Of the most successful South African songs charting on Capital in 1984, Face To Face reached number 1 with “Here We Are”, Juluka spent two weeks at number 7 with “Work For All”, “Working Girls” by the Working Girls and “Mysteries and Jealousies” by The Helicopters both peaked at number 10 and “Window on the World” by Bright Blue reached a disappointing number 11. “Footprints” by Feather Control reached number 17 and the rest failed to make the top 20 at all.
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