(Among other things)
Two weeks ago I gave a lecture titled "1970s Youth Culture at its Zenith: Music and film in the years before Emergency Measure 9," which can be watched here and is summarized in this Korea Times article. Just as the question period ended, I was asked where Korean music from the 1970s could be found. I've already posted an online discography of Shin Joong-hyun's music from 1960 to 1975, so this post will focus on the folk-rock music that developed from the university student folk music scene, in particular the music performed by the session band 동방의 빛 (Light of the East).
Anyone wanting to learn a lot more about this period should read the relevant volume(s) from 신현준, 최지선, and 감학선's 한국팝의 고고학 series, which has four volumes, each focused on a decade between 1960 and 1990. (Both the 1960s and 1970s volumes are pertinent for those interested in rock and folk from the mid '60s to the mid '70s). Shin Hyunjoon also wrote, with Pil-ho Kim, "The Birth of "Rok": Cultural Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Glocalization of Rock Music in South Korea, 1964-1975." Also worth reading is Mark Russell's Pop Goes Korea and Roald Maliangkay's chapter "Pop for Progress: Censorship and South Korea's Propaganda Songs" (in Korean Pop Music: Riding The Wave).
As for music sources, Youtube has increasingly been a boon for discovering this music, as both passionate individuals and, more recently, record companies have digitized records and upload them. 집고양이 has uploaded many rock records, as well as some key folk albums, while 김일환 has uploaded dozens of folk LPs to Youtube, particularly the Golden Folk Album series, the discovery of which prompted my interest in this particular group of recordings. The channel Mystic Moods also has a variety of folk / rock / funk mixes and full rare LPs from this time period. I was also surprised to discover how many of these albums have been officially released by record companies on Youtube over the past two years. Information on these albums and songs comes mostly from maniadb.com, a useful, if not entirely complete, archive of Korean LPs.
While I've long had an interest in this music, there was so much I didn’t know, and it was actually while cataloging the music charts from Korean-language weekly magazines from 1969 to 1976 that I discovered so much more about this music. Youtube provided me with easy access to most songs, as long as I knew what to look for. I discovered that in 1974 and 1975 – prior to the song bans (금지곡) and the marijuana crackdown – over 55% of the music on the charts was folk, or rock, or pop, or some variation of the three, with a bit of country, prog rock, or synth-pop thrown in. And so many of the songs are not only well-written and performed, but also, because production quality improved so much, sound great today.
How did this begin? While part of the story is told in Shin Joong-hyun’s discography, another important factor relates to the development of folk music and folk rock.
According to an interview with Lee Jang-hee in 한국팝의 고고학 1960, in 1966 Lee and Yun Hyeong-ju, then attending Yonsei University, formed Linus Trio, which played acoustic covers of songs by groups like the Kingston Trio. Lee thought this was the first such singing group playing acoustic guitars to be formed by university students. They were together for about 6 months, and after that Yun started going to the music hall C'est Si Bon in Mugyo-dong, met Song Chang-sik, and formed Twin Folio in 1967. Twin Folio is remembered as the first folk duo, and they covered various Western songs, though - as was the style at the time - they changed the lyrics to Korean. They and singer Cho Young-nam drew attention at the time, appearing on TV and even in movies occasionally.
A collection of Twin Folio songs can be found here, set to start with their best-known song, "하얀 손수건 (White Handkerchief)."
It was at C'est Si Bon that Korea's first 'nude happening' was held in May 1968, and where Hahn Dae-soo held his first performance in August of that year, introducing a style more derived from Bob Dylan than the Simon and Garfunkle-sound of most folk duos in Korea. Hahn also wrote his own songs rather than simply writing Korean lyrics over Western songs. By late 1969, numerous folk duos had appeared, but they were no longer performing at C'est Si Bon, which had closed suddenly over money woes in May 1969.
Twin Folio was the first folk duo to record and release songs in 1969, and released a full-length LP in early 1970, but broke up by the end of that year. The second folk duo to record was 뚜와 에 무와 (Toi Et Moi), and they scored folk music's first top ten hit, "약속 (promise)," which peaked at number 4 in October 1970. The next year saw more folk music in the top ten charts, with 라나에로스포 (Lana Et Rospo)'s song "사랑해" and Eun-hee's "꽃반지 끼고 (오솔길)" reaching number one.
