Whenever I hear Abba’s Waterloo, my eleven year old self remembers the first “pop” song that appealed to her – the very first time she heard it.
It was a weekday afternoon and the radio was on – we had one of those radiograms that had the radio in the middle, a turntable on one side, and a cubby hole for the records on the other. No, Waterloo was not the first seven single I bought. That was this song from a local singer, and about not my father, who was also a Jimmy, but rather he who sang about his Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. My mother subsequently developed a long lasting love affair with Abba and bought each album as it appeared. They were played to death on that record player. In my teenage and adult years – and still in some circles – it just wasn’t done to admit that one was an Abba fan. My mother was NOT a Waterloo fan, but she loved Chiquitita…
As a fourteen year old, I remember a drilling – gymnaestrada – competition at school. Every class participated in it each year. I only remember 1977 and the song: Knowing me, Knowing you. We won.
Not quite the task
I’ve not really begun, and already I’m way off track. The task set, here, was to select one song
that best reflects for each decade of one’s life.
I recommended the theme, and the Silver Bloggers’ team agreed. I should have known better. Music – popular – I admit – has played an important part in my life – with a little jazz on the side. Going on five years ago, someone challenged me to pick my favourite song. I simply could not and, instead, wrote a kind of musical “back story” to my life. Similarly when I tried and forced myself, eventually, to pick my top 3 lead singers. I couldn’t.
It’s that old story: be careful what you wish for. I had created a tall order. For myself, anyway.
Reading those posts – you need to, for some of what follows to make sense – I confirmed a suspicion: I’ve written a lot about my favourite songs. That backstory to my life, though, is a combination of musical memories and poetic license: I did have to search for some songs to weave into the story. Just for fun. I do conclude with some real, and for me, iconic favourites. In getting to my top 3 lead singers, on the other hand, I picked songs and people that take me back to people and places at specific times in my life. Or, which reflect – with hindsight – what was happening for (or to) me, in that phase of my life.
So, in thinking about the six decades from the 1960s to the 2020s, I realise I have set myself a hard task. In thinking about it, I had to create a framework for myself. I tried to divide my life into phases and thought about what song takes me back there. In some parts of my life, a lot happened in ten years and at others, there’s an almost ten year blank.
So, as usual, I’m taking liberties and I shall be doing phases rather than decades.
Pre-school: the 1960s
One of my earliest musical memories is Sandy Shaw’s Puppet on a String. Somehow, it always takes me back to the first home I remember in South Africa: an apartment in Port Elizabeth. I don’t have vivid memories of the place other than of some of the things I did with my Dad. He worked for the municipality and St George’s Park was within walking distance – even for a wee girl of about four – and I’d occasionally go with him when he had a weekend duty. I think, though, that this is the song that marks that phase:
Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, it seems, is a song I’ve always known, although I didn’t really get to enjoy or understand his music until I was in my 20s. I have a funny feeling that my mother’s decision that yellow was my favourite colour, was based on my probably constant humming of this song.
I loved singing and would often ask my dad what I could sing for him. His stock answer:
Over the hills and far away…
And he meant it.
Back to Donovan: I had a colleague in the mid-80’s who had a yellow tie, and whenever he wore it, I’d greet him with a
They call me mellow yellow….
He was a dyed-in-the wool Afrikaans South African. His expression told me he’d never heard the song…
Primary school: 1970 – 1975
I have already mentioned my Waterloo moment. There is though, another 1970s song that will forever take me back to this part of my life. My parents had friends who would invite us to lunch at the military base and in the mess. There was, of course, “piped” music and one Sunday, I distinctly remember singing along (much to my mother’s horror) to a song, in the middle of which she exclaimed:
I cannot stand this!
Charisma’s Mammy Blue, now rarely heard on the radio, never fails to take me back to that time, my little frock and bobby sock, as well as of course, my very irritated mother.
