Friday, April 18, 2014

Three songs that last forever

In 1985, “We are the world” was made as a charity single and became an instant classic worldwide.  Inspired, Lo Ta-yu (罗大佑), probably the greatest musician ever from Taiwan, wrote “明天会更好” or “Tomorrow will be better” ( Then, in 1986 and in honor of UN’s International Year of Peace, mainland China produced “让世界充满爱” or “Let the world be filled with love” (  All three were of the same theme and format, originally recorded by dozens of singers (over 60 in the case of “明天会更好/Tomorrow will be better” and 100 for “世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love”).

I hadn’t heard the two Chinese songs since 1992 and never watched any video, at least not in any significant length, until 2014, and only watched “We are the world” on TV a couple of times in between.  I am struck by how much has (not) changed through the years.  Some of the singers are no longer with us.  Amazing how some of the big stars looked like back then.  And how much peace is desired but lacking now as then.  But just the songs for today.

世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love” is forever compared to “明天会更好/Tomorrow will be better” for good reasons.  People, while professing a love for both, would often like one better than the other, a matter of subjective tastes.  Although in fairness, this is almost like comparing Ernest Hemingway’s “A farewell to arms” to his "A very short story".  “Tomorrow will be better” and “We are the world” are typically singles, each about 5 min (depending on their versions), while “Let the world be filled with love” is 16 min, composed of three related yet distinct parts, similar to a mini-musical.

Analogy to “A farewell to arms” is apt because “世界充满爱/Let the world be filled with love” is one of the softest and sweetest songs one will ever hear.  The music flows like a smooth river on a clear day, particularly the second, arguably the best part, of the song.  The lyrics in Chinese are simple yet inspire imaginations.  On this front, “We are the world” is as plain as water, while “Tomorrow will be better” is sophisticated and loaded. 

An objection to “Let the world be filled with love” is that the transition between the three parts is not always seamless.  This is likely unavoidable since it packs three songs into one, although the over-arching aim is unmistakable.  Perhaps a more relevant question is why the composers made such a long song.  Certainly they had a lot of strong feelings.  And they learned from and would like to pay attribute to “We are the world” and to show varieties as well.  So the first two parts are crooning and the last rock and roll.  

Let the world be filled with love” was also a milestone in mainland China’s pop music history.  At the time, if the US was a senior in college, Taiwan a freshman, the mainland perhaps only in the third grade, still learning how to write, record, perform, and distribute pop music.  Thanks to “Let the world be filled with love” and others, within the next 10 years or an even shorter time, the mainland market exploded and matured quickly.  Nonetheless, “Let the world be filled with love” remains the pinnacle of pop music production in China, surpassed by none, although one may be comparing “A farewell to arms” with short stories again.   

Still, an age of innocence and hope.

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