Yao Su Rong (“姚蘇蓉“) is a Taiwanese singer and actress born on this day, 5 December, in 1946. Today she’s still best-known for her 1969 hit recording of “今天不回家” (“Today I Won’t Come Home”), the title track of a film of the same name. Her career was cut short at its peak by Kuomintang (KMT) authorities who revoked her license to entertain. Soon after she left to enjoy success in Hong Kong, and then Singapore (where she lives today).
Under the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945), enka or, more broadly, ryūkōka was introduced to Tawain and with it, strains of western music like mambo, jazz, and country — albeit filtered through a Japanese sensibility. Many Taiwanese singers found pursued careers as enka singers in Japan. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, Taiwan became part of the Republic of China (ROC) — then engaged in a civil war with the Communist Party of China. After the defeat of the ROC, the KMT retreated to the island in 1949 and established a brutal, US-backed dictatorship. Under KMT rule, native Taiwanese culture was suppressed and Mandarin was promoted as the official language.
It took time for Mandarin-language pop to find favor with a mainstream Taiwanese. Along with artists like 謝雷 (Xie Lei) and his band, Lucky Trio, Yao began making inroads with music which drew upon enka, shidaiqu, and newer western sounds like beat and soul. Yao’s first records were released by Large World Records, a local Taiwanese label that primarily catered to American and Australian soldiers serving at military bases in Taiwan. Before Yao recorded for the label, they primarily released music by American and British artists like The Beatles, Skeeter Davis, The Supremes, and The Seeds (amongst others).
In 1967, Yao moved to Haishan Records. Like Large World, their early releases had been Taiwanese pressings of western releases, in the case of Haishan, releases by the likes of Dusty Springfield, Eddy Arnold, and Hank Williams (among others). By the second half of the 1960s, Haishan had begun releasing music by Hong Konger’s like 華怡保 (Ruby Wah) and 仙杜拉 (Sandra Lang), as well as Taiwanese acts like 于旋 (Yu Xuan) and The Phenix Sisters.
Yao’s first record at Haishan was composed by 李潔心 (Li Jie Xin), arranged by 林家慶 (Lin Jia Qing), but her collaborators over the next few years would be many — a fact which no doubt accounts for the stylistic variety of her large body of work. Some songs have cinematic, quasi-western strings and brass, others lean towards organ-driven rhythm & blues. All of it has the same sort of melodic, psychedelic funkiness that characterizes so much East Asian pop from that era — regardless of whether from Singapore, Korea, Japan, or elsewhere.
Yao sang in a clear, passionate voice that — along with her penchant for her misty-eyed performances — earned her the nickname, “the Queen of Tears.” One of her hits was a Mandarin-language cover of the Japanese song, “負心的人” (“Cruel-Hearted Lover”). Not everyone was a fan, however, and the nation’s long-misruling dictator, Chiang Kai-shek, did not approve of weeping popstars or the danger of sentimental ballads inflaming the passion of his subjects. More than 80 of Yao’s songs were thus banned.
In 1968, she released the first of two albums backed by Li Sheng Yang‘s band, The Telstar Combo. In 1969, she released the first of several collaborations with the aforementioned Taiwanese singer, 謝雷 (Xie Lei). On 18 August 1969, Yao performed for an audience in Kaohsiung. They cried out for requests, in particular, “今天不回家.” Yao initially apologized and refused, as the song was amongst those banned by the authorities. Eventually, however, she gave in. Authorities at the performance were not amused. Yao refused to provide a playlist or issue an apology and so her license to perform was revoked. Afterward, she moved to Hong Kong.
In 1970, Yao began recording for a Hong Kong label, 樂風. There, and that year, she released her first of several collaborations with various others, including 陳寶玲 (Chen Bao Ling), 與 蒋光超 (Jiang Guang Chao), 藍夢 (Lan Meng), 趙曉君 (Lily Chao), 青山 (Qing Shan), 奚秀蘭 (Stella Chee), 魏平澳 (Wei Ping Ao), 楊燕 (Yang Yan), and 張帝 (Zhang Di). Sorting out her discography is rather difficult due to its size, the multitude of re-releases, and my extremely remedial grasp of Chinese. I have, nevertheless, attempted to compile a fairly inclusive discography here of studio albums (although some are no doubt compilations and at least one, although attributed to Yao, features a handful of tracks sung by multiple artists).
