Professorial Singers

After the Xinyao fever of the 1980s, Singapore’s music industry entered a period of flashy and flamboyant stage and MV performances. Many of these singers had no substance or their vocals might not be microphone-ready. Undiscerning audiences loved them anyway. To stand out from the crowd, one could either go for cheap thrills or in the case of law lecturer Jimmy Yeh, you could shock them with your qualifications.

Packed with substance, Jimmy was probably Singapore’s only “professorial” singer who takes centre stage (Liang Wern Fook normally works behind the scenes). He was also an accomplished local songwriter and composer. He has written hits for superstars of the Chinese music scene, including Jackie Cheung, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Jeff Chang, Jolin Tsai, Alan Tam and Kit Chan.

Around 1995 when I was writing for a magazine and visiting Thailand like it was my second home, my editor gave me an interesting assignment – interview Jimmy Yeh at his home. I remember that interview very well for a number of reasons. First of all, the “press kit”. His company was generous enough to give me a CD. Most others only gave cassette tapes.

I would describe his home’s decor as avant garde but comfortable. And with all his daring use of Singlish and colloquial expressions, it was one of the most casual and comfortable interviews I had conducted with a celebrity. Jimmy was a very candid and approachable person.

Obviously from a well-to-do family, he had no airs at all. I told him about my profession and we had a good laugh at each other. At the end of the interview, we were almost like friends, talking about Thailand and trekking in Nepal. As all the arrangements were made between the magazine publisher and the recording company, I only knew his address but not his number. I thought it would be unprofessional to ask, but we could have stayed in contact and become friends.

Below are three of my favourite songs by Jimmy.

Those were the glorious days of students and lawyers recording albums, neurosurgeons and dentists writing books and magazine articles that have nothing to do with their professions. Will we see them again?

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