Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s with hippie uncles, I was exposed at an early age to pop music that came from bootleg records. At our grandparents’ home in Kampong Sikamat New Village (yes, the birthplace of Yee Tao Mai Fun) in Seremban, we had an old radio the size of a microwave oven, a no-name integrated amplifier and a Lenco record-changer/player. The speakers were a pair of Sansui look-a-like (that had the same grille appearance as the real thing).
During the school holidays, me and my brothers would crank up the stereo and play all these bootleg albums. Since our grandparents were working and won’t be home till lunch, we would run riot and ransack our uncles’ collection (bought mainly from music shops in Seremban town).
They were mostly top 40 hits of the day, in Chinese and English, plus a big collection of 45 rpm singles in paper sleeves. Some of the sleeves had great photos for us to look at and they made me want to be like them. The 45s were neatly arranged in a metal & wooden type of plate holder tray you can now buy at Ikea.
Exhibit A – National’s New Tops
If I recall, you can hardly find compilation long-play albums of all the current hit songs in a single record. The only way around this was to buy all the original albums but that would be rather expensive and you would find only one terribly nice song per album.
So, smelling an opportunity and seeing that music copyright laws were still aliens from outer space, local music bootleggers (pirates, cetak rompak etc) would compile and gather all the big hits and produce their own albums.
It was a great way to be able to own all the top hits without having to fork out big bucks. Even up till the early 80s, I remember the bootleg records, 8-track and cassette tapes were still pretty much selling in all the music shops in Campbell and Pertama Complex.
Exhibit B – Wanted
Two things about the featured albums above that made me really happy when I held them in my hands:
- The collection of songs was simply superb. I think the guy who put together the list must have been a follower of pop music in order to do the selection. Either that, the owner himself must have decided to pool together whatever songs he had lying around and produce the compilation LP.
- The cover artwork is amazingly funny and the pencil-drawn artistes/groups are hilariously of its time (see Exhibit B). Most of the guys have long hair, some with side parting and some with moustaches reminiscent of Charles Bronson. It didn’t matter if they looked like nobody we know but, hey, they are on the cover so they must be somebody famous.
I remember looking at the photo montage (Exhibit A) and decided then I wanted to be a singer or play guitar in a band. Take a good look at the guys on the cover of Exhibit C and tell me how cool it must have been. I could never have foreseen that I would one day be working in a music company and doing exactly what the bootleggers did many years ago.
Exhibit C – 72′ Hits 72′
Of course, with the advent of proper publishing houses and music copyrights, we do cross-licensing to be able to get the songs we want from other record labels. And if I can be terribly honest about this, the bootleggers had better taste and better song selection skills.
The cover art? Well, a vinyl collector friend told me some Japanese buyers were poking around Amcorp Mall looking specifically for bootleg records with weird/funny cover art.
We’ll save that for another edition of Unknown Pleasures, folks!