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MP3 Monday: Hong Kong Beat
By Mar 22, 2010 Nightlife

Today's MP3 Monday is awesome. Best one ever. Might have to make this a series in its own right. Today we're taking a look at the period referred to as "The Golden Era of Hong Kong Pop". This is inspired by this weekend's Danny Diaz & Friends concert at Chinatown. Danny Diaz was the front man of one of the more successful and central acts from this fabulous era in Hong Kong music in the 1960s. He got his start in "Danny Diaz & The Checkmates", and has since gone on to do wonderful things. More on him later.

Coming off an already established background in Western music over Hong Kong radio in the '50s -- Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, and Connie Francis, among others -- an explosion of Hong Kong kids formed bands and played great British Beat music all throughout the '60s. This "Golden Era of Hong Kong Pop" is usually cited to have started in 1964 when The Beatles first played Hong Kong. Throughout the rest of the '60s, bands formed up, played shows (weekend afternoon soirees called "Tea Dances" -- like an HK sock hop), more Western bands toured through (i.e. The Searchers), local bands got signed on to labels and released records (Diamond, a subsidiary by Polydor), as the fad of British Beat swept the island. In the early '70s, Western rock music shifted to harder, psychedelic sounds, and became heavily politicized. Diverging from that, this period marked the internalization of music in Hong Kong, and the 1970s see the rise of Canto Pop -- the style of music which would go on to define what would come out of the island for the next 30 years or so. The sheer dominance of Canto Pop all but erased this earlier period in HK music, despite the fact that several of the key figures from this early Beat movement went on to be huge players in the film, music, and entertainment industry in Hong Kong, responsible for a lion's share of the cultural output of the island for the last half century.

Long story short: if you search out the Golden Era, it's still there -- an abundance of classic Beat music from young HK bands putting their own stamp on the great project of Rocking Out. As an expression of the chaotic merging of cultures and musical styles, as a pure "grass roots" youth movement, not to mention the overwhelming sense that everyone there and a part of it must have felt like they were at the start of something huge and wonderful, the similarities between Hong Kong in the '60s and the contemporary music scene in Mainland China feel are pretty undeniable.

It's like... *takes massive drag*... history is cyclical, man.

Here's Former Executive Director with EMI South East Asia, Hans Ebert on the effect of seeing The Kinks open up for Manfred Mann in Hong Kong ("Do Wah Diddy", remember?):

"We wanted to be as cool as them and some of us started walking around speaking in weird Liverpudlian accents, called everyone "luv," combed our hair forward, rehearsed acting goofy just like we were in A Hard Day's Night, picked up guitars, formed bands, played together, sometimes we played by ourselves, we played for each other, we played to impress the girls...

...This was swinging Hong Kong in the Swinging Sixties, baby, we were getting horny, our mojos were working and we didn't give a shit about politics, 360 degree deals, strangers bearing gifts, downsizing, new technology, the digital world, and tekkie speak."

And so with Danny Diaz at Chinatown this weekend, there’s your link to this great period in the flesh. Scroll down to the bottom for a song by Danny Diaz & The Checkmates.

Here's a bunch of MP3 from The Golden Era of Hong Kong Pop from those early Hong Kong bands. Hopefully these will be your gateway drug and you'll feel compelled to go back and search out all those early hits. Although these bands were all based in Hong Kong a similar thing was going on in Singapore, and with significant ties between the two erstwhile British colonies, if you look for this early stuff, you'll end up looking at a ton of Singapore bands as well. Anyways, a few perfunctory compilations of these bands are out there (I'm stealing all these songs from a comp called "The Catalogue of Polygram").

Don't miss Danny Diaz this Thursday, Friday, and/or Saturday at Chinatown. Here's the event information.


The Menace – "1, 2, 3, Red Light"

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We'll start with a song by The Menace. It's a scorcher. Really awesome band name. They formed in 1966, released three singles, a full album in 1969, and faded off into obscurity. I think. There's some fairly decent documentation out there of bands from this era (especially on YouTube), but I can't figure out what happened to The Menace during the '70s, '80s, and '90s, which is too bad because I’m in love with this band. I gather they reformed in the '00s and did some private shows before singer Joe Chen passed away in 2008. One of the things about The Menace was that they did only their own material. Most of the bands at the time were recording covers of hit songs in the West.

Teddy Robin & The Playboys – "I'm a Believer"

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Here's Teddy Robin & The Playboys doing a cover of the famous Monkees' tune "I’m A Believer" -- originally penned by Neil Diamond no less. Good times. This is the band Danny Diaz & The Checkmates beat out in the Hong Kong "Battle of Sounds" competition back in the '60s -- a watershed moment in this narrative of this thing. But hey, when people are doing "I’m A Believer", I think we’re all winners. Teddy Robin was one of the central figures in this era -- an early break-out "pop star". Apparently the name "Teddy" comes from the "teddy boy" fad, and "Robin" is from Batman & Robin. "The Playboys" is because they thought they would get laid by calling themselves "The Playboys". At least according to Hans Ebert. Teddy Robin himself went on to be an actor, director, and composer with a list of credits about as long as my arm. Here's a recent-ish interview with him in Time Out Hong Kong.

