You are here
Music's defining moments
LIKE the film industry, the local music scene has had its fair share of ups and downs. The 60s especially was considered a golden era when radio airplay was abundant, venues were open to bands playing original material and most importantly, the fans lapped it up.
The ban on performers with long hair during the 70s put a dent on the scene but things took a turn during the 80s when Dick Lee introduced Singa-pop to the world and became the first local musician to crack the difficult Japanese market.
Other Mandarin acts followed suit in the early part of the millennium by making it big in other parts of Asia.
Today, the local music industry resembles the 90s when things were very indie-spirited and aspiring musicians took their own initiative to record their own material.
Here is a rundown of each decade and the sounds that defined them.
The 1960s - The golden era of pop
The Quests, The Cyclones, The Crescendos were all bands that defined the swinging 60s with their twangy guitar pop sound. Tea dances were where then-hipsters headed to hear and show their support for the latest acts, long before the likes of The Substation and Baybeats music festival gave local bands a stage to rock out on. The decade also gave birth to Pop Yeh Yeh, a pop music movement that featured a distinctive Malay flavour.
Essential listening: The Quests' signature tune, Shanty, which knocked The Beatles' I Should Have Known Better off the top of the charts. Also 100 Greatest Singapore 60s: The Definitive Collection, an eight-CD box set released by Universal Music, featuring Naomi & The Boys, The Thunderbirds, The Crescendos, The Cyclones and more.
The 1970s - The hippie rock era
With hippie culture - and its association with drug use - taking off in the West, the authorities here frowned on the musicians who followed the trend. A ban on long-haired male musicians meant less exposure though that didn't stop hard rockers such as Heritage from developing their own East-meets-West brand of psychedelia.
Other legendary acts to emerge from the era include Sweet Charity, led by Ramli Sarip; as well as Gingerbread and Black Dog - two bands that reunited to play the Esplanade on New Year's Day. Essential listening: Heavy metal legends Sweet Charity's eardrum-bursting self-titled debut album which was also a huge hit in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The 1980s - The birth of Singa-pop
Singer-songwriter Dick Lee put Singapore music on the global map in the 80s, finding a fanbase in Japan that was ironically bigger than the one he had back home. He's since become one of Asia's most respected and sought-after composers, penning tunes for superstars in the region such as Jacky Cheung and Sandy Lam. Another influential local musicians from that decade include Chris Ho and his short-lived new wave band, Zircon Lounge. Like Lee, Ho remains active in the music scene to this day, DJ-ing gigs, hosting radio shows, writing books and recording under the moniker, X'Ho.
Essential listening: Class Acts, a local compilation featuring the hits Within You'll Remain by Tokyo Square and Roses by Gingerbread.
The 1990s - The underground movement surfaces
The punk and metal hardcore movements found a strong following in the 90s with fanzines and the Substation playing a big part in giving these acts a stage to perform on. The DIY approach they adopted spread also to the indie guitar pop scene where bands such as The Oddfellows and Humpback Oak released their own homemade demos on cassette tapes (and later CDs).
Fans of local bands will also remember two stores in Funan Centre - Dada Music and Roxy Records - which supported the scene by stocking plenty of Made-in-Singapore music. The former is now defunct while the latter has shifted to nearby Excelsior Shopping Centre.
Essential listening: Humpback Oak's melancholic major label debut, Pain Stained Morning, long out of print until it was made available again as part of a box set, Oak Songs, that you might still find copies of in good record shops.
The 2000s - The Mando-pop era
While Dick Lee cracked Japan with English songs, Mandarin pop had a far wider reach with singers such as Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua, Olivia Ong, A-Do and Kit Chan all making it big in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China, where they are all household names now.
Essential listening: Stefanie Sun's self-titled debut which sold 3.8 million copies in Asia - a major feat for a newcomer. It was re-issued on vinyl for the first time earlier this year.
The Present - The Internet era
The DIY spirit of the 90s makes a comeback as bedroom musicians can now record and engineer their own albums with programmes such as Garage Band on their home computers. They can even market themselves on sites such as YouTube and it helps if your band members are eye candy - such as The Sam Willows!
Essential listening: Now defunct power pop band Shelves' self-titled debut which singer-songwriter-frontman Noel Yeo recorded himself before shipping it off to be pressed on vinyl, the only physical format it's available on.