Alan Tam has literally done it all. In over 40 years in showbiz, he has released over 115 albums, holds the record for the most number of solo concerts by a Hong Kong singer, has acted in numerous films and is revered as an artiste not just in Hong Kong, but throughout Asia.
So, it was quite a surprise to find out that his new Mandarin album of duets, Xin Sang (Admire in Mandarin), is the first time Tam is singing with the likes of Eason Chan, Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung.
"I've really never sung a song with them all this time!" the 66-year-old artiste proclaimed during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently. "I wrote a song for Andy once, but we've never sung a duet before. Same with Jacky and Eason."
According to the Cantopop legend, the main reason for this is because the artistes have always been on different record labels, and there were just too many problems with negotiating the contracts.
"There have been so many artistes who have wanted to work with me all these years, but because of circumstances like different record companies and management, it wasn't so easy to arrange," he explained.
While he reckons the artistes themselves usually don't care, their company and management are a different matter.
"They would want to look out for their artistes, to know how big his or her part is, and whether it is the lead singer role or not." So, Tam said, getting that balance right is very tricky for an album like Xin Sang, which took him three years to complete.
Fortunately, all the negotiations went well this time and the only problem he faced was working out the schedules.
"I am close friends with many of them, and I actually called them personally to ask if they wanted to sing with me," he offered.
Tam said that it has always been one of his dreams to record an album of duets with some of the artistes he admires.
Besides the aforementioned singers, Tam also sings with China's Tan Weiwei and Sun Nan; Taiwan's Mayday, A-Lin and Della Ding; Singaporean Kit Chan; and even Malaysian-born singer Gin Lee.
The part he enjoyed the most about recording the album was the creative process he shared with each artiste.
"It may be time-consuming, and takes a lot of effort, but it is also the most joyful part for me. We had fun on every song, and the result is an album that not many people would have been able to make," he mused.
Tam cited Tan as one of the more challenging singers he worked with because of her powerful and dynamic voice.
Tam also said that the most important part of a duet is the feeling of sincerity between the two singers.
"I always study the other singer first to see how he or she sings, what their style is like, and how we can bring the duet to a higher level," he said, adding that he prefers not to impose his own singing style onto the other artiste.
"This is not just an Alan Tam album. It is a duets album. I can't have them following my style all the time. I have to respect them as well. But throughout the album, no matter if it is a fast or slow song, you will hear the same groove - my groove - which keeps it consistent."
But what exactly is the "Alan Tam style" of music? Tam himself isn't too sure, saying that his music has evolved throughout his career.
"Back in the early days with Wynners, we had long hair and played heavy rock songs and covers in bars! We then moved on to more middle-of-the-road rock ballads," he recalled.
"When I went solo (in 1979), it was disco music initially, then came the sentimental ballads.
It was then that I got a big hit (in 1981) called Mong Pat Liu Nei (Can't Forget You). After that, people saw me as a singer of love ballads.
"Later, I started writing my own songs, got into New Wave music, then had more collaborations with singers like Hacken Lee and Teresa Carpio … So, you see, I've always been changing my musical style."
Now that he has done his dream duets album, what else is there for him to do then?
"Probably the only one I've never done before is become a director. I used to want to do that, but not anymore, because it just takes up too much time.
"But seriously? I don't know what to do anymore! I've already done everything!" he said with a laugh.