If he was alive, September 7, 2018, would have been Danny Chan's 60th birthday. Though the legendary singer has long left us, his many hit songs remain as classic representatives of eighties Hong Kong music and Cantopop ballads. To commemorate Danny's 60th birthday, Universal Music launched a special project that included a memorial concert and the tribute album The World Sings Danny Chan
produced by veteran Alan Tsui.
The album begins with Alan Tam's version of "Cherish Today" (Track 1) and the classic encouraging line of "Put down your worries / Please cherish today." The original song is probably the best example of how Danny's music blended traditional "xiao diao" melody with a modernized pop sound. As this is one of my favorite Danny Chan songs and I love the original arrangement, I was less than impressed with Principal Tam's version on the first listen. Opening with the first line of the chorus is a nice touch, but his strange pitch on "cherish" sounds distracting. The song continues to distract with prominent electronic beats and a very congested backdrop of synth and background vocals, all of which do not match with Alan's singing style. In general, his vocals are not at his best this time, especially on the verses where his singing is oddly airy to adjust to the groovy tempo of the arrangement. The song improves exponentially on the second listen once the confusion about the choice of arrangement subsides, though it still remains one of the weaker tracks of the album.
Kenny Bee's remake of "What One Wants in Life" (Track 2) was the song I looked forward to the most, and his husky voice does indeed bring a different feeling to this pensive song reflecting on life's pursuits and regrets. I'm slightly on the fence about the film score-like arrangement, which is elegant but sounds Disneyesque at some points. Otherwise, the song's calm atmosphere and Kenny Bee's interpretation are stirringly subtle and appropriate for 30 years later. Danny was 30 when he released this song, and his version carried the melancholy of disillusion, struggle and being lost in the fog of an unfulfilled life. Kenny Bee's version at age 65 carries the age, experience and clarity of looking back on the ups, downs and losses of life. The song feels especially meaningful knowing that Kenny Bee went through a lot of tumult in his own personal life and that Danny was his close family friend. It is regretful that we can never hear Danny Chan's version of this song at age 60.
Lowell Lo's "Breakthrough" (Track 3), Priscilla Chan's "Just Like You" (Track 4) and Shirley Kwan's "Ripples" (Track 7) all have familiar yet different vibes to the original songs due to the singers' strong individual vocal styles. Lowell's "Breakthrough" retains the 80s-style light city pop rhythm and brass instrumentation of the original, offering a jazzier update of the song in his unique voice. Shirley's remake of "Ripples," one of Danny's most famous compositions, is fairly straightforward as she keeps the song almost as clean and simple as the original. Besides the more pronounced beats and instrumentation during the climax, the song mostly opts for gentle piano and strings while emphasizing her signature high and airy voice.
Priscilla, who like Danny has a voice perfect for modernized xiao diao, makes "Just Like You" her own. Especially when the song hits the chorus, it really sounds like this could be a release in her nineties discography. The folk melody melds well with the wispy synth sounds and the traditional flute section.
Two of the album's more dramatic and successful covers are William So's "From Now On" (Track 5) and Prudence Liew's "La Vie en Rose" (Track 6), both songs that are a bit atypical of Danny's style to begin with. While he was known for melancholy, "From Now On" had a darker and more despondent sound and tone that differed from most of his songs. William's cover embraces the late 80s/early 90s-style arrangement and further amplifies the anguish and drama. He handles the difficult near-monotonic low notes of the verses very well.
"La Vie en Rose" was also a rarity in Danny's discography at the time of release: a playful, uptempo dance song. Prudence's version builds from a slow-tempo fairy tale princess song to a joyous fast-tempo musical-like atmosphere. There are some places where I wish her voice could be fuller and freer, but otherwise it's a very fun and different take on the song.
The three younger singers whose music careers did not overlap with Danny's – Eason Chan, Gigi Leung and Miriam Yeung – mostly play it safe with their covers. Gigi's "Love Preview" (Track 9) is a straightforward ballad with a serviceable but generic pop arrangement. Miriam's "Person in My Dream" (Track 10) appealingly embellishes the bossa nova rhythm but her singing stays in the realm of mainstream ballad without the dreamy quality of the original.
Eason's cover of "Deeply Love You" (Track 8) is the most similar in sound to the original out of all the songs on the album, and it proves to be a highlight on the strength of his effortless interpretation and comfortable vocals. In the song's making-of interview posted on Universal Music's YouTube channel, Eason revealed that he tried recording a different version of the song but eventually insisted on keeping the arrangement close to the original because it felt the most appropriate. Indeed, this is the version of "Deeply Love You" we most want to hear from Eason, and the song's lyrics now feel like a message to Danny: "Miss you in my heart, missing you now, missing yesterday's you / Missing you, missing you, remembering with teary eyes."
George Lam and Sally Yeh's contributions close the album as bonus tracks. Ah Lam's "With You" (Track 11) and Sally's "Draw a Rainbow" (Track 13) both wonderfully play to their individual strengths. Much like with Kenny Bee's "What One Wants in Life," the grizzled strength and solemnity of Ah Lam's "With You" offers a different flavor than the soft romanticism of Danny's sweet and relaxed original. Meanwhile, Sally's cover of "Draw a Rainbow" just sounds great because of her beautiful voice. Their duet version of "Strong Wind" (Track 12), however, would have been better off as just a Sally solo. She very much suits the song's silky fast tempo and Latin arrangement but Ah Lam's abrupt vocals clash too much with the song's vibe, especially on his solo verse.
With tribute albums, it's hard to shake the feeling that the original is the best. That feeling certain applies here, but The World Sings Danny Chan more importantly evokes feelings of remembrance, appreciation and rediscovery. Besides rediscovering the classic songs through new interpretations, the album gave me reason to lose myself in Danny's discography again and rediscover his melancholic voice, natural groove and unassuming artistry. Though some of the remakes are hit or miss, the album as a whole, performed mostly by peers who knew him personally, serves as a moving and meaningful tribute to the one and only Danny Chan.