Popular music in the 1960s



Popular music flourished in Singapore during the 1960s, when a number of local bands became extremely popular with their cover versions of British and American songs as well as original compositions. These bands had a strong following and often played to crowds at events and places featuring live music. Some also recorded albums that proved to be commercially successful.1 For various reasons, local music  went into decline towards the end of the 1960s.2

Beginnings
In the mid-1950s, Radio Malaya started Talentime, a competition that showcased good singers and musicians. It was very successful and attracted a strong following in Malaya and Singapore. At the time, most music acts consisted of vocal groups.3 Then in late 1961, Cliff Richard and the Shadows played at the Happy World Stadium.4 Appearing with them was one of Singapore's earliest electric bands, The Stompers, formed in 1958 and led by Wilson David.5 This landmark performance introduced the format of a lead singer backed by an instrumental band featuring the electric guitar. It had a significant impact on local audiences at a time when electric music was becoming increasingly popular.6


Various other foreign acts performed in Singapore throughout the 1960s, including the Rolling Stones in 1965,7 but a number of local musicians cited the Cliff Richard performance as a turning point for them. As teens in the 1960s, these musicians often gathered with friends to listen to records released by British bands, and the performances inspired them to begin forming their own bands. Given that the music scene was still in its infancy, many local musicians did not have formal training in either playing musical instruments or reading music. However, most picked up music through trial and error, imitation, practice and experience.

Height of popularity
Local bands had a strong following in the 1960s. Due to the presence of British servicemen in Singapore, and later American servicemen because of the Vietnam War, local bands often performed at military camps, mess halls and servicemen's clubs as well as at dance halls, and on television and radio. Other venues for live music were the Singapore Badminton Hall and the National Theatre.9 Popular nightclubs such as the Golden Venus at Orchard Hotel also gave bands regular exposure by employing resident bands, among these The Checkmates, The Quests and The Trailers.10


Several local bands were signed on by recording companies, and went on to release albums that did very well on the local music charts. Most bands did cover versions of popular British and American songs as these were in demand. Naomi and the Boys, The Quests, The Cyclones and The Trailers were among the first bands to release original compositions that did well on the local charts.11 In 1964, “Shanty”, the original song by The Quests,  became the first song by a local band to reach the top of the Singapore charts, displacing The Beatles' “I Should Have Known Better” at No. 1.12

While local 1960s music featured the sounds of what are referred to today as pop, rock and blues, it also demonstrated the multicultural diversity of Singapore and a blend of Western and Asian influences. Popular bands that performed in English included The Silver Strings, The Crescendos and The Thunderbirds.13 Malay bands included A. Ramlie and the Rhythm Boys,14 Mike Ibrahim and the Nite Walkers,15 and Ismail Haron and the Guys.16 P. Ramlee, besides being a talented film actor and director, also transformed Malay popular music by incorporating traditional Malay instruments and Western influences into his music.17 One of The Trailers' biggest hits was “Phoenix Theme”, an instrumental rendition of a popular Chinese New Year tune.18

At the height of their popularity, Singapore bands were well-known locally and in the region. Some bands went on overseas tours to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The bands were greeted with hysteria by fans, and their appearances in some places caused near riots.19 

The end of an era
The close of the 1960s saw the decline of the local music scene. The independence of Singapore in 1965 and the withdrawal of British troops from 1968 meant a decrease in foreign troops and, correspondingly, the demand for local bands to perform. In addition, the government campaign that had begun in 1959 to create a Malayan culture and reject "yellow culture" or what were seen as degenerate external cultural influences began to have an impact.20 As local music was regarded as being heavily influenced by the West and associated with a culture of drug use and disorderliness, this led to the banning of, among other things, tea dances and other events featuring live music.21 

Popular bands, including The Quests and The Trailers, disbanded towards the end of the 1960s for various reasons. Economic pressures and the unsustainability of a full-time career in music led many musicians to settle down to more conventional full-time jobs and families, while others moved overseas or were drafted into National Service.22 

Together, these developments signalled the end of an era. Some of the more popular bands continued to exist after the 1960s, but with a much lower profile. Although some musicians went on to perform at hotels and pubs, the music bands of the 1960s never regained their popularity or commercial appeal.23 



