Kung Hei Fat Choy, kids! Welcome back to this cold, lonely slab of hard concrete we call Shanghai. Hopefully everyone has mind-blowing CNY stories to submit to SmartShanghai for a chance to win that pair of Katy Perry tickets, or even better, that 1000rmb Sherpas gift card. If so, submit those to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 27th. Since I’m exempt from the contest for some bullshit reason, I’ll go ahead and share mine as a freebee:
”My girlfriend was visiting her family in Minhang so I took the opportunity to drink myself into a blacked out, curb-sleeping state every night at Dada Bar.”
BOOM. Nailed it and you’re welcome for that slice of life. Send my Katy Perry tickets to Captain Hostel Pudong where I currently live. Don’t be shy. Stop on by and say hi. Mine is the bottom left bunk in the German backpacker room.
Although March has a plethora of live music events like JUE Festival and gigs at the new Inferno livehouse, this week is still pretty bare. In times like these I like to share classic Chinese tracks from times now forgotten. Today I’m featuring Hong Kong and Singapore “Beat” bands popular throughout the 1960’s. Before ’64 most Asian rock bands were instrumental, then the Beatles came to Hong Kong and changed the whole game, spawning oodles of rock styles and original content. While the mainland wasn’t quite hip yet, our nearby kin were forming bands and throwing Go Go events called "Tea Dances" in local restaurants and bars. Today we start with a look at those early instrumental bands from Hong Kong and Singapore and then get into some vocal tracks and even some Bruce Lee. Rock n’ Roll.
[Note: These are all original vinyl rips done by the author. You won't find the MP3s anywhere, but you can find the albums for sale at his record store. Details below. Enjoy.]
Instrumental band The Silverstones was one of the main leading acts spawned from the early Singapore beat scene. They crossed the strait to Malaysia and eventually made their way to Hong Kong, too. If you want to dig deep into the Singapore scene, I suggest checking out this fan site, which has a ton of album covers with their English names and record catalog numbers. That guy has the best collection I’ve ever seen.
While the Silverstones were not as famous as counterparts The Stylers, whom I covered in Far Out East #3, they did make quite a name for themselves. They played back-up for acts like Rita Chao, Lim Chay, Lim Ling, and Lisa Wong. Having the Silverstones trademark band logo on the cover of an album was similar to having "produced by David Bowie" on an iTunes album pic today. It meant you were big time. Releasing instrumental material under their handle "The Sound of Silverstones," the band put a Chinese spin on classic Western tracks along with writing their own. From psyched-out surf rock to garage band covers of the 007 James Bond theme, the Silverstones were hip to the scene throughout the '60s.
The Sound of the Silverstones - "Tabu"
The Silverstones - "I'm Around You"
Lim Ling and the Silvertones - "Why Do I Fall In Love With You"
Another great Singapore Go Go beat band was The Quests. In the beginning, the four aspiring musicians backed up Siri Perera, who many consider to be the Charlie Chaplin of Singapore, at hospitals and banquet gigs. In 1963 they took part in a battle of the bands but were knocked out by the Checkmates. A little diddy by the name of "Shanty" launched them from being a cover band into a respected outfit with bassist Henry Chua writing the title song on The Quests' first 45 single.
From then you could find the Quests backing all the famous pop singers of the day and touring on their own. Their songs appeared in many Southeast Asian films of the day as well. Then in 1968 EMI flew the band to Hong Kong to participate in a stage show titled Young Beat Live, in which they shared the stage with the D’Topnotes, Robert Lee, and the Mystics. That year also marked the LP release of The Best of Quests under the 33RPM format.
The Quests - "Mustapha"
The Quests - "Shanty"
Rita Chao & The Quests – "Hanky Panky"
No article about 1960's Hong Kong music would be complete without mentioning D’Topnotes, which featured Christine Samson, who went onto international stardom in the '70s and later in the '80s with the Samson Sisters trio. But at the start of everything was D’Topnotes, which featured her brothers and sisters making it a family affair. Christine sang lead vocals, played bass and tickled the ivories. Her repertoire included songs in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and even Spanish, making the Topnotes accessible to multiple audiences including getting airplay in America.
Christine eventually married Romeo from the band Danny Diaz & the Checkmates. The Checkmates beat out acts like Teddy Robin & the Playboys and the Mystics in the Levi’s Battle of the Bands. Most noteworthy is their breakout hit “It’s So Easy” from 1966. Later in the 1960's, The Checkmates went to the UK to record tracks with skilled producers before heading back to Asia where they remained active until 1982. The Checkmates had a mean garage rock style and are one of my favorite bands to come out of that early Hong Kong rock scene.
D’Toponotes – "The Duck"
Danny Diaz and the Checkmates – "She’s So Fine"
By the late '60s, the world was abuzz about Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-chuen’s son, who went by the name Bruce Lee and was featured in the 1966/67 seasons of The Green Hornet TV series in the US. What you might not know is that his brother Robert Lee got his start the same year with the band The Thunderbirds. Playing with acts like the Zoundcrackers or infamous expat Anders Nelson, the group quickly became one of the most famous in Hong Kong.
Robert Lee went onto a solo singing career and teamed up with Irene Ryder who was known as the Go Go queen of Hong Kong after winning a dance contest (yes dance contests were important too I guess). Her first solo LP came out in 1973 and was titled "Irene." The following year Robert Lee put out an album dedicated to his fallen brother titled "Ballad of Bruce Lee." I can imagine how much that sound affected kids of the early 70's who considered Bruce Lee a god.
The Thunderbirds – "I Miss Your Love"
Robert Lee – "Ballad of Bruce Lee"
I’m going to leave you with a banger and a half in the form of Betty Chung. She's another famous Hong Kong singer who was active throughout the 60's and 70's and retired from the biz in the 80’s. You might remember her from an appearance in a little film titled Enter the Dragon. She left us with one of the most memorable covers of all time – a Chinese version of Nancy Sinatra’s "Bang Bang." Enjoy.
Betty Chung - "Bang Bang "
Happy Year of the Goat, kids. Back next week with lots of Shanghai music previews!!!!