Skiing in Africa

(Pictured: the Rubettes. Nice hats, guys.)

By 1974, Portugal’s colonies in Africa were in open revolt. Groups within Mozambique, Angola, and Portuguese Guinea (now known as Guinea-Bissau) had been fighting a guerrilla war and seeking independence for a decade. In that year, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) took control of Mozambiquan territory, and most of the 250,000 Portuguese residents of the colony were either expelled or got the hell out. On June 25, 1975, Mozambique became officially independent from Portugal—and any remaining Portuguese were given 24 hours to leave. Under the new government, the name of the capital city, Lourenço Marques, was changed to Maputo.  And that fall, LM Radio 917, a commercial radio station that had been operating since 1936, was taken off the air.

LM Radio had been programmed primarily at a South African audience, privately owned and operated by British investors since the 1940s. Since the late 50s it had programmed to a young audience not served by state radio in South Africa, although the state-owned South African Broadcasting Company would take it over in 1972. In 1974, it was seized by FRELIMO. Nevertheless, it seems to have kept up its usual pop and rock programming for another year in the midst of turmoil, until the new government of Mozambique shut it down in October 1975 with a final broadcast by one of the announcers who had been there since 1947.

The Airheads Radio Survey archive has a small collection of music surveys from LM Radio 917—just a handful from the years 1970 to 1975, including one from May 25, 1975, a week in which Mozambique would have been at peak boil, less than a month from its official independence. It’s weird to imagine having “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” “Jackie Blue,” “Shining Star,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and other such hits playing in your ear while guerrillas are waging war in the streets of your city, but radio stations soundtracked people’s lives everywhere back in the day, no matter who, no matter where.

We are, as usual, interested in the less-familiar songs of that season.

2. “Trans-Canada Highway”/Gene Pitney (up from 3). In the middle of the 1970s, Pitney was in the midst of a career renaissance in Australia. That accounts for the popularity of “Trans-Canada Highway,” which shows up at ARSA only in an Australian release.

8. “Swing Your Daddy”/Jim Gilstrap (up from 16). Despite its modest success in the States (#55 on the Hot 100), the infectious “Swing Your Daddy” turned up on various K-Tel samplers, which exposed it to a lot of people who never heard it on the radio, including me. Even if you’re pretty sure you’ve never heard Jim Gilstrap at all, you have—he was a session singer for damn near everybody, and he sings the first two lines on Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”

13. “I Can Do It”/Rubettes (up from 14). We have waxed lyrical about the Rubettes here before, and their weird, glammy style, as if Bruce Springsteen had swallowed a couple of Bay City Rollers. The awesome “Sugar Baby Love” was their only American hit. “I Can Do It” was one of the group’s four UK Top 10s, which helps explain its popularity among South African listeners.

18. “Skiing in the Snow”/Wigan’s Ovation (debut). Wigan’s Ovation formed in the 60s as a conventional rock band that shared bills with the Moody Blues and Tom Jones. They played clubs up and down England and eventually became popular among Northern Soul fans, scoring a hit in early 1975 under the name of Wigan’s Chosen Few. They had been playing “Skiing in the Snow” in their live shows for a while before they were given the chance to record it.

19. “Live for You”/Richard Jon Smith (debut). Smith was a South African singer, songwriter, and producer who recorded extensively throughout the 70s and 80s and was pretty popular in his native land. “Live for You” would have sounded just fine on American radio in the spring of 1975 alongside “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” “Jackie Blue,” “Shining Star,” and “Philadelphia Freedom.”

One response

  1. I miss the rains down in Africa…

    Sorry – couldn’t resist. Nice post.

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