Meanwhile, a new live performance space, 청개구리집 (Green Frog House) opened in the basement of the YWCA, across from Myeong-dong Cathedral, in June 1970, and among the programs it offered were folk music concerts. With its central location and cheap entry fee (100 won), it drew students and became a gathering place for various folk musicians. In September 1970 the first Folk Music Festival was held at the YWCA; another Christian source of support for this music was CBS radio.
YWCA’s 청개구리집 opening ceremony, June 29, 1970 (Jugan Yeoseong 1970.07.15)
Y Folk Festival, YWCA, September 2, 1970 (Jugan Yeoseong 1970.09.16) (Note a scene common at the time - someone holding a separate mic up to the guitar.)
It was at Green Frog House that Yang Hee-eun and Kim Min-gi were first noticed. Like Hahn Dae-soo (who was absent from 1971-74 serving in the Navy), Kim Min-gi was a gifted lyricist and songwriter who recorded a full album of songs in 1971.
김민기's first LP can be listened to in full here. His incorporation of various instruments, with classical flourishes, went a step beyond his contemporaries, (and he was the first to record a Hahn Dae-soo song) but its sometimes morose lyrical topics appear to have led the government to soon ban the sale of this record. As a result, Yang Hee-eun became his voice over the next few years, and she scored a number 1 hit in 1972 with her version of Kim's song "아침이슬 (Morning Dew)," a song made iconic by its adoption by student protesters in the 1970s and 1980s.
Most folk singers at this time were more likely to release a song or two on a compilation LP before getting their own album (and some groups or singers went years before releasing a full album - if ever). The six volumes of an early collection from 1971, 별밤에 부치는 노래 시리즈 (Songs sent on a starry night series) include songs by Song Chang-sik and Yun Hyeong-ju (formerly of Twin Folio) and other C'est Si Bon alumni like Kim Se-hwan and Lee Jang-hee, as well as up and coming singers like Two Ace, Lee Su-mi, Hong Min, Seo Yu-seok, and Im Hui-suk. They can be found on Youtube here: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5.
A truly unique record of this time, however, is the 맷돌 (Millstone) LP. According to this account, in either late 1971 or early 1972, the Green Frog House in the basement of the YWCA, which had nurtured the folk music scene for over a year and a half, stopped hosting performances (ostensibly due to money woes but government pressure may have been involved).
As a result, the 'culture salon' on the 3rd floor of the Koreana Department Store in Myeong-dong - with backing from the magazine Sunday Seoul - began hosting folk performances in mid-June 1972. These were named the 맷돌 (Millstone) series and the folk singers involved attempted to mix old and new by not only providing a modern interpretation of traditional Korean melodies, but also by asking poets such as Jang Hyeon-jong, Im Jin-su, and Lee Tan to write lyrics. This culminated in a special performance held on September 26, 1972 at the National Theater in Myeong-dong, which featured performances by folk singers as well as traditional mask dances and pansori. The folk songs sung by 4월과 5월 (April and May), Song Chang-sik, Shin Chang-gyun, Kim Min-gi, Seo Yu-seok, and Yang Hee-eun were recorded and released on LP in November 1972.
April and May's version of 'Ding Dong Daeng' accompanied by a gayageum is fantastic, and it's really something to hear Seo Yu-seok's classic, "타박네", played live, but for me, Kim Min-gi's quiet, hypnotizing version of "새벽길 (Dawn road)" is the standout here.
April and May Vol. 2, available here, features a great leap in production quality. Side 1 displays a pop sensibility featuring vocals harmonizing over welling strings, flute, piano, and burbling organ fills, and is reminiscent of groups like The Association. Side 2, on the other hand, opens with a distorted guitar riff that signals that the rest of the album is about to veer off in another direction. What follows are songs in a folk-rock mode that mix in funk and psychedelia, with "우리의 세상 (Our world)" being a standout.