Author

Joanna Tan



References
1. It's rough, tough at the top and unlike real life felines these have only one life not nine. (1967, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Pereira, J. C. (2014). Beyond the tea dance: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume two. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER); Music scene alive and thriving since the '30s. (1996, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Music scene started with Talentime. (1993, October 16). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Pereira, J. C. (1999). Legends of the Golden Venus. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 7, 60. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER)
5. Pereira, J. C. (2011). Apache over Singapore: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume one. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER)
6. Chandran, K. (1986, March 14). Those were the days. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, H. (2001). Call it Shanty: The story of The Quests. Singapore: BigO Books, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 781.66 CHU); Pereira, J. C. (1999). Legends of the Golden Venus. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER)
7. 1965: Those were the days. (1990, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Pereira, J. C. (1999). Legends of the Golden Venus. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 7, 15, 23, 43, 60. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER)
9. 1965: Those were the days. (1990, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Pereira, J. C. (1999). Legends of the Golden Venus. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 7–9. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER); Chandran, K. (1986, March 14). Those were the days. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. 1965: Those were the days. (1990, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 4;  What's new? Seven pussycats who've clawed their way to stardom. (1967, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. The Quests beat Beatles to reach top of Hit Parade. (1964, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 4; What's new? Seven pussycats who've clawed their way to stardom. (1967, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Pereira, J. C. (Interviewer). (2005, December 19). Oral history interview with Ismail Haron [MP3 recording no. 003001/03/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; 1965: Those were the days. (1990, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. A. Kadir Pandi. (1996, October 28). A. Ramlie kembali dengan album baruaq. Berita Harian, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Pereira, J. C. (2014). Beyond the tea dance: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume two. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER);
15. Steam Kodok [CD recording no. 2005001747]. (1960s). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
16. Pereira, J. C. (Interviewer). (2005, December 19). Oral history interview with Ismail Haron [MP3 recording no. 003001/03/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Pereira, J. C. (2014). Beyond the tea dance: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume two. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 170. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER);
17. National Library Board. (2010, August). P. Ramlee: A champion composer  Retrieved from MusicSG; Zubillaga-Pow, J., & Ho, C. K. (2014). Singapore soundscape: Musical renaissance of a global city. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 152. (Call no.: RSING 780.95957 SIN)
18. Andy. (2011, February 3). The Trailers: Phoenix Theme: Seeing Double [Blog post]. Retrieved 2016, Sept 30 from Singapore 60’s: Andy’s Pop Music Influence blog: http://singapore60smusic.blogspot.sg/2011/02/trailers-phoenix-theme-seeing-double.html
19. 1965: Those were the days. (1990, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Lim warns of flower people, yellow culture. (1968, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 4; Light On yellow. (1959, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;
21. Pereira, J. C. (1999). Legends of the Golden Venus. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER); Pereira, J. C. (2014). Beyond the tea dance: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume two. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER); Music scene alive and thriving since the '30s. (1996, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Low, J. (1970, October 24). Pop goes the band but the beat goes on. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Conceicao, R. (2009). To be a rock but not to roll: A 40-year odyssey (1966–2006) of a Singapore pop musician, Jerry Fernandez. Singapore: Comdesign Associates, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 781.64092 CON)
23. Pereira, J. C. (2014). Beyond the tea dance: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume two. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER); Music scene started with Talentime. (1993, October 16). The Straits Times, p. 31; Chandran, K. (1986, March 14). Those were the days. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
100 greatest Singapore 60s [CD]. (2009). Singapore: Universal Music Pte Ltd.
(Call no.: RSING 782.42164 ONE pt. 5CDs)

Chen, A., & Mosman, I. (1996). No finer time to be alive: Voices of Singapore's English music. Singapore: Simpleman Books.
(Call no.: RSING 781.63095957 NO)

Recollecting Singapore 60s [CD]. (2007). Singapore: EMI Music Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 782.42163 REC)



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Arts>>Music>>Popular music
Music
Popular music--Singapore
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music