Yes, I know it’s a corny cliché but with this National Day weekend comes an opportunity to share my own thoughts about the best Singapore rock songs of all time! Hopefully, these selections will inspire you, kind reader, to discover more Singapore rock music. If so, then the effort would have been worth it!
Cheating Sons – Jefferson
Full disclosure – I managed Cheating Sons for a couple of years in the early 2010s. But that’s the reason why I chose to manage them – their music is excellent. So it’s this inside track that gave access to this amazing unreleased song. Yes, I have included the demo below but there exists a full-fledged proper recording that is phenomenal. Pure country-folk-rock magnificence!
The Great Spy Experiment – Class ‘A’ Love Affair
A song in praise of cigarettes might not be the most politically correct but when this idea is decked out in a cool post-punk revivalist threads then it really does not matter what the song is actually about cuz your feet will be moving and you will be singing along despite yourself! Great Spy Experiment might not be with us anymore but it was fun while it lasted!
Humpback Oak – Circling Square
Humpback Oak became firm fan favourites of the demo cassette set in the early days of their existence in the 90s. So, perhaps I could have selected the “No Finer Time To Be Alive” demo? But in the end, I decided to go with the Pain-Stained Morning album version of “Circling Square” when the band channeled Crosby Stills Nash to good effect. Gorgeous.
Livonia – Vengeance Is Mine
Similarly, Livonia put together several self-released demo cassettes before getting an opportunity to record this #1 radio hit for a BigO Singles Club CD. Worth the wait, no doubt about it. Structured as a three-part rock suite, Vengeance Is Mine is an unapologetic rock n roll number that sticks in the mind long after you’ve heard it. Classic.
The Oddfellows – Song About Caroline
The distinctive title of Godfather of Singapore indie will have to be shared between Patrick Chng of (The Oddfellows) and Joe Ng (of Padres), and we will get to Joe later. Suffice to say that I could have made different choices here – from the two-chord wonder of “Lost My Head” to the ubiquitous “So Happy”, but I have selected instead the first song I grooved to from The Oddfellows viz. this snarky payback revenge in song with the fan-favourite chorus, “Caroline is an asshole!” Indeed.
Padres – Radio Station
As promised, the second half of that Godfather of Singapore indie honorific falls to Joe Ng. Having first surfaced in the local scene as part of the electronic duo Corporate Toil, Joe would then go all alt-rock on us with this paean to the airwaves, which for many years provided with the only source of music discovery – “Radio Station”. An iconic chord progression – familiar yet distinctive – an anthem to existential angst, which resonates to this day – “We’re so young, have we got time?”
The Quests – Shanty
No brainer this one! The first Singapore-made #1 single. The Quests modelled themselves after The Shadows (like many other Singapore bands of the 60s) and this wonderful guitar instrumental cemented their place in Singapore rock history which is thoroughly deserved. Over 50 years later, still beloved the world over. How many Singapore bands can lay claim to that???
The Stoned Revivals – Goodil
My main introduction to The Stoned Revivals was through the soundtrack albums of Eric Khoo’s first two movies, Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys. I remember distinctively that the first time I heard “Goodil”, I had to check the CD sleeve as I was convinced that the band had to be British or something. Blew me away for sure. Those funky soul boys knocked me for six with this!
The Straydogs – Freedom
This Straydogs song represented everything that the Singapore government hated about rock ’n’ roll in the early 70s. Long hair, dirty blues guitar and lyrics screaming for freedom only invited authoritarian scrutiny and ultimately oppression. Ironically, the song heralded the beginning of a dark age for Singapore music, the effects of which are still felt to this day, where national polls gleefully describe the arts as ‘non-essential’.
Western Union Band – Sausalito
The fact that the Western Union Band were able to produce this memorable hit song during a time when Singapore rock music was marginalised is an achievement in itself. But I remember a school band covering this in a talent competition when I was 15, so that certainly meant that at a grass roots level, rock ’n’ roll never really left us, no matter what the Government tried their best to do. So beyond the underlying wanderlust express in its lyrics, “Sausalito” for me symbolised a middle finger to the authorities – we were still going to rock, no matter what!
Yes, I am skimming the surface here with these selections and so I hope you will be inspired to explore more Singapore rock online. Majulah Singapura!
… still there’s more …