10 Most Influential Malaysian Albums (1980 to 2005)

This was originally published in the now-defunct Weekend Mail on Sept 1, 2007

THE country’s 50th independence celebration has ended with a bang. Having noticed – with a shock – that one of the most important elements of Malaysian culture, music, was practically ignored even as tributes were paid to every other person or thing in commemoration of Merdeka, we at Weekend Mail have decided to come up with our very own tribute of sorts.

We are highlighting the 10 most influential albums that were released in the past 25 years, from 1980 to 2005.

If you were wondering why albums released before the period did not make it on the list, it was because of two reasons.

The first was that Malaysian recorded music was never properly documented or archived.
Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM) chairman Sandy Monteiro said: “We never really had a proper archive for Malaysian music, the biggest asset we have now is RTM’s Rakam Khanah.”

“It is very important for these music to be documented especially for the younger generation. Currently, the youth or any music enthusiast have no single place to go to read about or listen to Malaysian music that was recorded throughout the years,” said Karyawan president Freddie Fernandez.

“There’s more to our musical past than P Ramlee and that fact has to be made known.
“I feel RIM should take the lead and approach Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage Malaysia (KeKKWa), and maybe they can get the Information Ministry and National Archive to work together.”

A suggestion that is worth looking into, something like a museum for Malaysian popular music?

“The idea of a Malaysian music museum was already suggested to KeKKWa for consideration seven years ago. In fact, Jennifer Thompson of Persatuan Akademi Industri Muzik Malaysia has offered to help curate the museum on KeKKWa’s behalf,” Monteiro

According to industry sources, however, the project has already taken off.
Called the Muzium Muzik Negara, it is run by the Department of Museums and Antiquities Malaysia.

For now, it is yet to be open to the public.

The second reason for the omission of albums released from 1957 to 1979 is that: Malaysian music was only available in film format from the 40s to late-60s.

“The history of Malaysian music can be traced to songs that were featured in films. Only in the late-60s and early -70s did vinyl come to the fore. Music then was never properly released, not because it didn’t have commercial value, it’s just how things were at that time,” Monteiro said.

THE following list was compiled with the help of the movers and shakers of the Malaysian music industry – and here are the results. We are pleased to present you with (drumroll) the top 10 Malaysian albums that were released in the last 25 years (in no particular order).

ARTISTE: Sheila Majid
ALBUM: Legenda
LABEL: EMI Music
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1990

WHAT else is there to say about Legenda?
Right from the album opener, the D’Legenda interlude to album closer, Larut Malam, there was not a single misstep made by the team of Sheila Majid, Roslan Aziz, Mac Chew and Jenny Chin.
Detractors may have argued that the album was a great success because the late Tan Sri P Ramlee’s song were alrea dy proven hits. But one cannot deny the fact that Roslan Aziz and Co. breathed new life to the already classics tunes.
There are many reasons why Legenda is important.
It reintroduced P Ramlee to Malaysians, and the world, to an extent ; it sealed Sheila Majid’s status as our Queen of Jazz (though Legenda is far from being a jazz album perse) established Roslan Aziz as one of the best producers around, and made Roslan Aziz Production (RAP) the label you want to be signed up to.

* “Inspired by the legendary works of P Ramlee, it became the best selling album for Sheila Majid (more than 150,000 copies were sold) and the single Legenda was widely used, even for the Malaysia Cup campaign .” – EMI Music head of dome stic repertoire Mohd Arzmy.

* “Sheila officially made Tan Sri P Ramlee an irreplaceable legend while also making the songs her own on the album. Lagenda the song is now a perennial `anthem’ that will forever be linked to both Tan Sri and Sheila.” – Sony BMG managing director Adrian Lim.

ARTISTE: Zainal Abidin
ALBUM: Zainal Abidin
LABEL: Warner Music
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1991

IT was undoubtedly the combined efforts of geniuses.
The team of Mukhlis Nor (composer/lyricist); Roslan Aziz (producer); Zainal (singer), Jenny Chin and Mac Chiew (musical directors); and Mustaffa Ramly, Man Kidal, T. Anggapan, Amir Yussof, Michael Veerapan and Erwin Gutawa (sesssionists) created a truly Malaysian album that is yet to be surpassed even today.
Released at a time when any songs without the words cinta or luka were guaranteed of commercial suicide, the 10-song Zainal Abidin proved that great music with social-commentary lyrics ship copies, too.
After more than 500 hours in the studio, the album, which took two years to complete, perfectly blends ethnic musical instruments like the sitar, tabla, yang ching, santoor, traditional Malay drums, gambus and kalimba with modern instruments like keyboards, guitar, piano and saxophone. The album has chalked up many firsts here, and until anyone has the guts to at least try to reach its level of virtuo sity and originality, Zainal Abidin is unrivalled.

