If we had to name our Top Ten Singapore Funk 45s vinyl records dug on our recent trip there, they would be…
For the vinyl record nerd, cratediggin’ for vinyl records in Singapore is definately a 50/50 – or less – bet. We were there one week ago and I felt compelled to talk about our experience as vinyl record collectors: good, bad and ugly. But more on the good side, so here goes.
Planning for the best cratedig EVER.
As we were time constrained, we initially did what any self-respecting millennial would do: we asked Dr. Google where the best record shops were. Facebook helped a lot also, and as we contacted each shop in turn, we realized that there are more reissue shops than original ones in Singapore. Not a bad thing at all, just we wanted 45s and of those, ones with unique sounds that we can collect ourselves.
Most of the shops were in the centre of Singapore and most spoke English or Singlish. They generally open late (round 11am) and stay open until late (round 9pm). Very respectable time I think, for musicians and vinyl people.
The leadup to the dig
We had planned to dig for four days but the heat of Singapore absolutely caned us – so we spent poolside time and in our aircon room. Wish I could say we travel like this every time we dig but alas, we do not, so it was a lovely treat. We were staying in the centre of the city near Raffles, the colonial hotel famous for The Singapore Sling and Tigers jumping across the Bar.
There were about 5 stores in the centre of the city but we never made it to them. Too close to our hotel! Singapore has a cracking MRT (rail) system, and cheap taxis (we are from Sydney so anything is cheaper than where we live), so we decided to start in the ‘burbs and work in. And then we ran out of time… so the only place that we were able to visit was a goodly slab of vinyl in the form of Red Point Warehouse.
Red Point Warehouse
Red Point Warehouse is run (and perhaps owned) by a lovely, gentle, smiling gent by the name of Ong or Hong. From the second we slipped off our shoes (required for entry), and slipped past the sliding vault door with 45s and LPs stuck on the surface, we knew we were in a really special place. Probably the only place in Singapore like it I am guessing – if you know otherwise, let us know thanks!
Anyway, Hong was awesomely hospitable. He broke out the fresh water, whipped up a cool breeze with the fans and directed us straight to the decks where he then slung us 45s – for the next 5 hours. Yes really. I listened to exotic, screeching, otherworldly singers whose name I will never be able to remember EXCEPT for the standouts below.
Here are my Top Ten Singapore funk Chinese records, not all with the criteria of ‘good’, because as you might imagine, chinese musical sounds are not always aligned with the western ear or taste – which is fine – and I actually really enjoyed hearing some of the worse along the spectrum, because they actually got pressed onto vinyl!
Good vinyl records
If you know what you are looking for, any record can be a good one. My theory on good records that we found is this: if it has a funky break, interesting melody and/or strong vocal, then I am onto something.
But a good record for me, in Chinese funk terms, also has to have a good picture sleeve and some sort of metaphoric reference to both the Chinese culture and Western culture it is trying to merge/represent. Here are a few picks of the bunch:
1. 南虹 – 偶然遇見你 (Nam Hong – She’s A Lady – sung in Chinese, written by Paul Anka)
https://youtu.be/lliqToHN1m0 – what a heartfelt cover of the Paul Anka-written, Tom Jones-made-famous classic and possibly better than his because of the almost yodeling-like, plaintive rendering of the chorus by Nam Hong. The tune starts with a wah wah guitar intro that would’ve blown Anka’s hairdo sideways! BTW the cover in the Youtube clip for this could be the sleeve for Nam’s “Passionate Mountain Flower”.
2. 山地多情花 (Nam Hong – Passionate Mountain Flower), 1972
https://youtu.be/igBv31mO_zU – this Nam Hong track is the perfect vehicle for her voice. A little reedy, obviously telling a tale of woe or similar, but uptempo and again, with a cracking au-go go guitar intro.
3. Nam Hong & White Swan Band Chinese Pop Songs 12″ – Funny Funny, Honey Honey / Oh Candida
I saw this cover on the shelf and took a photo because it just looked cool, and both sides of the sleeve design are very retro, but probably perfect for the time. Notice Nam is wearing a Woodstock shirt?
4. The Melodians – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
https://youtu.be/bYTY9H6E6oY – what an intro – the effects are just fantastic on this cover of the western classic. Almost spooky reinterpretation with an off-beat hawaiian feel. A post on the youtube feed says: “那个年代，用吉他能奏出槍声，The Melodians 真是太棒了” or in English:
“The Melodians were really good at that time, with guns making gunshots”.
