Whether we, millennials admit it or not, time has passed a lot quicker than we thought. While some of us may rejoice at the start of a new year or face an existential crisis after aging, here’s a timeless collection of Malaysia’s Top Hits from the past couple of decades you might want to revisit.
Malaysia is definitely nothing short of talented musicians who can bring out some serious vocals and funky tunes. Whether it’s back in the late 80s or the early 2000s, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to some local music in those periods, you can start now!
“Sekadar Di Pinggiran” – Francissca Peter (1986)
In 1986, Malaysia’s very first Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) was held. The song that reigned the top place was none other than “Sekadar Di Pinggiran” by the ever-inspiring Fran. The album also set her career in motion as it went on to achieve the International Award for Best Song in the 1987’s Asean Song Festival. This makes her the first Malaysian artist to do so.
“Sekadar Di Pinggiran” contains poetic lyrics that interlaced with traditional elements and the unique melody of early Malaysian pop. This song is familiar to the ears of many generations and remains a classic Malaysia’s Top Hits until today.
“Isabella” – Search (1989)
Thanks to the influences of rock-n-roll off-shore, the 80s and 90s left us a wide range of rock music with local adaptations. The combinations of heavy metal, hard rock, punk and ballads were probably the reason for our teenage angst.
Search is the quintessential Malaysian rock band initially formed in 1981. Despite some line-up changes over the years, they have produced various hits and have gained astounding popularity in Malaysia and neighbouring countries.
One of their greatest rock ballads is “Isabella” which is a heartbreaking song about love separated by two different worlds. “Isabella” even won the award for “Best Song” in AJL 1989.
“Standing in the Eyes of the World” – Ella (1998)
While we are on the topic of the local rock music industry, we cannot forget the Queen of Rock herself. Loved by many for her raspy and powerful voice, Ella originally recorded “Standing in the Eyes of the World” for when Malaysia proudly hosted the Commonwealth Game in 1998. This is why this song has always been classified as Malaysia’s Top Hits.
Until now, it is impossible to forget the uplifting melody and English-Bahasa Melayu lyrics to this classic light rock anthem. Don’t miss out on her other famous songs such as “Rama-Rama”.
“Hey Waley” – Resh (2004)
Moving on from rock music, let’s indulge into some local funk and soul with Resh, formerly known as Reshmonu. Quite a few of his songs have topped the charts in the past and for good reason, who can ever forget the catchy and funky tune of “Hey Waley”?
Not only that, Resh had participated in numerous opening acts in Malaysia for international artists such as Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys and Pussycat Dolls. Check out more of his songs “Cintaku Pergi” and “Half the Man”.
“Madai Thiranthu” – Yogi B and Natchatra (2006)
An exemplar of the hip hop genre in Malaysia, Yogi B has the rap and rep to boast for. However, this godfather of Tamil hip hop stays modest throughout the years. He credits most of his success to his mother and the need to express the Tamil language musically for the diaspora.
His rendition of “Madai Thiranthu” became a huge hit not just in Malaysia but also South India and among the Tamil-speaking communities in England, Australia and other Scandinavian countries. The song features lyrics in the ancestral language accompanied by sick beats with the hip hop flare. Part of the Tamil rap conveys his experience as a migrating kid and the struggle of negotiating identities.
“Gemilang” – Jaclyn Victor (2004)
Who still remembers the moment when Jaclyn Victor was announced as the winner of Malaysian Idol 2004? Let’s throw it back to when “Gemilang” had such a national impact that it won multiple awards and topped all local music charts.
A soulful voice that’s able to reach our deepest emotions with an outstanding vocal control, that is Jaclyn Victory for you. Listen to other tracks by this vocal prowess such as “Ikut Rentakku” and “Beribu Sesalan”.
“童話 (Fairy Tale)” – Michael Wong (2005)
Dubbed as the “Prince of Love Songs” in Mandopop, this Ipoh-born singer and composer is widely known for his sentimental ballads on love and romance.
Michael Wong’s third studio album “Fairy Tale” is considered his greatest work. This song instantly became a hit in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia. Even now, “Fairy Tale” continues to be a local favourite for karaoke sessions.
“勇氣 (Courage)” – Fish Leong (2000)
Another celebrated artist in Mandopop is the wonderful, Fish Leong. Like many Malaysian Chinese singers, Fish debuted overseas and has gained significant popularity in China, Hongkong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and even Japan.
“Courage” was released in 2000 and became a catalyst for her success in the following years. It is a rich ballad accompanied by heart-wrenching lyrics and Fish Leong’s heavenly voice that sings of forbidden romance.
Proving his mastery, Michael Wong was also the composer for this song.
“Tamparan Wanita” – Elite (1998)
At present, the K-Pop industry may dominate the girl group category but let’s not forget that Malaysia also boasted (and still does!) a number of our very own talented groups of muses.
Formed in 1996, Elite is a prime example of Malaysian prima donnas with mesmerizing vocals and synchronized choreography. Their most famous song, “Tamparan Wanita” is an addictive pop song that serves as a serious warning to men to never underestimate the femme fatale. It’s likely impossible for you to leave this article without humming to the chorus melody.
“Cindai” – Siti Nurhaliza (1997)
How can anyone dare to leave Siti Nurhaliza out of any list on Malaysian music? Choosing a song from all of her distinguished work is like choosing what to watch for Netflix, ENDLESS.
Even so, we’ll go with the widely acclaimed “Cindai”, the song that won Audience’s Choice in AJL 1998 and the Most Popular Song in the 90s era in MACP Award 2007. “Cindai” is vintage, traditional and wonderfully projects the colourful melodies of Malay folk music and Zapin rhythm.
Beginning as a modest small-town girl with a beautiful God-given voice and the desire to sing, Siti proceeded to become one of Malaysia’s greatest icons in the music industry. She is absolutely an inspiration to many junior singers today.
Well, there you have it. Some golden not-so-oldies to freshen up your playlist. You’re welcome!
Please note that the songs are not listed in a particular order. Additionally, I would like to apologize for the limited tracks featured in this article. I acknowledge that there are plenty more superb tracks out there from our beloved Malaysian artists and I wish I could include all of them in.
Sigh. But then, we would never reach the end of this article. Instead, you can comment below with the songs you think are worth mentioning!
Written by Ilham Shedy