The Wynners – "Wynner's Theme"

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Great song despite the Chinglish lyrics. Or maybe because of the Chinglish. "Listen to the music / dance to the lion rock". Really awesome organ sound too. Forming in the early '70s, The Wynners came at the end of the English Beat fad, sort of signaling what was to come. They went on to be more C-pop and achieved larger success in the '70s, hosting their own variety show, before splitting up (sort of) and going on to solo careers. Kinda sounds like they were The Monkees of Hong Kong. Singer Alan Tam went on to be one of the main, massively famous Canto pop actors / balladeers. Apparently they just did a reunion show late last year to a sold-out stadium or some such thing. Funny thing about The Wynners is that an earlier incarnation of this band was called "The Loosers". [sic.] Way to turn it around, fellas!

Mod East – "Stranger to Love"

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Here's Mod East. I can't find anything about Mod East. What happened, Mod East? You guys were rad. Did you break up and go on to be CEOs of film studios? Probably.

The Lotus – "I'll Be Waiting"

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This next band is The Lotus – or sometimes just "Lotus". This band is famous for featuring a young Samuel Hui on vocals. Even from this early recording, you can tell the man stands out. Sam Hui went on to be a huge C-pop film and music star -- he's often credited with pretty much inventing Canto Pop -- and he's been one of the central figures in the Hong Kong entertainment industry for something like 40 years after his early releases with The Lotus. They call him the "Great Master". And check it out. Despite "retiring" in the '90s, Sam Hui is still kicking out the jams. People love him. Probably this song is not in his line-up anymore, alas.

Joe Jr. & Side Effects – "Deborah"

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Another teen idol, Joe Jr., was also one of the early Hong Kong pop stars, doing a "boy next door" kind of thing -- his record label's idea, apparently. He softened up that image more so in the '70s, going solo and switching from English to Cantonese-language music. He failed to achieve the mainstream success a few of his counterparts did in the '70s and '80s, but he’s gone on to make his life out of it, singing for 40 years. Here's an interview with Joe Jr. done in 2001. It's a pretty interesting read. Here's him talking about those afternoon concerts -- "Tea Dances":

"The young people, as long as they paid the entry ticket fee, they could enter and enjoy a screaming afternoon with drinks or snacks. Many girls that came to the dance were even accompanied by their own servant. When the tea dance finished, they went home with their servants together. They were all very nice fans."

Danny Diaz & The Checkmates - "Up, Up, And Away"

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Finally, here's Danny "Mr. Showbiz" Diaz, singing with his three brothers, The Checkmates. Although originally from the Philippines, they were based in Hong Kong and were one of the break-out acts of the period, singed to Diamond Records. They got their "big break" in 1969 after beating out Teddy Robin & The Playboys and The Mystics in a Battle of the Bands held in the Hong Kong Football Stadium. That enabled the group to tour the UK. They performed together right up until 1982. Here's Hans Ebert on Danny Diaz today:

"As for the larger-than-life Danny, he fills up any venue with his one-man show gigs and where he impersonates artists, perspires a great deal, sings some originals, warns you about the perils of entering "Motel Kowloon Tong" and is said to be recording or has recorded an album and is opening up his own club.

Danny is not only big in size, he also THINKS Big."


Some sources and further reading:

-Lots of quotes were taken from this manifesto-ish write-up by Former Executive Director with EMI South East Asia, Hong Kong-based Hans Ebert. He's currently CEO and Chairman of We-Enhance, an Asia-focused, creatively-driven, multi-media music and entertainment company.

-Here’s an interview with Joe Jr., done in 2001.

-More background in this article on the history of Hong Kong music

-A few images and background information from here, Tofu magazine’s write up

-More source information from this fantastic blog, "Questing Bandstand: The Golden Era of the Far East". Check that out for a massive database of songs and images from all sorts of bands playing in the 60's and 70's in South East Asia.


Here's that event listing one more time. Danny Diaz is performing this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at Chinatown.

The shots of the live band playing are actually Singaporean band "The Quests", taken when they played Hong Kong. They're from Hans Ebert's original article.

The top image is the record cover for "Charlie and his Go Go Boys - A Go Go"

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  • zmann999

    Best Mp3 Monday Ever.

  • epoca

    saw Danny in one of the jams this weekend - he\'s amazing!

  • rob.r

    Best SmartShanghai article ever.

  • LaoNiu

    Agree totally with rob.r - Danny Diaz this weekend is not to be missed.

  • rob.r

    LaoNiu - of course I wasn\'t including mine in that \"best ever\" statement.

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