* “IT’S probably one of the best-produced albums of all time. Roslan Aziz truly weaved his magic here and there was the rumour that it took over 600 hours to be recorded. Every song was a hit and Roslan was ahead of his time.” – hitz.fm/Mix FM/Xfresh FM general manager Jake Abdullah.

* “Malaysian music charts new sounds with a mesh of South African rhythms, Malaysian ethnic instruments and Zainal’s unique vocals. The dialect that is used in Hijau is probably the most influential musical statement in Malaysian music history, showing how you can put ethnicity in pop and still make it sound cool.” – 8TV chief executive officer and THE man behind Positive Tone Ahmad Izham Omar

ARTISTE: Butterfingers
ALBUM: Transcendence
LABEL: EMI Music
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1998

“ROCK is dead but Butterfingers will still be around to bring changes and to keep the faith,” said chief songwriter and guitarist, Loque, in the wake of the album release.
As gung-ho as it sounds, the guy knows what he is talking about.
Their debut 1.2 Milligrams and its follow-up, Butter Worth Pushful, were already ground-breaking efforts but it was Transcendence that sealed the band’s status as the best among today’s crop of rock bands. Most importantly, it re-affirmed the importance and commercial viability of homemade English music.
On the whole, Transcendence may fall short of the greatly under-appreciated successors, 2000’s Malayneum and 2005’s Selamat Tinggal Dunia, but just by the strengths of The Chemistry (Between Us) and the P Ramlee-inspired Epitome, Malaysian-made English music was never the same again.
Kids who were just getting their first guitars were saying, “I want to be big as Butterfingers.”

ARTISTE: Innuendo
ALBUM: Innuendo
LABEL: Positive Tone
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1997

WHO would have thought of it? A full-fledged R&B/soul album that is as Motown it gets but still distinctively Malaysian, written by a bunch of total unknowns, with numbers sung in English! It can only be made possible by “an indie label with a major mindset,” in this case, Positive Tone and four talented guys with a perfect sense for ethereal harmonies.
Detractors may dismiss them for being a one-hit wonder for their brilliant remake of Carefree’s Belaian Jiwa, but those who actually bought the album would tell you that there are a lot of other great tunes on the 15-track record. These include the greatly under-appreciated sexy jam of So Good Inside and Until The End Of Time (The Wedding Song). The album bagged six major awards – Best Vocal Performance In An Album(Group); Best Album Recording; Best Local English Artiste; Best Local English Album; Best Music Arrangement In Song; and Song Of The Year award – at Anugerah Industri Muzik 98 (AIM98). The downside – it also gave rise to a bunch of much less talented boy bands that are still hanging around the fringes of the popular music scene today.

* “I know I’m biased, but the sounds and songs that were crafted in the studio were unlike anything ever heard before on Malaysian soil. Ignore the record industry sentiment that R&B/soul is not a sellable genre. Forget the A&R who think that you need big-name song writers to sell albums. Screw the marketing people who say all Malaysian albums need to be 100 percent Malay pop to sell The magical blend of the voices of Pot, Taj, Reymee and Sam, singing in perfect harmony, floating on top of sexy grooves, was not for the limited audience of just gigs in KL. The whole of Malaysia had to experience it. And they did with this album.” – Ahmad Izham Omar

ARTISTE: OAG
ALBUM: Old Automatic Garbage
LABEL: Positive Tone
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1994

INITIALLY, we thought we’d give you our two sen worth of why OAG’s debut is in the list. After much thought, we felt that the album producer and the guy who `discovered ` OAG, Paul Moss, would be able to explain it much better.
The only thing we’d like to stress here is this: just imagine where homemade English music would be today if it was never released. Anyway, here’s what Moss has to say about the album:

“OAG’s first album was classic in every way.
“Basically it was four schoolboys who had had written the most incredible songs, but did not have the outlet to get them out to the masses. Positive Tone was just being set-up at that time and with no real plan in place, we went forward on the premise that it’d be a crime NOT to record them, They had almost no equipment, so we borrowed a whole set-up from Bentley music and recorded ALL the instruments tracks in one weekend!
“It was in a tiny studio at Kenny Music where there were barely space for drums and three guitars. It was hot, sweaty work but they were determined, tight and well-rehearsed.
“Another two weeks was spent on putting in the vocals for and perfecting 60’s TV, which is clearly an absolute classic. Radhi told me years later that he thought we were just recording the songs as demos and he was surprised when they got released. Anyway, it went on officially sell over 90,000 copies – and that was before we found out that the distributor was secretly making copies and supplying them shops. “It wasn’t the first local English album, of course, but it was certainly the first to appeal to the mass market and chalk up some major numbers. In business terms, made local English efforts a viable product. In short, the songs and attitude are brilliant, and I think that’s [the attitude] what people bought.”

