Side 4 Swinging Sixties Hong Kong – Yeah Baby! Featuring a number of great self-penned tracks as well as some excellent covers and rearrangements –
- First off, ‘God of Song’ Sam Hui penned Merseybeat influenced ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ from his band, The Lotus. Strains of the Beatles’ ‘All My Loving’ along with some very nice close harmonies and Georgesque guitar licks
- Joe Junior’s turn for a self-penned offering ‘A Letter from Susan’. The opening made me think of The Who in their Tommy era, then it bops along as a nice US bubblegum pop tune
- Teddy Robin and the Playboys cover the Monkees huge hit ‘I’m A Believer’, with Teddy doing a fair impression of Davy Jones. This guy could really twist his voice around different styles
- Next is a beautiful summer-of-love like beat ballad from the Sons of Han. I wish I could find out more about this band other than just that they recorded on the Diamond Label, and wish I could track down this tune. It’s an absolutely stunning effort if it was a locally penned tune. The song information credits “S. G. Tebbutt” but that draws a blank with all kinds of search combinations, as does the song title ‘Suspended Love Affair’ – the only search hit being by the Sons of Han. Deserves much more recognition
- Michael Remedios and the Mystics offer a really good cover of soul singer Garnet Mimms’ upbeat gospel-fused 1968 Verve label hit ‘Stop and Think It Over’. Remedios really had a good voice for soul music, sounding a little like Jackie Wilson in this performance
- Kong Ling (江玲) smashes the 1950s country ballad by Les Paul and Mary Ford ‘I Really Don’t Want to Know’ into the swinging sixties with a great swinging chacha-tinged rearrangement. Elvis also did a fine cover of this tune but doesn’t get close to the infectiousness of Kong Ling’s foot-tapping, finger-snapping and head bobbing version. Don’t forget to catch the slick piano work on this track
- D’Topnotes go Hawaiian with ‘Love to Dance (Hala Hala)’, a lau-inspired-chacha-esque song written by their father, legendary Shanghai and Hong Kong band-leader, Lobing Samson. Guaranteed to get the aunties at the wedding dinner on the dancefloor!
- A bluesy cover of the Rolling Stones ‘Heart of Stone’ from The Downbeats, with a decent Jagger-style vocal and nice guitar work that I reckon would make Keith Richards take a listen. Couldn’t find out much about this talented Filipino band who seemed to like to cover Stone’s tracks, perhaps because lead singer, Pepe Smith, was known as ‘Mick Jagger of the Philippines’
- Another band with little available information about them, Mod East, offer a self-penned tune ‘Stranger to Love’ that has some rhythmic and vocal echoes with Peter and Gordon’s Lennon-McCartney penned ‘World Without Love’
- Another self-penned track, this one from Anders Nelsson with his band The Inspirations. Some nice piano work, drum fills and use of fuzz box on this US garage-rock style tune ‘What Can You Do’
- The Fabulous Echoes, fronted here by their Sri Lankan singer Cliff Foenander, who delivers a perfect vocal on this cover of 1961 R&B doowop classic by The Jarmels ‘A Little Bit of Soap’
- Final offering is perhaps the cream, and one of the few Hong Kong sixties self-penned tunes in my personal all-time favourites playlist, a dreamy Beach Boys-inspired surf ballad with lush harmonies penned by Denis Yu of Joe Chen’s band The Menace, titled ‘On The Isles’. This is definitely one to put on repeat, slip on the shades and grab a cool drink or two while relaxing next to the lapping waves
When I arrived in Hong Kong in the second half of the 70s, Cantopop – with artists such as Sam Hui, George Lam, Roman Tam, Teresa Teng – was already rising as a genre of Cantonese-language western-influenced 1960s soft-pop music – think The Carpenters, Fifth Dimension and so on. Even the ‘harder’ sounding songs were softer rock from the likes of the Beatles – ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Michelle’ are probably still two of the most requested, and murdered, songs in any karaoke lounge with anybody over 40. It seemed the one sole rock band of any popularity at the time was Beyond, singing a kind of Hong Kong garage rock that took its influences from American rock and folk music – perhaps not surprising with the influence of US rock music during Hong Kong’s time as an R&R spot during the Vietnam war.
In the 80s the genre exploded of course with the arrival on the scene of huge artists like Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Leon Lai, Prudence Liew, Priscilla Chan, Sandy Lam, and others, adopting musical influences as wide as disco, folk, rock and synthpop. And so the Golden Age of Cantopop was born. I have two other blogcasts highlighting music from these eras can be found in the blogcast archives.
It came as a bit of a surprise when I started to DJ here in the 80s and began to dig more into the oldies from Hong Kong’s music past to satisfy older local clients. While cha cha and ballroom styles were still popular at that time with most people over the age of about 30 – and still are – I discovered that Hong Kong in the 60s had enjoyed a swinging and rocking scene, incorporating styles from UK beat music, US garage rock and psychedelic folk, alongside sweet Mandarin songs from the 40s and 50s and swinging jazz updated to the modern style.
The cause of this was of course influence from overseas on one side. Hong Kong had a huge Chinese diaspora all around the World – and you can still find village elders who’ve returned after decades overseas speaking with a Liverpool, Essex, or New Jersey accent – and on the other side there had been a massive influx of people from all nationalities and race decamping from post-war China. This brought to Hong Kong a number of highly accomplished Chinese ballroom singers, Macanese and Filipino band leaders and musicians, all coming together in the melting pot that was Hong Kong at the time.
While a lot of recordings from the time have been sadly lost, the sterling work of RTHK DJ Ray Cordeiro, who holds the record as the World’s longest working DJ and was a key mover in getting these artists and their music onto the radio in the 60s, and later entertainment impresario Anders Nelsson who grew up in Hong Kong, has helped keep these names and their music alive so that there’s a rich vein to tap into, so much that Hong Kong Beat’s tribute has been split into three 30ish-minute long sides.
Acknowledgement to Long Distance Voyager for fascinating insights about the Fabulous Echoes