If you listen to Shin Joong-hyun's records with The Men (late 1972-1973), April and May Vol. 2, or the records highlighted below, it becomes clear that production quality improved across the board at this time. Stylistically, it's not clear who might have been influencing who, in part because April and May Vol. 2 has no clear release date other than '1973'. Shin Joong-hyun's classic forays into folk rock with Kim Jeong-mi were released in November 1973, while Lee Jang-hee's hit LP was released in June 1973.
Arguably the most varied and commercially-successful set of music by folk performers released at this time was the output of Orient Productions, which, according to this post, was founded in 1973 by Na Hyeon-gu, who had formerly worked for Seongeum Records. Unlike other companies, Orient Productions had its own 'house band' that performed on almost all of its albums, known as 동방의 빛, or 'Light of the East.' While this name does not appear on LPs from this time, it was used for music performances when they performed as Lee Jang-hee's backing band. The key member of this group was Gang Geun-sik, who had performed with Lee Jang-hee since the late 1960s when they were a duo. Gang had also worked with musician Jeong Seong-jo, and it was through this work that he met fellow session musicians drummer Yu Yeong-su and bassist Jo Won-ik. When Lee Jang-hee went to record his third LP with the newly formed Orient Production, he needed a band, so these three musicians joined keyboardist Lee Ho-jun to form Light of the East.
From mid-1973 to early 1976 Orient Productions and Light of the East released around 35 albums of songs in various styles - folk, pop, rock, electronic, and permutations of all of these - recorded by various singers and written by a group of singer-songwriters including Lee Jang-hee, Song Chang-sik and Yun Hyeong-ju (formerly of Twin Folio), and Yang Byeong-jip, as well as some by Baek Sun-jin (of April and May) and Jo Dong-jin (who soon left to do military service but became well known in the late 1970s). Much like Shin Joong-hyun, they often recorded various versions of certain songs with different singers.
Compared to others making this kind of music aimed at young people at this time, however, Orient Productions' output was incredibly successful. Between late 1973 and late 1975, seventeen of their songs became top ten hits, including nine number 1 hits. On top of this, a number of instrumental albums with Moog synthesizer were released, and it was on these and other releases that Gang Geun-sik pioneered an effects-laden fuzz guitar sound that went on to influence groups like Sanullim. In fact, a key draw of these albums is the guitar playing by Gang, a talented and versatile guitarist who was not only able to play in a variety of styles, but who also experimented with effects pedals to create novel sounds. Though he had an affinity for country music, that style is only obvious on a handful of these recordings.
Though Seongeum Records and Orient Productions released albums by Kim Eui-cheol (available here), Yun Ji-yeong, Lee Yeon-sil (available here), and Hong Min (available here) in 1973, they are generally in a different style (acoustic folk with only violin accompaniment) from the Light of the East material, though Hong Min's album does seem to feature some guitar by Gang Geun-sik. So it seems likely that the earliest album made by Light of the East was Lee Jang-hee's 그건너.
Lee Jang-hee had been active in the folk music movement from the beginning, and by 1973 had had recorded two albums, Young Festival Vol. 1 and Young Festival Vol. 4. His third album, recorded with Light of the East, featured better production values and incorporated more rock elements and spawned a massive number 1 hit with "그건너 (It's you)."
- 노래모음 (사랑하는 마음) - 1974.10.25
Cho Young-nam - 컴백리싸이틀 - 1973.12.27
Though the title of this album (Comeback Recital) suggests it's live, it's not. This tends more towards rock, with a standout being his version of Lee Jang-hee's hit, 그건너, which features a more aggressive guitar sound. The album can be listened to in full here.
Choi Heon / Lee Yeon-sil - 1973.12.27
A split record featuring, on side 1, former He6 singer Choi Heon (before he formed 검은나비 (Black Butterfly) with former members of Shin Joong-hyun's band, the Men) singing guitar-and-piano-based songs mostly written by Jo Dong-jin. Side 2 features folk singer Lee Yeon-sil (whose songs are mostly written by Yang Byeong-jip). Her song 소낙비 is a cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain’s A‐Gonna Fall." The album can be listened to in full here.