ARTISTE: Too Phat
ALBUM: Plan B
LABEL: Positive Tone/EMI Music
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2001

KRASH Kozz and Poetic Ammo laid the foundation for Malaysian hip-hop, and Too Phat took it to the next level with their second album. The set opens with the crowd chanting for more Too Phat before it segues into the infectious Boogie Down, which followed by the brilliant and intelligently sampled Anak Ayam Freak To The Beat).
It’s internationally appealing yet as Malaysian it can get. There was even a hilarious skit of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Datuk Sharifah Aini singing the verse on You.
* “Original hip-hop music was created with the fusion of Malaysian traditional folks songs. The single Freak The Beat, better known as just Anak Ayam became a milestone for hip-hop in Malaysia.” – EMI Music head of domestic repertoire Mohd Arzmy Mohammad.

* “A near-perfect hip-hop album. Malaysian hip-hop at its finest. What else can I say?” – Ahmad Izham Omar

ARTISTE: M Nasir
ALBUM: Saudagar Mimpi
LABEL: PMC (Now Sony BMG)
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1992

DO away with the ballads, mix Malay (Keroncong, Inang, Masri) with Western/Latin rhythms, use clever wordplay in both the song titles and lyrics, explore “logic and philosophy of life” in the lyrics, and just for fun, throw in an English song Monsoon Dance, and voila, you have Saudagar Mimpi.
Produced at a cost of RM100,000, it was the most expensive venture of its time.
M Nasir’s follow-up to 1988’s S.O.L.O. was also groundbreaking in many ways.
Technically, all the song s on the album are no where near your standard pop tunes. However, with their thoughtfully-crafted nusantara feel to it, M Nasir managed to bridge the gap.

ARTISTE: Raihan
ALBUM: Puji-Pujian
LABEL: Warner Music
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1996

RELEASED during the time when everyone was doing the gelek dangdut, it was no surprise that no one had any faith in Puji-Pujian – apart from Warner Music Malaysia, that is. The naysayers are not to blame, for who would have thought a nasyid album would go on to become the country’s biggest selling album of all time?
Songs about love for God and mankind were rendered in vocal harmonies in the style of R &B/soul vocal groups, while the music arrangement can be categorised as lo-fi, if not actually skiffle, (only percussions were used). Puji-Pujian was not only genre-defying, it also opened eyes to the potential of religious music as popular music.

* “Initially, no one believed in the album, not the retailers, not the media, until 600,000 units later. It will definitely be the biggest-selling album of all time. The melodies are great; it is an album with a truly positive tone, a great one to begin your day with.” – Sony BMG managing director Adrian Lim.

ARTISTE: Search
ALBUM: Fenomena
LABEL: PMC (Now Sony BMG)
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1989

FROM a rock critic’s point of view, Search`s most important works lie in their first three albums, Cinta Buatan Malaysia in 1985, Langit Dan Bumi in 1986 and Mentari Merah Di Ufuk Timur in 1987.
Despite breaking a whole lot of ground with these, one important thing still eluded the band – crossover appeal. Fenomena finally had that in Isabella and many more. As a whole, it was an album of great tunes and riffs recorde d by a band at its peak. Heck, it even played a huge role in the rise of the so-called Indo-Rock scene.

* “Isabella was the last song to be recorded for the album. That very night, after we completed the mixing of the album, we told ourselves that this album was going to blow the Malaysia music industry away. It did. When Fenomena became a hit, it changed a lot of things. It reached out to people of all ages and races. If our audience were before made up of young kids, we now have families of various races. Its success also gave more credibility to rock bands in the eyes of the public. The album made it big in Indonesia, selling more than one million copies there. Fenomena was a seachange that basically kickstarted everything in the music and film industry.” – Amy Search.

ARTISTE: Ella
ALBUM: 30110
LABEL: EMI Music
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1992

ELLA’S first album for her new label EMI was also the one that set her apart from the rest of her competitors, if there were any at the first place. Produced by Man Kidal and M Nasir, 30110 saw Ella stepping up her game both as a singer and performer. Musically, the album gave new meaning to Malaysian pop-rock – it was edgy yet poppy at the same time. 30110 follow-up U.S.A. is without doubt a much better album, but in terms of significance, this is much more important.

* “History was created when Ella’s rock repertoire crossed over to the Malay pop market (with Saari Amri’s Sembilu) and urban pop (with Satiman and Mac Chew’s Layar Impian. It also launche d Saari’s career as a composer,” – EMI Music head of domestic repertoire Mohd Arzmy Mohammad.

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