High School: 1976 – 1980
I was twelve when I went to boarding school in 1976. Happily. I escaped my mother and home where I felt trapped. While boarding school was very rigid and I was considered a goody too shoes, I lived in my head, doing my own thing within those rules. There were difficult times and one of my most horrible memories was the initiation. The “newpots” had to dress up as bunny girls and dressed like that, we were subjected to all manner of humiliation and finally compelled to perform at a concert. For an introvert it was traumatic. To this day, dressing up and opening myself to that kind of humiliation fills me with horror. Nor will I be part of anything like that. If I were to pick a song that summarises that time, it would probably have to be this one:
I did relate to Sandra Dee, but never saw myself finding my Danny.
University: 1981 – 1985
Each of these five years is a lifetime. I started growing up and started the journey to becoming myself. Choosing just one song from that phase, was difficult. The 80s was, seriously, my era, so in selecting, I’ve chosen, again, songs, the titles of which reflect what I was learning to do and be. That said, I do love them both. For different reasons. Both have elements of brass and big bands, a love of which I shared with my dad.
First up, Joe Jackson. Many of his hits punctuated the first couple of years at uni – as I was learning to step out, myself.
Not only do I enjoy the ska that was Madness, but I was also, in my own way, learning to go one step beyond…
Work and more: 1986 – 1990
I think I had more fun, and did more partying in my first year as a working girl than I’d had in my entire life. Every Friday, the party began at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. A bunch of us would adjourn to an establishment about four or five blocks from our inner city Johannesburg offices, for our weekly “seminar”. We’d put the grand sum of R2 into a pool and that would buy the bunch of us at least two rounds of beer. Yes, I drank beer in those days. Who didn’t?
We’d hang around there until we discovered who was playing that evening. If we liked the band, we’d stay. We always stayed for The African Jazz Pioneers. This transports me back to those evenings – instantly.
In 1990, after Nelson Mandela’s release, but before democracy, they were one of the first mixed groups to play at the Nico Malan Theatre (now Artscape) in Cape Town. I was on holiday in Cape Town and dating (sort of) a then member of parliament and we went to see the show. It was weird. There was that huge band, all formal, in dinner jackets, playing to a seated, un-dancing audience.
Returning to the 80s, and that same venue, another iconic local band we never missed, was Bright Blue. Their iconic Weeping is embedded in the soundtrack to my life but the song that takes me back to those heady nights when we literally danced till dawn, either at Jameson’s or at some or other illegal shebeen in Soweto, is this one:
It was a happy, dancing time and I met genres of music that this little white girl had never experienced (too many and much for now). I was enchanted and hooked.
Democracy and divorce – 1990s
The 1990s is the decade that, when I looked back, seemed like a complete blank. Of course, it was not. South Africa went to the polls for the first time – as a united nation. This always takes me back to that time.
I left Johannesburg and followed my heart to the Eastern Cape where I started an entirely new life as a self-employed gig-worker. With him, I moved to Cape Town. Married. Had to start a new work network. Again. Then. Divorced.
This was an essential and defiant anthem.
2000 and beyond
Sanatna, of course, featured for me in the 2000s. Although this song came out in 1999, the album won a load of Grammy awards in 2000. It was also in the last decade that Santana performed in South Africa. A highlight, which I enjoyed with The Husband (we married two years into the new millenium – another story…).
At that show, Santana played not only Smooth, but one of my favourite – ever – guitar instrumentals and which I shared in that other post.
If I did have to pick a that sums up South Africa (and perhaps the world at the time) for that decade, it would be this one:
Then, for the current decade – which is still a toddler – dominated by nothing but probably world’s worst pandemic since the Black Death, if not the Spanish Flu. I began the decade filled with hope for (yet another) new beginning… It’s a song and dance that somehow seemed to lift not just South Africa but the world.
I admit: I’m not really “into” new music. That said, we love local live music gigs – when we can. We (The Husband and I) have a reputation of being both first. And last. On the dance floor.
Long may we (all) dance.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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