Five Obscure Foreign Songs That Became Strangely Popular in the Philippines in the ’80s and ’90s

Music is something everyone can enjoy. However, because of culture and other elements, some songs can become incredibly popular in one part of the world but would be called noise pollution in another. This is definitely true for the Philippines, where I live. I grew up during a time when radio stations would blare out incredibly popular songs from all over the world. Okay, this is partially true because some foreign songs that became smash hits in the country never became popular anywhere else. This is especially true for the time period of the ’80s and the ’90s for one reason or another.

With that in mind, here are just five (oh yes, there are more) songs that became hugely successful in the Philippines…

1) “Life Dance” by Sonia Belolo (1985)

One of the first songs I figured out to play on the piano… and I never took a single music lesson. I’m so proud of myself.

Although this little ditty is incredibly simple, Life Dance by Sonia Belolo became one of the songs you couldn’t get away from in the Philippines as it was everywhere! Life Dance is a mind numbingly repetitive and fun tune to listen to and kind of encapsulated the feeling of the time period. It’s a straightforward disco song with very little variation to the overall composition. And, in all honesty, I didn’t mind. There’s a kind of happy vibe to it that music today definitely lacks.

2) “More to Lose” by Seona Dancing (1983)

Did you know that comedian Ricky Gervais could’ve been a big pop star in the Philippines? Well, neither did anyone! But his song More to Lose was a enormous hit in the Philippines when it was released way back in 1983!

This is one of those “only in the Philippines” stories as, from what I’ve researched for this piece, More to Lose didn’t set the chart afire anywhere else but in the Philippines. The duo soon disbanded just after a year. This may have been for the best as the duo’s vocalist, Ricky Gervais, soon turned his attention to comedy. If Seona Dancing caught fire, we wouldn’t have had fantastic shows like The Office. It is still incredibly strange that the pretty boy doing the vocals for More to Lose became the pudgy comedian, huh?

3) “Angelina” by P.S.Y. (sometime in the ’90s)

Apparently, there was another PSY that became big in the Philippines way back in the ’90s.

Angelina was an incredibly odd song to become super popular in the Philippines. For one, it wasn’t in English so only French speaking people could understand it. Which meant virtually no one in the Philippines understood what PSY was crooning about. Second, the band never became popular and, since there is incredibly little online about the trio of Peter, Stephen and Yassine (hence, the group’s name), I can’t really say if they made a follow up song.

I guess there were a few reasons why Angelina appealed to the Philippine audience, though. The song is pretty smooth. And Filipinos definitely love smooth songs like this. I also don’t think Filipinos care all that much about the lyrics, especially since K-Pop is incredibly popular here now and most of us don’t understand Korean. But I’ll bet the biggest reason is because Angelina was parodied multiple times as we substituted the lyrics with our own “dirty” version that includes Angelina’s unwashed nether regions. True story.

4) “(Dying Inside) To Hold You” by Timmy Thomas (1993)

Sometimes, you can have a long career and only have one real big smash hit. For Timmy Thomas, that song was Why Can’t We Live Together. The song was even sampled by Drake for Hotline Bling. That song never became popular in the Philippines as far as I know. His last single, (Dying Inside) To Hold You, did.

This is another song that was insanely popular in the country and it’s actually easy to see why. (Dying Inside) To Hold You is one of those easy listening songs that you can kind of dance to. It’s got a fun beat you can tap your foot to. The mixture of classical instruments, like the saxophone and the piano, rounds out the musical accompaniment nicely. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Timmy Thomas’ voice is pretty damn good. There’s almost an ethereal kind of quality to it. Okay, the lyrics are definitely cheesy but it kind of helps it keep it fun. (Dying Inside) To Hold You does deserve better than just being Timmy Thomas’ last single; it deserves to have been a hit all over the world.

5) “Knife” by Rockwell (1984)

Hahahahahahahahahaha!

This was a huge hit in the Philippines and is still even being played on some AM and FM radio stations to this day! People here just love this song for some strange reason. But, even as a kid, I knew this was a silly and dumb song. I wasn’t even ten years old and I knew how lazy Rockwell was when it came to writing the lyrics for this song. You know how lazy? The refrain says that a knife “cuts like a knife.” Of course it does, Rockwell! It’s a knife! 

Oh, and the singing! Rockwell goes over the top in trying to convey sadness and pain in the song and goes incredibly overboard in the process. Yet, at the same time, the performance is incredibly flat and lifeless. It’s amazing how it sounds both cartoony and serious at the same time, actually.

BONUS: “I’ve Been Waiting for You” by Guys Next Door (1990)

There might actually be a hardcore Guys Next Door and this song actually almost broke the Billboard Top 40 at its time because of the short lived show featuring this “boy band.” So, I’m not sure how big a hit I’ve Been Waiting For You is. However, their show was never aired in the Philippines! Which makes it doubly amazing that this song even became a hit here!

It’s fun writing these articles up because I’ve learned all sorts of things that I didn’t before. I had no idea that the Guys Next Door were a sort of parody of the New Kids on The Block; I actually thought they were a “serious” group out to capitalize on the recent string of boy bands that were coming out. I definitely didn’t know they had their own Saturday morning sketch show during the ’90s. Now that I know that, I can figure out why I’ve Been Waiting for You was the only song that was released here. They weren’t supposed to be a mainstream/serious act to begin with.

Any foreign songs from your home country that became popular there but no where else? Put them in the comments below!

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