Formed in Vereeniging in the early 1980s by singer/songwriter Bernard Binns, The Helicopters burst onto the SA music scene with the infectious hit song Mysteries & Jealousy. Signed to WEA Records by industry stalwart Benjy Mudie, the band went on to have numerous Top Ten hits which included ‘Whisper Your Secret’, ‘Only For You’, and ‘Don’t Want to Live in Hollywood’.
Renowned for their super-melodic pop songs, many television appearances, outrageous live shows, and ‘couldn’t-give-a-shit-what-the-critics-think’ pop image metamorphosis, The Helicopters soon became a household name touring extensively throughout South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia (where Mysteries & Jealousy topped the national charts for some four months).
The band released three albums: ‘Love Attack’, ‘In The Flesh’, and ‘What Affair?’, and were regulars on TV shows such as Pop Shop. Despite extensive airplay and sold-out nationwide concert tours, The Helicopters – as with the majority of SA bands at the time – were restricted to playing in the southern African region due to the country’s pariah status among the international community.
In 1989, at the peak of their popularity, the band decided to break up. However, The Helicopters still continue to receive good airplay and have appeared on many SA compilation albums: the most recent being Fresh Music’s highly successful Rocking Against the System. Due out in early September is The Helicopters’ Greatest Hits featuring 14 tracks of studio and live recordings. Included is a bonus MPEG video collage of their TV videos and live concerts.
The Helicopters – A groupies tale
I like the songs, I want to hear the words – feel the music tugging at my heartstrings – I want my hair to stand up and I want to cry sometimes. Music is everywhere.
The roads out of V-Town aren’t particularly inspiring and they don’t really go anywhere, but inexplicably they all go somewhere. Particularly the route down the main drag, out of V-Town towards the North & the Metropolis of Joburg. You know, under the railway bridge and past that multi-unit dwelling monstrosity at the last major intersection on the right-hand side that looks like a spaceship docking station (probably is!)
This was the environment that inspired The Helicopters ( known affectionately as the Choppers to their many fans ) to pen the wonderfully melodic, catchy, joyous & finely crafted pop tunes from the early to late ’80s. Adjectives & superlatives cannot begin to describe The Choppers music. To me & many others, they remain truly ineffable. You would hear one of their tunes on the radio and you were hooked immediately. Their style was truly inimitable. Ask their hairstylists at the time! They may have looked like their colleagues from Duran Duran & Spandau Ballet but in my books, they were infinitely superior listening. Thank God my mother didn’t plaster her face with make-up like some of the “tannies” in the South, where I grew up. Otherwise, I may have helped myself to more than her eye-liner which I used ONCE to darken my adolescent moustache for the Midge Ure caterpillar look!
I remember very distinctly a timeless morning during the summer school hols. back in 1983. House to ourselves, my brother & I. Wannabe rock stars of the future. Radio 5, as it was known then, back then when they were known to play cool tunes. “Mysteries & Jealousies” kicks in on the clock radio just after nine a.m. Hmmm, now that’s a cool memory! What a classic tune. What a wake-up remedy! Up goes the volume, up I get, grab the radio, into bruv’s room I go: Wake up; THAT cool tune’s on the radio. The next minute you have two teenagers in their pj’s up on the bed, playing a real mean air-guitar along to The Helicopters! Dinkum true story, I kid you all not! To the person who nicked my “Love Attack” tape back then: Up until now you have deprived me of some soul-stirring memories. But may you enjoy this album as much I am going to!
Musically, my generation came of age in the ’80s. Thank God for bands like The Helicopters, who along with Dog, The Rats & more than a few others helped change the perspective of SA Music for the positive. Whoever coined that corny phrase ” Local is Lekker ” deserves to be banished to Timbuktu. Talk about putting our bands at a disadvantage from day one!
Imagine my surprise & joy, when around two years back, I find a note on my desk asking me to ring a certain Bernard Binns, who is wanting to know if we @ CD Wherehouse would be able to stock his new solo album,”Physiognomy”. Phew! Groupie attack of the trembles. Of cause we can, of cause we can. So we meet & all I wanna do is chat about The Choppers & V-Town & all those gigs in the ’80s where I stood & watched with awe. A closet groupie, that’s me! A fact I only ever acknowledged after denying it for over a decade. I need someone to accept responsibility for my many dodgy hairstyles over the years.
Reflecting, The Helicopters were icons of the ’80s to many South Africans, they inspired and brought enjoyment to us all.? May this compilation of ineffable pop tunes stir our soul’s again & again & again & may our memories of the Greatest band from V-Town….. ever, grow fonder coz the Music hasn’t changed in the 20 odd years since they first surfaced through the V-Town smog.
Andrew Rees, September 2002