Greetings and salutations comrades. The Golden Week is upon us and it’s around these Chinese holidays that I like to put together a selection of 1960s/70s Mandarin & Cantonese music to get you into the spirit. You’re in luck today as just last week I did a five-day trip through Guangzhou and Hong Kong with the sole purpose of purchasing some rare Chinese records for my store Uptown.
I found about ten vendors selling retro Chinese vinyl goods in varying amounts. A couple sellers were involved in distributing a larger amount of Western and Chinese records who have good prices but you can't listen before buying. The rest of the dealers operate out of small 3M x 3M stores mostly in second hand electronic markets. They only carry 60s to early 80s Chinese vinyl records and are great because they live to play you the records for you and talk about their collection. It’s a real educational experience. On the flip side most have a personal attachment to the records and much of their pricing is based on heartstrings rather than real market value.
In total I brought back about 150 Chinese records with the prices ranging from 50-200rmb depending on condition and rarity. Besides my store and traveling to the Cantonese Delta, most of these records are available on Taobao. However Taobao pricing can vary widely from store to store so makes sure to check out every seller before purchasing and make sure to ask about condition as well. There are a few high money artists like singer Teresa Teng whose records start at around 200RMB but most go for 500 – 5,000rmb.
Today I'm sharing some of my favorite finds from scouring the mean streets of Guangzhou and a few of tidbits I learned on the way. My previous two Chinese record articles which you can find here and here focused mainly on female artists but today I’m going to kick things off with some notable fellas from the 60s pop & rock era. These albums are a time capsule of a widely unknown music scene and most have a limited amount that survived in decent condition. Let’s throw on a polyester suit and kick out some Chinese funk.
While digging on this trip I noticed about 20% of all Chinese records I came across had a logo on the cover labeled "The Stylers." Turns out this Singapore band was the backing band to all the biggest Mandarin and Cantonese singers of the day. I’m talking Judy Teng, the Chopstick Sisters, the Pearl Sisters, Wang Chin Yuen, Lau Chi Weng, Kok Peng Kim and many more. The Stylers had a career spanning four decades in which they released over 1,000 records in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and even the Hokkien dialect of Taiwan. Taking influence from seminal band The Shadows, The Stylers were first called The Rhythm Strikers before changing their name after coming runner up in a 1962 battle of the bands.
Skilled both in the musical art of Western and Eastern music the Singapore boys could do no wrong and in turn worked with over 30 production companies putting out music for movies, TV, commercials, and more. It’s a good bet if you heard garage or surf rock in your favorite Kung Fu movie that it came from The Stylers. Lasting into the 1990s with the departure of founding member Robert Song the remaining members splintered off into their own projects. If hunting down vinyl isn’t for you, The Stylers recently put out a 6 CD Box Set that will get you caught up on the swinging Singapore 60’s.
The Stylers - Wandering Off (天涯客 郎变了)
The Stylers - Lei Mengna (雷梦娜)
Huang Qing Yuan (黄清元)
Known as the Elvis of Singapore, Huang Qing Yuan (also spelled Wong Ching Yian) was in the same scene as the Stylers and even claims to have discovered the band. I picked up 5 of his records and found most are pretty straightforward lounge and pop music. I did find some unique songs and since he has recorded over 800 tunes I have a long way to go before being proficient in all things Huang Qing Yuan.
When Singapore first launched color TV it was Mr. Huang who was chosen to be the spokesperson to usher in the age of color. Huang was a pioneer of the GoGo and ChaCha scene on the island doing many shows in Malaysia as well. He recorded with multiple labels including Polar Bear Records and Panda Records, which were the two biggest going in Singapore at the time. Many of Huang’s nightly lounge gigs paired him up with famous comedians and he also released a number of comedy albums. Eventually taking a step back from the limelight Huang can be found managing singing groups across Asia. You have to admit from his many record cover glamour shots, that swanky brother has some style.
Huang Qing Yuan (黄清元) - Manli (蔓莉)
One of the biggest surprises I found during last week’s vinyl expedition was coming across records from Chinese labels of a Swedish expat named Anders Nelsson. Having moved to Hong Kong in the early 60s where he played with school mates in a band called The Kontinentals, the blonde haired musician has had an amazing career in Asia. In the 60s he released his own albums and appeared as a guest on multiple Hong Kong records. I saw an interview with him in the 1970s where he was speaking perfect Cantonese and jiving like the best of em. By that time his fame extended to being a TV and movie star appearing in films like The Way of the Dragon, The First Vampire in China, The Seductress, and countless Hong Kong soap operas.
Nelsson is also heavily respected for taking traditional Chinese songs and singing them in English which had never been done by a Laowai. Turns out he is still playing Hong Kong 50 years later and just finished up a gig with English and Chinese sets. Although he experimented with many styles in the 60s and 70s currently he is now in the adult contemporary side of the things and when Kenny G comes to Hong Kong Nelsson is the first guy they call to open. Check out this amazing solo 7” from the 60s by Nelsson -- intense droning psych rock which could hold up anywhere in the world.
Anders Nelsson - Black ode to Jill
Anders Nelsson – Missin You
Tian Niu (恬妞)
Alright let’s get back to a little funk for our Taiwanese ladies out there. Tian Niu started out singing pop and disco tracks in the 70’s where she has a number of solid gold tunes. Tian Niu is more popular as a movie star then a singer and was known for wearing sexy outfits most of her career, causing her to be a media favorite. An important part of Taiwanese music and cinema history, her records go for a pretty penny these days. The song I chose to share is off her 1979 LP and is such a solid piece of disco/funk.
Tian Niu (恬妞) - Wrong Again
Hua Soog Soog (華萱萱)
Last but not least we have another Taiwanese singer -- Hua Soog Soog -- whose work includes both traditional Mandarin songs and a fair amount of upbeat pop tracks from the mid 70s on. When seeking out retro Chinese records it’s important to note many have a similar musical style. If you're looking for tracks that have a unique blend of Western and Asian styles you really have to spend some time going through all the songs, but they are out there. Also, when you go to the older Chinese vendors and drop a name like Hua Soog Soog it shows that you have done your homework and they are much more likely to help you find the good LPs.
Hua Soog Soog (華萱萱) - Cross Roads(十字路口)
Well that will do it for this National Holiday’s Chinese record round up. Feel free to come by the record store anytime and give a listen to the real records!