Just for the Love of it: Popular Music in Penang, 1930s-1960s is a fascinating and absorbing story of the evolution of the musical scene in Penang. This easy-to-read but very comprehensive book covers musical evolutions; musical communities; personalities and bands (featuring over 50 personalities including 14 legends and one-hit wonders); brief histories of traditional art forms like boria, bangsawan andronggeng; the birth of the Penang Wireless Society and the introduction of radio and television broadcasting; dance halls; live shows; talent competitions and recorded music.
It is amazing that so much talent spanning the various musical genres flourished within a relatively small space and short time. From the 20s onwards, musical trends in Penang appeared to mirror those in the West, albeit tinged with a local flavor, from big-band jazz and ragtime of the 20s to 50s; Tin Pan Alley; the golden age of crooners and divas; country music; 60s garage and fuzz rock (which locals called pop yeh yeh) and the 70’s which saw local musicians sporting longer hair and engaged in an experimental phase, producing some very interesting psychedelic-tinged pop-rock music.
In keeping with a style that’s nearly de rigueur for books on contemporary music, the layout has an appropriate ‘live’ feel. An instinctual, freehand approach to the subject blends perfectly with the detailed research – a crucial combination that’s designed to provide readers an entertaining and enlightening ride as they flip from page to page, uncovering each layer of Penang’s musical heritage as they cruise along. The look is decidedly retro, generously packed with historical anecdotes, actual and ‘parody’ vintage ads, posters and priceless photos of shellacs, EP sleeves, vinyl discs, and artists in the studio and in concert.
No discussion on contemporary music is ever complete without a significant chapter on the role of the vinyl disc (including its fragile ancestor, the shellac disc) as a medium for the storage, preservation, production and sale of music. Vinyl collections occupy pride of place among the musical memorabilia of any collector worth his (or her) salt; it is something which goes beyond just the listening experience, and which truly deserves more than the solitary page it is given here, in Vinyl Grooves. A minor point of contention but one worth noting for future editions.
All said, a very fine and highly readable book, and credit must go to the writers who are obviously very passionate about the subject. As The Beatles stated in their epoch-making Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album: “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”
Just for the Love of it: Popular Music in Penang, 1930s-1960s is published by Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD) with support from thinkCITY. It is written by Paul Augustin and James Lochhead and includes a bonus 24-track CD of music.