SINGAPORE - One of the most famous local songs in the 1980s was performed by a band who never had an album of their own.
Tokyo Square’s signature song, Within You’ll Remain, was one of nine songs on Class Acts, a compilation album released by WEA that also featured works by home-grown bands Gingerbread, Heritage and Zircon Lounge.
With its mix of Oriental and Western instrumentation and a guzheng opening riff, the song was a runaway hit. Class Acts sold 23,000 copies within the three months of its release and is said to have gone platinum (500,000 units) over the years.
But there are some things you probably do not know about Tokyo Square or Within You’ll Remain.
For starters, the track did not receive much airplay here when it was first released in 1985. According to frontman Max Surin, 64, it was only after it topped Bangkok’s pop charts in January 1986 that the song became an earworm among the Singapore audience.
It was also never quite publicised during the band’s heyday that at least one of their members had been involved in drug abuse – one reason the band often changed their members and also why Surin said in a 1987 interview that the band were “going down the drain”.
In 1993, a former keyboardist, John Choo, made headlines when he died of methanol poisoning at a drug rehabilitation centre.
And if you think that the band members – the original line-up comprised lead singers Surin and his half-sister Linda Elizabeth Dana, guitarist Peter Han, saxophonist Henry Pereira, drummer Tony Fonseca, keyboardist Clarence Tan and bassist Peter Idil – became rich and famous because of the smash hit, you are wrong. Only half of it is true.
Dana, who is in her 50s, says with a wry smile: “There was no fortune, only fame.”
Surin adds: “Each of us received the first one or two cheques and then, no more. It’s not that the recording company didn’t pay Tokyo Square... The fault was within the band.”
It turned out that the contract between the band and the recording company had been signed by only one person and was not countersigned by the other members, so the signatory was not legally bound to distribute payment to the rest of the band members. Surin prefers not to name this person.
“We were naive. We were too eager to cut our first song,” he says, adding that the debacle is water under the bridge.
“I didn’t take it personally. The album gave us a big break and helped my career. Instead of condemning this person, I should be thankful.”
Within You’ll Remain was written by Hong Kong musician Donald Ashley and recorded by Hong Kong pop-rock band Chyna.
Tokyo Square’s producer, Reggie Verghese, a former guitarist with popular 1960s local band The Quests, handpicked the song.
Surin recalls: “He was specifically looking for a song which sounded ethnic because he thought it would do well in the Singapore market.”
Verghese was right. After some tweaking and Tokyo Square’s version of the song topped the charts, the band found themselves inundated with requests to play it every night when they were performing at Rainbow Lounge, a theatre disco lounge owned by the late Dr Goh Poh Seng, a Singaporean dramatist, novelist and poet, and located opposite Hard Rock Cafe in Cuscaden Road.
They performed the song during television appearances and Surin remembers singing it from the top of a cherry picker at the monthly Orchard Road Street Party in the 1980s. At the 1987 National Day celebration, Tokyo Square was invited to perform Within You’ll Remain, where they sang “Wo ai ni, Singapore” in the chorus.
At the peak of the band’s fame, Surin was hailed as Singapore’s version of Prince, with his smooth vocals, thin moustache and flamboyant style. Once, he even wore purple calf-high boots while performing Within You’ll Remain at Rainbow. Dana was easily recognised by her trademark mini skirt and sweet voice.
Contrary to popular belief, the band were not formed by the siblings. Instead, Dana and Han started it before roping in the others.
After Class Acts, the band were featured in another compilation album – which also involved Speedway and Gingerbread – titled Canton Rock, under Hype Records in 1986. It had 10 English covers of Cantopop hits by Hong Kong artists Alan Tam, Sam Hui and George Lam, but none of the songs matched the phenomenal success of Within You’ll Remain.
In 1988, the wife of a nightclub owner in Tokyo was so taken with the song that she tracked the group down in Singapore and convinced her husband to offer them a contract. Most of the original Tokyo Square members, including Surin, could not go as they had commitments in Singapore. Dana quickly assembled a new group to take up the offer.
They performed in Rosemarie Club, located in Tokyo’s swanky Roppongi district, and Nanja Munja Club in Nagoya for two years.
But Within You’ll Remain never went away. After Surin struck out on his own with Ken Lim as his producer in early 1987, he continued recording different versions of the hit on his solo albums so as to gain recognition among his audience, which spanned different markets across South-east Asia.
“We had a techno version, a ballad version, a rock version and a Thai ethnic version. We replaced ‘I love you’ in the chorus with ‘chan rak kun’,” he says. He rejoined Tokyo Square in the same year.
Today, he and Dana are the only original members of the band remaining. Surin is a resident singer at the Singapore-owned Modz Bar in Chengdu, China, while Dana is the resident singer at Swissotel The Stamford’s cocktail bar, City Space.
As for Tokyo Square, Surin’s eldest son, Adam, 29, is the bassist, and Dana’s husband of 10 years, Fazli, 42, is the drummer. Local musician Mayuni Omar, who is in his 40s, plays the keyboards. Surin is married and also has a daughter, Nadia, 25. Dana has no children.
Not surprisingly, the group are still asked to perform Within You’ll Remain at reunion gigs.
How does it feel to be a one-hit wonder?
Surin says good-naturedly: “There’s no harm in being a one-hit wonder. Many one-hit wonders are still performing and entertaining.”
And from the looks of it, Within You’ll Remain will stay around for a long, long time.