Yun Hyeong-ju - 새노래 모음 - 1973.12.27
Yang Byeong-jip - 넋두리 - 1974.03.20
Yang's solo album features folk songs with occasional rock and synthesizer flourishes (such as "잃어버린 전설"), while "소낙비," "역," and "너와 나의 땅" are covers of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie songs. The album can be listened to in full here.
A key record of this era is the soundtrack to the then-biggest film in Korean history (see here for more information), which opens with a ballad but then shifts to more experimental, psychedelic, Moog synthesizer-infused songs and instrumentals. "한 소녀가 울고 있네" hit the top ten, and "한 잔의 추억" spent weeks at number one. The original cover was quickly banned and replaced two months later with this one. The album can be listened to in full here.
An album of instrumental versions of mostly previously-released songs, often building upon the original backing tracks and replacing the vocals with guitar or synthesizer (in its best instances) or saxophone (which I tend to skip). "그애와 나랑은," "주기도문" (A cover of this song), and "한잔의 추억" are standouts. The album can be listened to in full here.
Two Koreans - 나 그대에게 모두 드리리 - 1974.08.10
Two Koreans, the duo Kim Do-hyang and Son Chang-cheol, had released 3 LPs since 1971 and were known for their strong vocals (one of them could do an impressive Louis Armstrong impression). While a number of their versions of popular songs like "그건너" come off as comedic, their version of "들리지 않네" is well worth listening to for both their singing and Gang Geun-sik's guitar. The album can be listened to in full here.
Light of the East - Rain Rain Rain - 1974.08.10
Of the four instrumental albums Light of the East released, this is the best, but it's unfortunately not available online, except for two tracks that appear in mixes - a version of Kim Se-hwan's hit "비" and the unique Moog-focused 비야 비야 - set to a chorus of frogs.
4월과 5월 - 3집 - 1974.11.30
April and May's third album is one of the best Light of the East records, featuring a hazy production aesthetic combining fuzz guitar, organ, and occasional synthesizer - a far cry from their acoustic folk beginnings. The song "등불 (Lantern)" cracked the top ten. The album can be listened to in full here.
Hyeon-gyeong and Yeong-ae - 1974.11.30
This duo's lovely voices float over songs ranging from the folk pop of "아름다운 사람" to the folk-prog rock of "나 돌아가리라 (I Will Go Back)". The final track, "다시 부르는 노래 (Song that's sung again)," is a beautiful version of Jo Dong-jin's poetic "마지막 노래 (Last song)" complete with soaring synthesizers, but it was actually not released on this LP. Recorded during these sessions, it was included as a bonus track on the CD rerelease but originally wasn't released until 1977 on an omnibus LP, which is odd, considering that it's probably the best song they recorded. The album can be listened to in full here.
송창식 - SONG CHANG SIK - 1974.12.30
A solo album by the former member of Twin Folio, who had written a number of songs for other Light of the East records. "한번쯤 (Once or so)" went to number one in early 1975; "밤눈 (Night snow)" is also a standout, as is the Gang Geun-sik guitar solo-featuring song "새는 (A bird)," which ends with a psychedelic coda. The album can be listened to in full here.
임희숙 노래모음 - 1975
Singer Im Hui-suk had recorded since at least 1969, when she appeared on a split record with the Key Boys. It's a hard-to-categorize album, as it embraces various styles, but is held together by her strong voice. There are also four Two Koreans songs here, all from their 1974 album. The album can be listened to in full here.
Light Of The East - '75 Hit Parade (1975.11.29)
More instrumental versions of songs in the mold of '74 Hit Parade and Rain Rain Rain. The version of "고래사냥 (Whale Hunting)" here opens the 1975 film "바보들의 행진 (March of Fools)", while its atmospheric version of "날이 갈수록 (As Days go by)" is different than that on the film OST. The album has a far better hit to miss ratio than the '74 edition, and can be listened to in full here.
There is also a '76 Hit Parade LP (released 1976.03.15) here, however all but two songs are taken from the previous two Hit Parade LPs.
