Sunday, August 16, 2015

Singapore 60s Chinese Records Are Disappearing


The getai (歌台) or song stage that is back during this month's 7th Moon Hungry Ghost Festival tries to appease roaming spirits and hungry ghosts.  The performances of the artistes remind me of Chinese singers who sing in Mandarin or English in the good ole' days in Singapore.

Black Plastic Discs

Twelve hit songs from the 60's on one vinyl record may not mean much today but take the situation back 50 years ago, the Long Play record above could have been a best seller. It was actually a hit record, otherwise the boss of Precious Urn Records wouldn't have churned them out by the thousands.  These Chinese businessmen knew what they were doing when they pressed black plastics to sell to a Chinese educated market. It was a lucrative enterprise way back when.

I *wrote about Lisa Lim's recordings on this blog but they were found mostly on Extended Play vinyls (four songs per seven inch record) but this one I just bought has a full selection of all the songs she could have recorded within a particular period.
The Disappearing Act

But who cares about these Chinese L.P's. They might have been popular half a century ago but today? You will be surprised that these records are still in demand but there are less on the shelves in the vinyl shops as compared to numbers displayed five or six years ago.

Vinyl enthusiasts from around the world come to Singapore, Malaysia and the region to buy them but not to re-sell for profit.  These music lovers are still listening to the evergreens. 

One Caucasian gentleman I met in a shop told me the songs reminded him of his "evenings in Singapore's Chinatown" when he was here in the 1960's. There was a large record spread in front of the **Majestic Theatre as the songs blasted over the loud-speakers. Brand new gleaming records sold by vendors for cheap.
Treasure or Rubbish?

On the other hand some owners of these records have been throwing them away. Aren't these discarded vinyls music treasures that we should keep or have they been thrown away because the records are too old. Anita Kapoor, TV host for Treasure Hunt on CNA told me once, "Andy, I love the crackle and hiss on old records."  

Some others moaned that the sound engineering techniques are not up to today's standards and the artistes are neither glamorous nor able to enunciate in proper English.  (Lina Lim is posing in front of McRitchie Reservoir if you had noticed and possibly without much make-up. And she's so simply dressed in a business suit.)

A Japanese lady who spoke a smattering of English explained that, as a child she lived in Singapore in the 1970's and still remembers the Western favourites sung by local music makers.  She bought many of these records from Sungei Road.

"Now they are mostly gone...'' and added, "a lot of collectors from my country."
So there you are folks, there is no price for these vinyls. I got mine for two dollars; you'd probably get yours for the same or much more but as long as they can be played on the turn-table they are worth it. 

Copyright Issues

I'm still wondering how these record producers managed to record popular copyrighted songs without even printing the names of the composers/lyricists on the sleeve or inside labels, nor paying a fee for them. Or did they? 

I used to listen to many of these songs on You Tube but hardly see any today. Have they been taken off because of copyright reasons?  You may also have noticed blank spaces on many of my postings on Chinese records. They have been deleted by members who posted them. In time to come you need to own these vinyls and a turn-table if you wish to enjoy the melodies.
Meantime try to appreciate a pop culture that may not be around for too long.  
If you are familiar with recording production and procedures of the past do write in to tell us.


** In the evenings when the streets cleared in front of the Majestic Theatre in the 1950's and 1960's, night market stalls sprung and lighted up the area. Some of them sold 78's, Single, Extended Play and Long Play records. 
Images: A Private Collection and Google.


Victor said...

My family listened to another Lisa who sang Cantonese songs. We had a Dual turntable which was quite a well known brand at that time. For English songs, we also had Tracy Huang, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ray Connif Singers and even War (of Cisco Kid fame). We also had Teresa Teng, Yu Ya and Zhang Xiao Ying on cassette tape.

YEN C. said...

I think it is interesting. My dad found some black records (78's) but re-sellers are selective of them. Even to buy.

P said...

Interesting to know of what transpired in the music scene in the 50s to 70's. I had an indigestion with classical music per kindness of my eldest sister, then followed by her daughter. She was on the piano and her daughter on the violin 8 hours a day each.

M L said...

Andy Silver Strings did provide back-up music for a couple of Chinese artistes. Lena Lim may be one of them. I think we were paid $100 per song. For an afternoon's session we could record a Long Play record with ease and that's pretty good money at that time.

Wang Sah and Yeh Fong is one recording I remember... not very sure here. You could verify with the other members.


I can remember recording with Wang Sar and Yeh Fong with the song BE BOP A LULA when they sang in dialect with their popular phrase, "Ti ah, agak, agak, chui hor." Like Gurmit Singh's, "Don't pray, pray."

