Graham Reid | | 7 min read
There's going to an enjoyable amount of guesswork here, not just how or why I have these albums – among many other Chinese, Japanese, South East Asian records – but when I got them and why.
And of course questions about who a few of them are by.
Any further clarification on these gratefully received.
We can start with an easy one however . . .
Beyond: The Best of Beyond (1988)
I bought this in Hong Kong in '89 when this boy band were at a particular peak with a hit album Arabian Dancing Girl in '87. I bought it in a small shop just off Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.
I can clearly remember being disappointed when I asked what was really good local rock band and the guy handed me this one without hesitation.
Five young guys in stone-wash denim, one of whom looks a bit . . . let's just say distracted.
Clearly this was an archetypal idol/boy band but the album did have Arabian Dancing Girl (well, a remix version) and a whole lot of notes in the cover insert, all in Mandarin of course.
Rather than try “rock band” again, I let it go and left with what was, to date, the best of Beyond who had formed a few years previous and would – as I have recently discovered – have a more lengthy career than most such teen-pop bands.
They even lasted into the 21st century, albeit with mostly different members from the original band founded by Wong Kai Ku who tragically died in '93 after falling from the stage while being filmed in Tokyo.
It's of its era of course – synth-pop – but very catchy. They all sing – some more assured than others, a couple really badly – and I guess like many such groups they were product to be shaped by managers/producers/the CinePoly label bosses as is often the way.
But they made decent pop for the period – acoustic Spanish guitar in places, a nudge towards hard rock guitar solos, over-stuffed arrangements on the ballads.
Hard to know what reference points to give – a less tuneful Duran Duran, a version of misheard Orchestral Manoeuvres, heroic hard-rock prog on the guitar epic which opens the second side? – because Cantonese pop is a genre unto itself.
The remix of Arabian Dancing Girl is as annoyingly catchy as Racey's Some Girls with a keyboard part which is vaguely Middle Eastern. And the synth-dance Ha Ha Ha (here in a remix) could actually stand a reissue . . . if you wiped the lame vocal.
So I have The Best of Beyond, but after pulling it off the shelves for the purposes of this article I doubt I'll play it again.
But at least I get to say, “Canto-pop? Yeah, I've been into since the Eighties, man.”
This exact album isn't on Spotify but it isn't short of Beyond's music
Tat Ming Pair, I'm Waiting For Your Return (1988)
Bought at the same time and in the same shop as The Best of Beyond, and simply for the cover . . . because I thought it looked a bit more adult and artistic.
And it was on PolyGram.
My money was on some serious art-pop with synths.After all, just two guys and not a whole band, one with a ponytail . . .
Yep, that is what they deliver.
And they still are, the released a single in 2021.
Now this has taken some research because there's not a word of English on the cover but some trawls through translation services tells me this is a concept album about the flight of people from Hong Kong before the hand-over back to China in '97.
The Tat Ming Pair are Tats Lau and Anthony Wong Yiu-ming, and my information shows they were hugely respected for their music – very Duran, Heaven 17, Pet Shop Boys, Ultravox with a Canto-pop skew – and their politics (their final album in '90 before they broke up and reunited was Nerves, another concept album, and prompted by the Tiananmen Square protest).
Despite not being able to understand a word of this, it is actually rather good – in an Eighties way -- because they hit that point between synth sweeps and pop songs.
You can hear this album at Spotify here
Food Brain, Social Gathering (1970)
Many say that Japanese prog-rock began with this short-lived band (just this album) and their Social Gathering (or Bansan translated from the Japanese) album.
Other, like Julian Cope, reluctantly admit that much but also point out it's pretty bloody awful.
I'd heard about it for years and at some point in the late Eighties found a copy in a secondhand shop (Real Groovy as I recall).
The backstory as I understand it was a headman at Polydor Japan who had the idea of launching a local prog-rock outfit onto the international market, but unfortunately didn't have one. He approached guitarist Shinki Chen who was much respected and persuaded him to form a band.
Which he did with keyboard player Hiro Yanagida, bassist Masayoshi Kabe and drummer Hiro Tsunoda, all of whom were equally respected.
It's rubbish, of course.
The seemingly endless 10 minute opener That Will Do is a jazz blues-boogie with a furious ELP organ wrestle and seems to want to out-Mahavishnu the Orchestra in a land-speed record (who, yes I know, didn't form until a bit later).
It alerts you to the idea of virtuosity over original ideas
Waltz For MPB is quieter, goes nowhere in particular and the weasely organ solo sounds peeled off from a Riders on the Storm outtake. Again, it seems longer than it is.
The titles here might also alert you to a particularly doped-up and only half-serious project: Liver Juice Vending Machine (mostly a bass and guitar boogie pop-rock workout), The Conflict of The Hippo and The Pig (a percussion thing, about a minute long), The Hole in the Sausage (their 15 minute epic of no fixed direction and with an enjoyably mad, free jazz, bass clarinet bit by guest Michihiro Kimura) . . .
The final minute or so is Dedicated to Bach (JS would recoil in horror) and there is a clue also. Like Keith Emerson, keyboard player Yanagida's parents had paid for music lessons and he wasn't going to let them down, or you not know it.
Frankly I'd have like to have heard more from founder/guitarist Chen who had been touched by the spirit of San Franciscan psychedelic rock, or a whole album of that demanding Sausage free jazz improv . . . but it is not to be.
Some say a classic Japanese prog-rock album.
Some say $8 at Real Groovy was a high price to pay for it.
You can find this at YouTube here
Interior, Koji Ueno, Testpattern: Yen Manifold Vol 1 (1983)
Now this is either “that's more like it” or “but that's mostly just like Western music”.
This seems to be a compilation of three Japanese artists on the Yen label: Interior – whose vocalists sing in English – are very much in the standard synth-pop idiom and their song Miracle might have appeared as an album track on any number British records in the period (synth ballad); keyboard/synth player Koji Ueno's three instrumental tracks were recorded at home and offers an okay thing called Tempo di Jazz but is more Oldfield-Vangelis-Jarre on serious speed for Movement Perpetuels.
And Testpattern really get the synth drums and bass boiling for their two pieces which allow for cinematically melodic but distant synth passages (Ryugu) and a really fascinating five minute piece Friday which sounds like you've been transported to a strange dancehall in the Thirties where there is an organ player, ballroom dancers and robots serving drinks.
Small research tells me Testpattern were Fumio Ichimura and Masao Hiruma and had an album around this time produced by Haruomi Hosono, founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra (which makes sense).
I'm pretty sure bought this secondhand in the early Nineties for the cover in the hope it was a bit YMO. Only played it a couple of times until I pulled it out for this column.
The second side (Ueno, Testpattern) is pretty good but the album will safely be returned to the shelf and will lie undisturbed for some time to come.
Koji Ueno is on Spotify here but the others I can't find
Loudness: Thunder in the East (1985)
And unfortunately this is “exactly like it”. The “it” being heavy hair-metal of the LA kind.
But the song titles would tell you that, right?
Crazy Nights (everybody fist-pump, “rock'n'roll crazy nights”), Like Hell, Heavy Chains, Run For Your Life, No Way Out, The Lines Are Down . . .
On ATCO, recorded in Sound City Studio in LA, managed by Joe Gerber (Twisted Sister), studs'n'leather bought locally too I'm guessing.
They seem to have enjoyed an alarmingly long career (right up to the present day) but of their many albums on Spotify this isn't one of them.
But I think if you hit any one at random you are going to be in the same zone.
Despite numerous line-up changes they still play loud, still wear studs'n'leather.
Elsewhere has a number of columns along these lines, click the title for the following
Five Odd Albums No One Should Own (but I do)
and there is probably much more . . .