- 1966 – Oh Summer Wine 夢裡情侶 / 阿哥哥( 第二集 ) (Large World)
- 1966 – A Go Go 阿哥哥 (Large World)
- Yao Su Yong’s Highlight / A Go Go (Haishan Records)
- 1967 – 負心的人 (Haishan Records)
- 1968 – 偷心的人 / Yao Su Yong’s & The Telstar Combo (Haishan Records)
- 1968 – 臨別的一笑 + 關達拉美娜 (Haishan Records)
- 1968 – 聽我細訴 (Haishan Records)
- 1969 – 今天不回家 / Yao Su Yong’s & The Telstar Combo (Haishan Records)
- 1969 – 跟你一起走 (孔雀唱片)
- 1969 – [with 謝雷 (Xie Lei)] 安平回想曲 (Haishan Records)
- 1969 – 紫丁香 (Haishan Records)
- 1970 – 歌曲精選 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 謝雷 (Xie Lei)] 恨你入骨 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 與 蒋光超 (Jiang Guang Chao)] 鳳還巢 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 與 蒋光超 (Jiang Guang Chao)] 小翠 / 雲翠仙 (Haishan Records)
- 1970 – 姚蘇蓉之歌 / 瘋靡港台星馬登台精選歌集 (Cartoon Record)
- 1970 – 電影明星”姚蘇蓉”歌曲精選 / Movie-Star “Yao Su Yong” Sings (樂風)
- 1970 – 夢的世界 (樂風)
- 1970 – 金唱片歌集 (樂風)
- 1970 – 夢的祈禱 (Haishan Records)
- 1970 – 像霧又像花 (樂風)
- 1970 – 家在台北 (Haishan Records)
- 1970 – 七部最新電影插曲精選 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 謝雷 (Xie Lei)] 不要拋棄我! (樂風)
- 1970 – 我要結婚 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 青山 (Qing Shan)] 金唱片歌集 (樂風)
- 1970 – 心聲淚痕 (Yu Shan Record)
- 1970 – 妳我她 (雄獅唱片)
- 1970 – 那是什麼聲音 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 謝雷 (Xie Lei), 趙曉君 (Lily Chao), and 楊燕 (Yang Yan)] 結婚好不好 / 有男懷春 (樂風)
- 1970 – [with 青山 (Qing Shan)] 郎變了 (Leico Record)
- 1970 – 電影明星”姚蘇蓉”歌曲精選 / Movie-Star “Yao Su Yong” Sings (樂風)
- 1970 – 郎變了 (樂風)
- 1970 – 本年度最佳八部電影原聲帶 (Ligo)
- 1970 – 巡回东南亚演唱名曲专集 (一寸相思一寸泪) (Haishan Records)
- 1970 – 精選歌曲十八首 (樂風)
- 1970 – 歌王歌后 (Haishan Records)
- 1970 – 當你離家時 (樂風)
- 1970 – 爸爸 ! 嫣嫣 ! (Yu Shan Record)
- 1970 – 最長的約會 (樂風)
- 1970 – 我等你回來 I Am Waiting For You (藝風)
- 1971 – 偷偷愛你 (Haishan Records)
- 1971 – 想起你的時候 (萬福牌)
- 1971 – [with 張帝 (Zhang Di)] 張帝找阿珠 (樂風)
- 1971 – Love Is Forever 不變的情 (Crown Records)
- 1971 – [with 魏平澳 (Wei Ping Ao), 藍夢 (Lan Meng), 奚秀蘭 (Stella Chee), 韋邦 (Wei Bang), and 陳寶玲 (Chen Bao Ling)] 最新三部電影插曲 “昨夜夢魂中”, “湄南河之歌” & “情人的秘密” (樂風)
- 1970 – 心聲淚痕 / 咪咪貓 (四海唱片)
- 1971 – 女人的命運 / 我不要離婚 (Haishan Records)
- 1971 – 太太回娘家 (Haishan Records)
- 1971 – 出賣愛情的人 / 藍與黑 (Haishan Records)
- 1971 – 行行出狀元 (Haishan Records)
- 1971 – 單身女郎 (Haishan Records)
- 1973 – 我不能再想你 / 你的電話又來到 (大聯機構 Great Union Organisation)
- 1973 – 默默盼歸期 (大聯機構 Great Union Organisation)
- 1973 – 想起你的時後 (Haishan Records)
- 1973 – 我求你騙我騙到底 (大聯機構 Great Union Organisation)
- 1973 – 風雲鼓手 (Haishan Records)
- 1973 – 你就這樣走了 / 白雲飄向誰 / 徘徊十字路 (Haishan Records)
- 1975 – 告訴我為什麼 / 一份埋藏的心意 (Haishan Records)
- 1977 – 再來的希望 愛的路上千萬裡 (大聯機構 Great Union Organisation)
- 1977 – [accompanied by The Stylers] 孟麗君 / 滿庭芳 (Prinstar Records)
- 1978 – [with 蒋光超 (Jiang Guang Chao)] 雙喜臨門 (Uniart Amusement Enterprise)
Yao’s first album for a Singaporean label was released in 1973, and it’s around that time that she may’ve settled there. Most of her work after that was released on Singaporean labels (including a collaboration with the great Singaporean band, The Stylers, who often backed the great Lisa Wong (麗莎) and Lena Lim (林竹君)).
His Excellency Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, ushering in a period of democratic reform which culminated in the 1987 end of the White Terror — the then-longest period of martial law in world history (since surpassed by Syria). Today, Taiwan is easily among the most progressive and nations in Asia. Although Yao’s last album seems to have been released in 1978, she was still regularly performing live as late as 1980 — albeit never in Taiwan. In 1996, 今天不回家 was remade by Taiwanese director, Sylvia Chang. Yao’s recording of the title song was again featured. In 1998, the organizers of the Golden Horse Film Festival invited Yao to return to the island to perform. Yao declined. In 2007, the Jay Chou (周杰倫) film, 不能說的·秘密 (Secret), used another vintage Yao song, “情人的眼泪” (Lovers’ Tears). Apparently, Yao only became aware of this when informed by a relative in Chengdu whom she was visiting at the time of the film’s release.
Wherever you are, 姚蘇蓉, here’s wishing you a happy birthday!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
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