5. The Stylers – all round amazing Singaporean Funk Band from the 60s-Now
Throughout the dig we kept pulling random 45s and after a while realised that they were usually from the same group: The Stylers. This band sounds very versatile, something that you would have had to have been in Singapore in the 60-70s, but it is in the musical details that we hear their body of work, or original sound, coming through.
A bit of background info via a Mr. Rainbow (2010) on Youtube:
“The Stylers, one of the most popular instrumental groups from the 60s, started out as The Angels in their early days and recorded their first Mandarin EP with a singer by the name of Maggie in 1962 under Miracle Records. Since then, led by the versatile John Teo, the group had came a long way and recorded several Mandarin instrumental albums, including some vocal ones in English and Hokkien as well. They were one of the few groups that had their own recording company over the years. They were so popular during the 60s that their music accompaniment were much sort after by top artistes like Chang Siow Ying, Lena Lim, Wang Ching Yeng, Rita Chao, Sakura Teng, Suyin, Chopsticks Sisters, Ming Choo Sisters, Wu Kang, Yuli, Loong Piau Piau, Xie Cai Yin, Kok Peng Keen, Ervinna, Jenny Tseng, Rahimah Rahim and many others, when they recorded their respective albums.”
If you would like an alternative history check, read this Discogs Artist bio: https://www.discogs.com/artist/174976-The-Stylers
5A. The Stylers – Belachan
https://youtu.be/bjMxoHf7oVM – this song might be about Belachan, the national Singaporean food that melts minds and mouths! Considered a real ‘rojak’ Singaporean song, the beat is a bit plinky plonk but the guitar licks and twirls more than make up for the musical narrative. Awesome.
5B. Ervinna and The Stylers – Singapore Pop Beat Garage
https://youtu.be/BiZBQ4d0pJI – I don’t know very much about this track but like Ervinna’s growly singing style, supported by the Stylers uptempo riffs.
5C. Ervinna and The Stylers – Witch Queen of New Orleans
WARNING – NAUGHTY PHOTO on Youtube – not original song visual.
https://youtu.be/VcXD0E1OMUs – OMG this is so funky!! Driving bass and Ervinna’s knowing lyrics, plus an evil background laugh at inappropriate times. Fantastic.
This is collectable by the look of it.
Bad vinyl records
Middle of the road goodness like these 45s is what you would probably be able to source on eBay, Discogs or the like. On one of the Youtube links I researched for this article, a user praises the Nam Hong song (sung in Chinese) that covers Paul Anka’s – She’s a Lady, saying: “We need more Chinese people doing covers of music that otherwise no one would be listening to!”. They may have a point.
8. 1967年 Simon Junior, Maurice Patton & The Melodians – 「For A Few Dollars More 」专辑 (4首)
https://youtu.be/IhD898lCJM4 – This song is not bad really, it is just generic like so many of the Chinese 45s I spent 5 hours digging through. It starts out with an inspired bit of guitar fiddling a la cowboy Western style, and then kinda loses it after the first part.
9. The Steps – Sandra Sanger, Marini & The Steps
https://youtu.be/2oZ3kA4LiUY – the clip plays the tune “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” which is also on the LP shown with writing all over it. Apparently Redifusion Singapore was a radio station, paranoid that their vinyl would get stolen, so wrote all over every surface of vinyl cover they had. We saw so many fantastic covers totally wrecked by the person/people who did this.
Anyway, this is a flat, overwrought and pretty bad cover version of the 1969 Jackie DeShannon version. Here is the original to compare 🙂
Ugly vinyl records
To make this grade the 45 has to be lax musically, boring or generic to the point of nausea!
10. The Melodians – Off Beat Cha Cha Cha 薔薇之戀
https://youtu.be/dEGsTPgP9YI – the Blue Star Records release from 1966. Assuming the Melodians needed a regular wage at this stage and did session work with singers?
Not sure what the Cortersions label 45 above sounds like but the cover is fantastic – and this time, Simon Junior is with the Melodians singing 4 Cha-Cha-Cha (TKE 2272). Recorded in Kinetex Studios…
Singapore 45s – keep searching
So that is our experience of Chinese and Singaporean funk digging in 2018 – we did come home with a few goodies, but overall think that Singapore is either dug out or we should have looked further afield. Thanks to Hong from Red Point – you made our trip worth it!