SING50

10 things to know about the 70s

The Straits Times and Business Times are organising an all-star concert in August to celebrate 50 years of popular music in Singapore. In the second of a five-part series, RACHEL CHAN looks at the entertainment scene in the past 50 years in the run-up to the concert

1 Operation Snip Snip

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The 1970s were the years when the Government launched a campaign against men with long hair. Those sporting long hair were associated with hippies in the West, and their laid- back culture, slovenly appearance and drug habit were seen as corrupting influences on a young nation.

Men with long hair were fined and attended to last at government offices. Male civil servants who declined to cut their long hair faced the sack.

So that there was no ambiguity, posters illustrating what the Government meant by long hair were put up: hair falling across the forehead and touching the eyebrows, hair covering the ears and hair reaching below a dress shirt collar. 

The no-long-hair rule applied to visitors as well. Those who refused to cut their long hair were turned away at immigration.  

Local musicians were also affected. To perform on television, those with long hair had to tie it up if they refused to cut it.

As recently as 1984, Japanese new age musician Kitaro was denied entry when he refused to cut his signature waist-length hair or tie it up.

The ban was quietly eased in the late 1980s.


2 Songs banned on radio 

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Dr Goh Keng Swee, the then Defence Minister, famously called rock 'n' roll music a "menace" in 1973, citing its corrupting influences on the "mindless young". Pop songs which were seen to glorify drug use, such as Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary, and Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, were banned from the airwaves. 

 These songs can be found on the Internet these days.

 


3 Hike in entertainment taxes 

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Popular nightclubs and discotheques were dealt a heavy blow when Singapore Customs decided in 1977 that the amount of tax nightspots had to pay would be proportionate to the number of their patrons. One unnamed club in Orchard Road saw its entertainment duty going up to $4,425 a week, from $500 a month, according to reports.

In 1978, the Government decided to increase duties on live shows, such as stage plays, concerts, recitals, music performances and dances.

Show organisers had to pay a duty of 25 cents for admissions priced at $1 to $1.50, and an additional 15 cents for every subsequent ticket price increase of 50 cents. The move impacted the livelihood of local musicians because nightclub operators turned to hiring cheaper Filipino bands to cut costs.


4 Kung Fu Fighting 

In 1974, everybody was Kung Fu Fighting to Carl Douglas' global hit.

The song was released as a single and sold 11 million copies worldwide. 

The cheesy lyrics ("Everybody was kung fu fighting/Those kicks were fast as lightning/In fact it was a little bit frightening"), the oriental riff and the "chopping" sound effects later made the song prime parody material.  


5 The first colour TV programme

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Television Singapore started running colour test transmissions in April 1974 and by June, about 1,000 colour TV sets had made their way into homes here. On July 7, viewers had their first taste of colour programming during the live transmission of the World Cup soccer final in which Germany beat Holland 2-1. 

But it was from Aug 2, 1974 that the pilot scheme for colour transmission was launched. Big crowds gathered at the 26-inch colour TV sets installed at 63 community centres. 


6 Divas of Malay pop

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Anita Sarawak (above), Rahimah Rahim and Kartina Dahari were household names during the 1970s whose fame spread beyond the Malay community.

The three could not be more different. Sarawak, who turns 63 this year, was the vamp on stage in her skin-tight costumes. She sang in English, Malay and Mandarin and her hits included Asmara (Love), Seksis (Sexist) and covers of Sophisticated Lady and Turn The Beat Around.

Rahimah Rahim, 59, was everyone's sweetheart who became an overnight star at age 19 after winning the Kimi Koso Talentime, an Asia-wide singing competition. Her most famous hits include Doa (Prayer), Gadis Dan Bunga (Lasses And Blooms) and Bebas (Free). She also sang in English, Mandarin and Japanese.

The late Kartina Dahari was known as the Queen of keroncong (a traditional genre of Malay folk music) and her most famous keroncong tune was Sayang Di Sayang (Lover Is Loved), written by the late Zubir Said, who composed the national anthem. She was also the first Malay singer to record in English and she covered English songs such as the James Bond theme You Only Live Twice and I Only Know I Love You. She died of ovarian cancer last year at the age of 73.


7 Covers of English songs in Chinese and Malay

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Local cover versions of English songs were already popular in the 1950s and 1960s - Seong Koon Low Won famously did a humorous Cantonese cover of The Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love called Hang Fai Di La (Walk Faster, Won't You?). But covers became even more popular in the 1970s as recording companies sought ways to make money without the cost of releasing original material.

Some of the more notable covers in the 1970s included Posnita (Miss Postman, a cover of The Carpenters' Please Mr Postman) by Rahimah Rahim (above) and Roslan Yusa's Muhammad Ali Juara Tinju (Muhammad Ali The Champion Boxer), a cover of Black Superman by Johnny Wakelin and The Kinshasa Band.


8 Disco fever

 

If the 1960s were about tea dances, the 1970s were about the disco. Disco was more than just a genre of music, it was also a cultural phenomenon as it spawned disco fashion, disco clubs and disco lifestyle.

Disco culture arguably reached its zenith with the massively successful movie, Saturday Night Fever, and its soundtrack. The movie revived the career of 1960s band The Bee Gees and made its lead actor John Travolta a superstar.

In Singapore, The Penthouse in Oberoi Imperial Hotel (now a condominium in River Valley Road), The Boiler Room in Mandarin Hotel and Barbarella in Ming Court Hotel (now Orchard Parade Hotel) were disco playgrounds for the hip and cool.  Flight stewardesses and the well-heeled hung out at members-only Chinoiserie at the then Hyatt Regency Hotel. 

On the dance floor, clubbers did the bus-stop, the hustle (as immortalised by Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) and, of course, the YMCA.


9 Yu Ya 

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Taiwanese singer Yu Ya (above) ruled the airwaves during the 1970s with hits such as Wang Shi Zhi Neng Hui Wei (Reliving Memories), You Wo Jiu You Ni (There's You If There's Me), Xiao Yu (Little Rain) and Zai Yu Zhong (In The Rain).

She was only 16 when she was talent-spotted by award-winning Taiwanese composer Liu Chia-chang in 1970. Many of her hit songs, including her signature tune Wang Shi Zhi Neng Hui Wei, were written by him.

She is still singing today and her last concert in Singapore was last month at the Resorts World Theatre.


10 The rise and fall of Bruce Lee  

The legendary Bruce Lee towered over Chinese cinema in the 1970s and raised the bar on Chinese gongfu films. His films - The Big Boss (1971), Fist Of Fury (1972),  Way Of The Dragon (1972), Return Of The Dragon (1973) and The Game Of Death (1978) - changed perceptions of Asians in pop culture. The release of The Big Boss in Singapore drew such large crowds that traffic jams formed outside the Jurong Drive-In cinema. 

By the time Lee died in 1973, he had become a pop culture icon, inspiring a new generation of gongfu stars including Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Sources: The Straits Times, New Nation, National Library Board, DJ Brian Richmond, singer-songwriter Art Fazil, Biography.com, RememberSingapore.org