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Finding hits- and making things stick and happen

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

It was the first time I ever tried writing a song and it became the first solo hit for Sam Hui.

Sam had left his group the Lotus and, thinking back, though we were friends, he and Polydor, took quite a chance in recording an original by not exactly a ‘name’ songwriter instead of just settling for him releasing a cover.

What I ended up calling “April Lady”, and written for my girlfriend at the time, became a number one in Hong Kong for Sam, who was to go on to become an actor and the pioneer of what I dubbed Canto Rock when writing for Billboard.

Something not many know is that the track was released in Europe under the name “Sam Hall”.

Why? A Chinese guy singing in English wasn’t going to get much airplay.

Sam went into record two more of my originals as follow up singles- “Saddest Day” and the pretty awful “Roll Over”.

“Saddest Day”, however, remains a personal favourite. It was a breakup song about the end of my relationship with the April Lady and the emotions took a backseat to the chords I somehow came to use and the melody line they created. It features, what I think, is one of Sam’s best vocals.

I wrote a couple more songs for Sam plus a couple other local acts like the Wynners and Teddy Robin, but having joined the world of advertising, time was spent writing advertising copy and producing quite an incredible output of jingles for client McDonald’s.

This was before eventually changing careers and joining the music industry. Guess my biggest success here was persuading Danish band Michael Learns To Rock to record a hit in Mandarin for leading Chinese artist Jacky Cheung.

Called “Take Me To Your Heart”, the track became a huge karaoke hit, resulted in six million downloads and gave MLTR the impetus to embark on a very successful tour of the region.

Still with the A&R side of things, I found three tracks for Jacky’s only English album. This included co-writing the English lyrics for the hit “Corazon De Melao” and working on Jacky duetting with the great Reba McIntire.

Before this, and when with Universal Music, we were trying to persuade Boyz11Men not to leave our Motown imprint and move to Sony. The quartet wanted to record their originals and baulked at the idea of covering Motown classics with guests like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross.

This was my idea and it was too good an idea to go walkies.

My then-boss, head of International at Universal Music and great guy and friend Max Hole mentioned that Ric Astley was committed to the project.

Nothing against Ric Astley, but I recoiled in horror hearing this. I just didn’t hear him trading vocal blows with anyone at Motown except maybe for Rare Earth.

I recommended Michael McDonald whose talent was being wasted at another of our labels- MCA/Nashville. His voice was made for Motown.

“Michael McDonald Sings Motown” sold a whopping 15 million records and resurrected the recording and touring career of one of my favourite artists.

By then, I had left Universal to join EMI and lost out on making a very tidy bonus on those sales figures. Dems da breaks.

To add salt to the wound, Boyz11Men were to return to Motown and record the record I had recommended they produce a decade earlier.

It’s never late to be proven to have been right all along.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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