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CollectionsApplauding Hong Kong Pop Legend: Roman TamMandarin Pop Songs and Roman Tam
Mandarin Pop Songs and Roman Tam

“I have weathered challenges and difficulties, I have never despaired. Passion is in my heart. Let me be unrestrained.”
(Translation of extracted lyrics from Let Me Be Unrestrained, published in 1980. Composed by Mizutani Kimio; lyrics by Cheng Kok-kong. )

The immense popularity of Mandarin films meant that Mandarin pop songs were all the rage in Hong Kong from the 1940s to the 1960s. At the end of the 1950s, Shanghai film production companies moved south to Hong Kong in large numbers to establish new film production bases and facilitated the blossoming growth of Mandarin films. Many of the productions were musicals that also featured a dedicated theme song, and numerous Mandarin songs appeared on the market alongside the films. Heavily promoted by local record labels and on the radio, these songs became very popular in Hong Kong. So the colony’s pop scene in the 1960s was not totally dominated by Western pop – many youngsters were also mesmerised by the melodies of Mandarin pop.

The interconnection between Mandarin films and their theme songs provided Roman with the first big break of his singing career. In 1964, the Shaw’s Film Fan Club organised a contest to select a singer for the theme song to the film The Shepherd Girl. Roman came third, and his talents were quickly recognised by famous composer Wang Fuling, who referred Roman to Shaw Brothers as a backstage and backup singer for their films. Not long afterwards, Roman started singing for a number of films, including The Singing Escort in 1969 and My Son and The Singing Killer in 1970. EMI then released an EP featuring Roman performing songs from the film The Singing Thief, and he soon began to attract more attention from the local pop scene and the public.

Mandarin pop songs were regarded by Hong Kong people as a stylish and sophisticated form of music at that time, and so film companies would write their theme songs and accompanying tunes in Mandarin even if the film’s dialogue was in Cantonese. For example, in 1969, Roman was promoted as a “new age singer” in a collaboration with another singer Lee Tai-wai on the Mandarin theme song for the Cantonese film Red Light, Green Light, composed by Joseph Koo, so that the film would seem more chic and snazzy.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Hong Kong’s pop scene was invaded by Mandarin pop songs from Taiwan. Roman teamed up with Lydia Sum to form “Lover’s Duet” in 1971, primarily singing Mandarin tunes, especially on their frequent tours of Southeast Asia as well as on the album Lydia Sum and Roman Tam No.1 that they released on Super Sound Records Company.

In Hong Kong’s thriving film and record industries, Roman’s dream was starting to come true. As he continued to emerge as a talented newcomer on the music scene, his brilliance began to shine through.

  • Roman Tam and famous composer Wang Fuling

  • Newspaper advertisement of the film Red Ligh...

  • Record Album: The Price of Love (Front c...

  • Record Album: The Price of Love (Back co...

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