I had the good fortune to spend a week in Seoul, South Korea, this past February. The weather was hazy and cold almost every day and the pollution hung in the air like a bad Beijing day, but I still thought the city was pretty cool. It was much bigger than I imagined and it takes you hours to get anywhere.. my meetings seemed to always be at opposite ends of the city.
I could go on and on about how great Korean food is, but I’ll let Louise handle that. Let’s focus on some music.
I have to admit that I’ve had a hard time penetrating the K-Pop scene to find some truly good contemporary Korean music. There were whispers and clips of good Seoul-based hip-hop and reggae but language barriers and time didn’t allow me to follow-up.
Luckily, it turns out that South Korea had a very active – and good – psychedelic folk and rock scene in the late 1960s through to the mid-80s. Why? Three words: United States Army.
It’s interesting how much the military has contributed to music all over Africa and Asia in the 20th century. Colonial-era soldiers and sailors from Europe stationed at ports throughout West and Central Africa swapped music, instruments and ideas with African musicians which eventually led to an explosion of soul, rock and folk as well as home-grown hybrid styles. Similarly, Korean musicians quickly stepped in to fill an entertainment void for American GIs stationed in post-war Korea during the 50s and 60s.
By the middle of the 1960s people like Shin Jung-Hyun, Korea’s “Godfather of Rock”, moved from Army concert halls to recording studios so that their music could reach a growing local audience. Jung-Hyun (also written Jeong-Hyun, also written Jung-Hyeon) produced or was at least partly responsible for much of the music you’ll hear on today’s post, so it’s appropriate that we start with a track from his first band to press an LP, Add4, released in 1964.
Next we’ll listen to his 1969 release featuring Lee Jung Hwa on the mic. This is where we start to get into the Korean psych-rock vibe; the track is an epic 16+ minute psychedelic ballad complete with multiple instrument solos. Unfortunately the recording isn’t great but I love the song.
Moving on, we’ll hear a couple tracks off Kim Jung-Mi’s 1973 album, Now, and one from her 1973 release, Wind. She’s probably my favourite of the bunch, but I don’t know much about her except that she was also under Shin Jung-Hyun’s sphere of influence.
Next up the popular Korean rock group, San Ul Rim (The Mountain Echo). We’ll listen to a track from each of their first three albums. First, the title track from their first album, released in 1977. Next an acoustic joint from their second album, the aptly named “Laying Carpet On My Mind” from 1978. Last a track from their second ’78 release, My Heart.
We’ll now move back to the 60s and early 70s for some Beatlemania à-la-Korea in the form of The Keyboys and two later spin-offs, He5 and He6. Fun and poppy in that 1969 way.. lots of male vocal harmonies and organ use. One day I’m going to make a cop film set in Seoul 1971 and I’ll have the perfect soundtrack. Or maybe the film could take place in both Seoul and Rome…
Following that awesome version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida it’s only appropriate that we finish off with another cover by The Pearl Sisters.
You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history of 20th century Korean rock and folk, as I did, at this amazing site: http://koreanpsych.homestead.com/.
That was fun… next stop, Hong Kong.
Shin Jung-Hyun & Add4 – 소야 어서 가자 (Cattle, let’s go soon)
Shin Jung Hyun & The Donkeys feat. Lee Jung Hwa – Mah-Eum
Kim Jung-Mi – Toward The Sunlight
Kim Jung-Mi – Wind In The Trees
Kim Jung-Mi – 불어라 봄바람
San Ul Lim – Oh, Already
San Ul Lim – Like A Child Sleeping On A Shoulder
San Ul Lim – Become A Bird
The Keyboys – Unknown
He5 – Lonely Sun
He6 – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
The Pearl Sisters – I Love You