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The Godfather of Chinese Pop | Chen Chih-yuan

  • Date:2021-04-08
The Godfather of Chinese Pop | Chen Chih-yuan

Name: 陳志遠
Date of Birth: 1950
Date of Death: 2011
Place of Birth: Taipei, Taiwan
Did You Know That...?
During his lifetime, Chen Chih-yuan (陳志遠) wrote and arranged more than 2,000 songs that changed the face of the Chinese music industry, and his music accompanied a generation of people through their youth. Recognized as a guru in the music industry, Chen was known as "The Master Music Arranger" and "The Godfather of Pop," among other things. To his friends, though, he was jokingly referred to as "Dr. Music Freak."

Chen was part of a generation known for "campus folk music." He showed a talent for music in his early teens, and during his school years, he worked part-time in arrangement, becoming determined to dedicate himself to the field of music. During that time, almost all the arrangements of Taiwanese folk songs were by Chen, who became Taiwan's first musician to be both composer and arranger in one. In his late teens, he met singer Julie Sue and decided to join her band as their keyboardist, playing during her residency at the Imperial Hotel.

In 1976, Chen was part of the campus folk album "Modern Chinese Folk Songs 2 (中國現代民歌2)," the first time he was involved with the arrangement of an album. The following year, he took part in arranging the Golden Rhyme Awards series of campus folk albums, working on arrangements of a number of classics, elevating them with arrangements rich in musicality, artistry, and vitality. A particular standout among these is the 1980 song "Descendants of the Dragon (龍的傳人)."

The campus folk era was characterized mainly by relatively stripped-down songs, with amateur musicians singing as they played guitar. Because of Chen's capacity as an arranger, he was able to give these songs a facelift, taking songs by artists that originally lacked musical roots and bulking them up. His arrangements were able to enrich the colors of the songs while remaining faithful to their refreshing essence. Although he contributed much to campus folk, arrangers were unfortunately not given much credit back then, and few were credited with albums or songs. Most people recognized the singers, but only a few knew the important contributions arrangers made behind the scenes.

In addition, before Chen entered the industry, most record companies ignored the musical and rhythmic elements, believing that a song was only as good as the main vocals, and even the backing vocals could be ignored. Chen's appearance on the scene changed everything for the Chinese-language music industry. He brought his own perspective, a belief that it was the rhythm that was the soul of a song. Since then, the Chinese music industry has emphasized the use of instrumental melodies in music while encouraging originality rather than just copying old folk tunes.

In 1978, Chen Chih-yuan worked with Fong Fei-fei on the single "Chrysanthemum (菊花)" from her album "A Love Seed (一顆紅豆)." This marked the beginning of his forays into the world of arrangement and production for pop music. In 1985, he joined with friends Vincent Liang, Chen Fuming, Tako Niu, and Cao Junhong to found Coden Records, which would go on to become one of the big three record companies of the 1980s in Taiwan. He also served as musical director for UFO Records and Forward Music. With his personal style of arrangement, Chen was able to quickly make each song a pop hit at the time that would become a classic in the future. Chen helped a number of singers hit the top of the charts singing his work, including Julie Sue (蘇芮), Dave Wong (王傑), Chang Yu-sheng (張雨生), and the Little Tigers (小虎隊).

Among his thousands of songs, Chen's most iconic works include Fei Yu-ching's (費玉清) "A Sprig of Plum (一剪梅)," Ouyang Fei Fei's (歐陽菲菲) "A Grateful Heart (感恩的心)," Julie Sue's "Follow the Feeling (跟著感覺走)," Dave Wong's "Do I Really Have Nothing (是否我真的一無所有)," the Little Tigers' "Escape (逍遙遊)," Chang Yu-sheng's "Miss You Every Day (天天想你)," Sandy Lam's (林憶蓮) "In Love with Someone who Can't Go Home (愛上一個不回家的人)," and A-mei Chang's (張惠妹) "The One I Love Most Cuts Me the Deepest (最愛的人傷我最深)." Chen also proved to have a discerning eye for uncovering talent. A-mei Chang, today one of the queens of Taiwan's pop music scene, was initially discovered by him.

Even when he made public appearances, Chen generally declined interviews and photographs. When he had to be on album covers, he did so in sunglasses and a hat, striving to maintain his privacy. Over the years, Chen's accomplishments earned him many plaudits in Taiwan's music industry. In 1983, his work on the film "Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing (搭錯車)" earned him the Golden Horse Award for Best Original Music, while the song "Forever Blue Sky (天天天藍)" saw him walk away with the Best Music Arrangement award at the Golden Tripod Awards.

The following year, he was once again honored by the Golden Horse Awards, this time with the Best Film Score for "The Last Night of Madam Chin (金大班的最後一夜)." In 2003, he won the Golden Melody Award for Best Arrangement, and in 2008, the Golden Melody Awards honored Chen with a Special Contribution Award. While he enjoyed a long period of fame in the industry, Chen Chih-yuan was always low-key, rarely making appearances on TV or in the media.

Chen's love for music never diminished, even after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer after a routine health check in 2004. Despite the diagnosis, he remained driven, continuing to make music even as he fought the specter of disease. From his sickbed, he insisted on completing the song "If One Day I’m Not Here, This Tree Will Be (�%8