It was hard to only pick eight songs from the 90s heyday of Cantopop, but here are our absolute favourite classic Cantonese songs for ya!
As a city, Hong Kong is alive with creativity. From legendary horror flicks of the 90s, to contemporary bands like Lil’ Ashes and My Little Airport – you don’t have to look hard for something entertaining. For nostalgia’s sake (and some extra knowledge for those less familiar with Hong Kong culture), we’re naming our absolute favourite classic Cantonese songs. So, start playing this playlist and buckle up as we take a trip down the memory lane together!
Our favourite classic Cantonese songs
1. Sky – Beyond (1993)
Written by Beyond’s lead vocalist and founder, Wong Ka Kui, in celebration of the band’s tenth anniversary, “Sky” (海闊天空) speaks of achieving one’s dreams against all odds. With the untimely death of Wong in 1993, “Sky” has become a particularly poignant song due to its message of strength and resilience. Even today, Wong’s legacy lives on in the hearts of the fans of Beyond, and “Sky” remains one of the best classic Cantonese songs of all time.
If you like rock music, make sure to check out Beyond’s other works, such as “Glorious Years” (光輝歲月).
2. Chase – Leslie Cheung (1995)
In a somewhat similar vein to “Sky”, “Chase” is also about pursuing dreams. But this time, the focus is more on a particular person – a dream lover, perhaps – and the feeling of emptiness without them, even if one has already achieved success in other areas in life. Again, this is a song loaded with meaning, especially considering the tragic death of Leslie Cheung in 2003. Regarded as one of the top LGBTQ+ icons in Asia, Cheung is still greatly missed and revered today.
Cheung had made incredible contributions to film and music in Hong Kong during his lifetime. If you’d like to appreciate more of his work, feel free to give “Silence is Golden” (沉默是金) and “The Wind Blows On” (風繼續吹) a listen.
3. Promise – Faye Wong (1997)
“Promise” (約定) is one of Faye Wong’s most popular songs. This queen of Cantopop is famous for her mellow, soulful voice, and her uniquely wistful tone – and “Promise” is the perfect song to showcase exactly that. The song is a confession of one’s enduring love, and the lyrics exude a sense of innocence and romantic optimism.
If you’ve fallen for Wong’s voice (we all have!), listen to “Vulnerable Woman” (容易受傷的女人) and “Love Letter to Oneself” (給自己的情書). Both are also classic Cantonese songs we love!
4. Red Sun – Hacken Lee (1992)
Have the three songs so far been a little too sad for you? Get ready then for Hacken Lee’s “Red Sun” (紅日), a must-sing in the karaoke room. Whether you need a boost of positive energy, or a tune to dance to, “Red Sun” is a classic Cantonese song you should add to your playlist. Its lyrics comfort those who find themselves in difficult times, and remind them that they’re not alone. Although the words may go a little fast for Canto beginners, we think it’s the perfect mood-lifter and a great song to sing along to!
We believe Lee is one of the few singers that’s managed to keep his voice as good as gold over the years, so make sure you check out his other songs too. We love ballads like “Half Moon Serenade” (月半小夜曲), as well as groovier ones like “Blue Moon” (藍月亮).
5. Can’t Let Go – Sammi Cheng (1995)
While the younger folks may be more familiar with Sammi Cheng’s works in the 2000s (Love on a Diet, anyone?), “Can’t Let Go” (捨不得你) is one of her most cherished songs from the mid-90s. Cheng is renowned for her powerful, emotive voice, and her uniquely passionate delivery in “Can’t Let Go” is a prime example of these characteristics. The song is a poignant portrayal of one’s struggle to move on from deep love, and the lyrics convey a sense of longing and heartfelt emotion.
If you’ve been moved by Cheng’s voice (and who wouldn’t be!), be sure to listen to “Chotto” (等等), which is also a timeless Cantonese song that’s adored by fans.
6. Every Day I Love You More – Jacky Cheung (1991)
“Every Day I Love You More” (每天愛你多一些) stands as an iconic masterpiece in the repertoire of the revered Cantopop legend, Jacky Cheung. His vocals, both potent and moving, breathe life into this enduring ballad of affection. The song represents a declaration of escalating love, with lyrics that are steeped in sincerity and a promise of ever-growing devotion.
If Cheung’s mesmerising vocals have drawn you in, you’d certainly enjoy “Love is Eternal” (愛是永恆). This classic track further illuminates Cheung’s vibrant vocal prowess and his capacity to convey profound emotions.
7. Unforgettable Samba Dance – Grasshopper (1991)
Who’s up some samba? “Unforgettable Samba Dance” (忘情森巴舞) by the renowned trio Grasshopper is a lively tune that embodies the band’s joyful spirit and unique music style that has captivated audiences for decades. This song, through its infectious rhythm and evocative lyrics, encapsulates the essence of letting go and embracing the rhythm of life, much like a passionate samba dance. Despite the ebb and flow of pop music trends, this track continues to resonate with many to this day.
Grasshopper’s enduring presence in the music industry is a testament to their talent and adaptability. If you appreciate their energetic and engaging style, be sure to explore their other hits, such as “Loving You” (愛情萬歲).
8. Loving is Difficult – Anita Mui & Jacky Cheung (2002)
Okay, “Loving was Difficult” (相愛很難) was released a tad after the 90s, but hear us out – the song is simply too legendary of a collaboration to not include on this list. Both Anita Mui and Jacky Cheung have been considered to be top Cantopop stars in the 80s and 90s. Even after Mui passed away in 2003, her powerful image and captivating life story have continued to influence the industry. One of Mui’s final works, “Loving was Difficult” is a candid revelation of the challenges in a relationship, such as insecurity, differences in expectations, anxieties about the future together, and more.
If you want to listen to songs by this pair individually, we’d recommend “Years Like Water” (似水流年) by Mui and “Li Xiang Lan” (李香蘭) by Cheung. That said, there are still tonnes of classic Cantonese songs worth listening to, so go ahead and explore!
[This article was originally published in August 2022 and updated in 2023 by Catherine Pun.]