Another was an LP of 14 songs recorded by Silver Strings for Polar Bear Chinese Record Company. They got singers to sing our songs in Mandarin with Ms Lotus Liew (a Miss Singapore runner-up) and Ms Wong Li, now club owner who manages D Topps at Orchid Corpthorne in Bukit Timah Road.

Besides these contracts, we recorded for Cathay Kris for the movie theme song, "Mat Tiga Suku" and appearance for the grand opening of the show at Odeon Katong Cinema.


Chinese records have gone up in price. A common Teresa Teng LP can sell for a lot. Less common ones go for a lot more. Most record shops have few of thee old Chinese LP's. The sole reason is the China market. There are dealers buying these up in Singapore and reselling them there. This business has been going on for a number of years already and is the sole cause for the scarcity and high price of Chinese LP's.

FL said...

Andy, like some of your readers, I used to buy and kept a sizable numbers of SPs & EPs vinyl records , (English and Mandarin & Malay pop yeh yeh)from 1964 to 1975. I remember I have original LPs of Deep Purples, Tremeloes, Tereasa Teng, etc). The trouble started when our family shifted home in 1975, and disposed of many vinyl records, and that times (early 1970s) cassette tapes were fashionable, and we started buying cassette tapes. Regret but it's too late !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you all for the comprehensive and informative comments for this posting. I am sure readers have much to learn about these vinyl records which are decreasing in number (collectors are just hoarding them) but increasing in value in the market.

I encourage other readers to write in about their experiences with vinyls both as avid collectors or just as pop song enthusiasts. Experts in this field, whether in the business or otherwise are also encouraged to comment.

J from Winnipeg Manitoba said...

All is well at this end. Summer in Winnipeg this year has been all over the map. From extreme heat to extreme cold, dry spells and wet spells, and often a whole mishmash of all of the above in the same week. Impossible to plan outdoor activities with any sort of confidence. Still, we are enjoying the season.

Best regards

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Like one of the titles of the song by Lisa Lim, SUMMER WINE sipped within LACE COVERED WINDOW.
Thank you J for the latest on the RED RIVER VALLEY.

chakapchakap said...

GUANTANAMERA was a 1966 hit and has been covered by more than 60 singers and groups. From Bobby Darin to Julio Iglesias it's one melody heard everywhere. Coffee shops to hawker stalls to hotels would blast the song day and night.

The song wass so popular that Long Play records like the one posted would use the title as its main attraction. In Singapore many local artistes have covered it too, including The Burns.

HOE AI LEE said...

They are being hoarded and the prices of Chinese records have hit the ceiling!

Main culprits being the mainland Chinese. They initially went to HK and once they depleted the stocks there, they came to Singapore Malaysia etc. bizarre prices such as $1000 for some Teresa Teng lps


So many people cannot be wrong:

"She is very, very cute. This lady is adored by 1 billion people in the East since early 1970's - from Singapore to Japan to Taiwan to Vietnam to Indonesia to China to Malaysia to HongKong and to many other countries. Teresa Teng is her name and we all love her!! Nothing she does is unappealing to her fans! She died from an asthma attack in 1995 and we were very distraught and very angry at some people. RIP Teresa! Viva Teresa!

According to polls over the past 2 decades (including as recent as 2013), she is still the number 1 favourite singer (but number 1 in China over the past 2 decades) in places where there are Chinese communities. 20% of the top karaoke songs in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and throughout the East Asian region belongs to her even till today. That means, she has more than 1 billion active fans as of 2013! Mention Teresa Teng to any Chinese (especially those who were at least 15 years' old in 1970), and they will remember her - including their children who would probably be in their teens or 20's now. You can see other videos of her on your right pane. Only one word to describe her - an angel.

August 2014.


I collect local 7" vinyls that were produced as giveaways/promotions back in the 60s and 70s ... so far able to collect Opel cars / Coke / Milkmaid / Nestle Milk / Consulate cigarettes / Tonic Chop Gajah / Genting / WWF / Shell. And there is also one on religious songs produced as a memorial for a loved one!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Ai Lee for your friend's information. Teresa Teng is a legend today.

And Rusli for yours too. Wow what a list you have. I haven't heard of the Opel Cars, Genting and WWF. Would be great if you could send me images.

Please visit again when you are free.


Some call it the dark art, and others, black gold.

Vinyl records, which predate digital music and compact discs, have been making a comeback in recent years, especially among audiophiles.

And because some original pressings are now hard to come by, collectors are willing to fork out a tidy sum for a rare record.

- See more at: