“I will sing all my songs for you, show you my very best. Within the laser, I will lock your attention with thousands of songs.”
(Translation of extracted lyrics from Within The Laser, published in 1983. Composed by Mahmood Rumjahn; lyrics by Richard Lam.)
Until the 1970s, native Cantonese pop was regarded as music for the grassroots level of society. It enjoyed a standing far less prestigious than Western or Mandarin pop and was unable to gain traction in the mainstream of Hong Kong’s pop scene. Entering the 1970s, however, as a growing consciousness of a local identity took root among Hong Kong people, Cantonese songs started to gain greater acceptance. Enhanced promotion by the broadcasting media and record labels also afforded them a more popular status, which allowed them to penetrate the mainstream. The golden era of Cantopop arrived in the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the biggest drivers in the rise of Cantopop was the more widespread availability of television sets, which provided a cradle for a rapidly burgeoning TV culture. With almost every household owning a television by the end of the 1970s, free-to-air TV programmes had become part of local life. When the theme song to the 1974 TV drama series Fatal Irony, performed by Sandra Lang, became a surprise hit, it sparked a craze for this type of music, and all drama series broadcast afterwards came with a Cantonese theme tune that was aired with every episode and reached the ears of the audience every day. Thanks also to various new music programme formats, pop charts and golden song awards promoted by the mass media, Cantopop soon began to flourish as an important part of pop culture.
Riding the hot trend for TV drama theme songs, Roman Tam became hugely popular and reached the first peak of his singing career. When TVB aired its dubbed Japanese drama Bright Future in 1976, it invited Roman – who was establishing his career in Japan at the time – to sing a Cantonese cover version of the theme song. The song quickly became a sensational hit in Hong Kong, sitting at the top of pop charts for a substantial period of time. In the light of this success, Roman decided to stay in Hong Kong to develop his career, and he went on to sing a number of much-loved theme songs for TVB series, including A House Is Not A Home in 1977 and The Romantic Swordsman and The Giants in 1978. Roman also performed the theme song for RTHK’s landmark series Below The Lion Rock. All these songs have since become classic oldies.
As Hong Kong experienced accelerated economic growth from the mid-1970s to the 1980s, record labels saw the strength of the upsurge in Cantopop and the spending power of Hong Kong consumers and produced a large number of Cantopop albums. In 1977, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) co-organised the first “Gold Disc Awards” with TVB in a genuine sign that the record industry was flourishing on the back of its active promotion of Cantopop. While Roman’s albums featured a lot of songs with a TV connection, he was also committed to innovation, and he began to release music of different genres. In 1981, for example, a conceptual album called Wei (“Flowers”) focused on the theme of the title, while a jazz-styled album titled A Mid-Summer’s Evening was also brought out. Within The Laser from 1983 featured rap-style music and the highly charged song Pussy Cat, while the 1986 release Braving The Storm set a trend for autobiographical tunes. Roman’s prolific repertoire was also highly diverse, characterised by a wide selection of genres. Thanks to his highly adaptable vocal talent, he was able to perform the various styles of his songs without any let-up in their immersive impact. With the great success he was enjoying, Roman not only gained acceptance, but also received recognition and acclaim for establishing his own style – he was now a true icon of Hong Kong pop music.