In the age of MP3s, the album isn’t dead — at least not as an art form. This idea partly inspires a new book that aims to canonize the finest in Taiwanese pop and rock with a list of the 200 best albums released since 1975.
Taiwan Popular Music — 200 Best Albums (台灣流行音樂 200最佳專輯) is one of the first attempts to cull together a definitive list of classic Taiwanese pop and rock albums, complete with background information on each album and artist.
The book, a project conceived by a group of National Taiwan University (NTU) students, is divided into two parts: the first half is a revised edition of a book first printed in 1994 that ranks albums released from 1975 to 1992, and the second half ranks albums released from 1993 to 2005.
At the top of the lists are Lo Ta-yu’s (羅大佑) Pedantry (之乎者也) for 1975 to 1992 and Puyuma musician Pau-dull’s (陳建年) Ocean (海洋) for 1993 to 2005.
TIMES A’ CHANGIN’
For each time period, many of the top contenders mirrored the changes in society and popular music in Taiwan.
It was no surprise that Lo took the top spot for his 1982 debut album, according to Ma Shih-fang (馬世芳), a radio DJ at News 98 (98.1 FM) and one of the founding editors of the book.
“He was such a key figure in the evolution of Taiwanese pop music history,” Ma said in an interview with the Taipei Times.
Indeed, Lo was Taiwan’s first rock rebel. He stepped into the scene at a time when Taiwanese pop was dominated by, as the book puts it, a mindless “gaiety” that remained from the 1970s folk singer movement. “Even his love songs were different — they [always had] a certain degree of bitterness,” said Ma.
On Pedantry, Lo veiled social commentary behind his rock ’n’ roll, much to the consternation of the Government Information Office (新聞局), which put his songs on a radio airplay blacklist.
Taiwan Popular Music — 200 Best Albums (台灣流行音樂 200最佳專輯/in Chinese only)
Edited by Cora Tao (陶曉清), Ma Shih-fang (馬世芳) and Yeh Yun-ping (葉雲平)
China Times Publishing Co.
On the Net: www.200albums.com
Then there was his “coarse” voice. “Before Lo Ta-yu, everyone thought you could only [make] an album if you had a beautiful voice,” said Ma. “But [his voice] was perfect for rock singers.”
Other albums topping the list from 1975 to 1993 were released during pivotal and politically turbulent times.
Chinese rocker Cui Jian’s Nothing to My Name (一無所有), which is ranked eighth, came out just two months before the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 (Cui was included as all albums sung in a Mandarin or Aboriginal language from Taiwan were considered).
Albums like Blacklist Studio’s (黑名單工作室), Songs of Madness (抓狂歌) and Lim Giong’s (林強) Marching Forward (向前走) — both notable as albums sung entirely in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) and which proudly celebrate a “native Taiwanese” identity — came out in 1989 and 1990, respectively.
“These albums also reflected a certain time … the so-called ‘post-martial law era,’” said Ma, referring to the lifting of martial law in Taiwan in 1987. “During those few years a lot of things were happening, politically, culturally, economically. It’s all reflected in this music and those albums.”
ABORIGINAL MUSIC: THE NEW TAIWANESE POP
The 1993 to 2005 list shows how major labels began to lag creatively while independent artists, Aboriginal musicians in particular, started to thrive, said Ma.
He noted that Pau-dull’s Ocean was an important album not only for its novel fusion of early Taiwanese folk pop and traditional Aboriginal music, but also for its sudden popularity.