Golden Folk Album series
Perhaps the best known output of Light of the East and Orient Productions is the Golden Folk Album series, released in 14 volumes in 1974 and 1975. The early volumes serve mostly as compilation albums, since the majority of the songs were previously released on other Orient Productions LPs and only a few songs are new, but the new material increases over time and many of these records feature songs not found elsewhere, or early versions of songs that became well-known later. In fact, a number of the Light of the East songs that charted did not appear on the full albums above, but on these omnibus LPs. Two feature film soundtracks. These were all uploaded to Youtube by 김일환.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 2 - 1974.03.20
While most songs are, again, from previous releases, new material includes a cover of the Carpenters' "Jambalaya," the song "예전에" by One Plus One, and the original, quite different version of Song Chang-sik's "새들". The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 3 - 1974.03.20
This features an early version of Song Chang-sik's "강변에서" and a new song by One Plus One, "나 세월속에." The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 4 - 1974.08.10
Song Chang-sik does an early version of his song "사랑하는 마음" - here titled "더좋은건 없을걸" - which Kim Se-hwan would score a top ten hit with. The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 5 - 1974.10.25
Song Chang-sik does an early version (seeing a pattern here?) of his song "한번즘," which went to number one in early 1975, a Hyun-gyeong and Yeong-ae song appears ahead of the release of their album (their songs become fixtures on future volumes), while Jo Dong-jin's otherwise unavailable "작은 배" is a standout. The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 6 - 1974.10.25
There are some good songs here, but the only new one (other than Hyun-gyeong and Yeong-ae's) is "당신이 좋아서," a rock-pop song by Jang Mi-ri. The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 7 - 1974.11.30
"당신을 처음본 순간" gives a sneak peak at Lee Jang-hee's upcoming new LP, songs from April and May's third LP, released that day, start to appear in this series, while Jeong Mi-jo's "휘파람을 부세요" would top the charts in the spring of 1975. The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 8 - 1975.01.25
For the first time, most of the songs are new, with the first appearance of Kim In-sun, and the most interesting of the songs by several first-seen singers is likely Park Seong-won's "오해야 정말." The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 9 - 1975.02.25
Hands down the best song on this album is the opener, Lee Soo-man's "모든 것 끝난뒤 (After everything is over)," an atmospheric, synth and guitar-based song that leans towards space rock. April and May's top 10 hit "등불" and new songs by Jeong Mi-jo, Yun Hyeong-ju, and Kim In-su also appear, as does Kim Tae-ung's song contest prize-winning "Julia" and 송창식's new song and future number one hit "피리부는 사나이." The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 10 - 1975.02.25
This album features new songs by Kim In-sun, Lee Soo-man, Yun Hyeong-ju, and even a song by the He 5. The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 11 - 1975.03.28
Side one is the soundtrack to the hit film (and arguably the best film of 1975) March of Fools. Sung by Song Chang-sik, it features the iconic songs "왜 불러 (Why do you call?)" and "고래 사냥 (Whale hunting)," the latter of which was written by the movie's screenwriter and author Choi In-ho and features stellar guitar work from Gang Geun-sik, making it arguably the best rock song of 1975 - though both of these songs were banned in December that year. The album can be listened to in full here.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 12 - 1975.07.26
Songs on this serve as the soundtrack to the 1975 film 여고 졸업반 (Girls' High School Graduating Class), and the title track by Kim In-sun not only went to number one, it's also arguably the first synth-pop song in the 1980s mold. Another synth-heavy song, "불꽃" by Jeong Mi-jo, also went to number one, but was removed from the charts when it was banned in December. The album can be listened to in full here.
The new opening song, "잊어질까," features Kim Se-hwan (shown on the cover with shaggy hair that one imagines he didn't keep for very long) and Gang Geun-sik playing with a delay pedal. It also features new songs by Lee Jang-hee, Yang Byeong-jip, and even includes songs by Park In-hui (formerly of Toi et Moi), and Hahn Dae-soo's "To the land of happiness." The album can be listened to in full here, though note that the song listing in first comment is wrong.
Golden Folk Album Vol. 14 - 1975.03.20
The final volume opens with Lee Yong-bok (known as a blind singer with a lovely voice) doing his version of "Julia," which reached the top ten, as well as new songs by Kim Se-hwan, Kim In-sun, Jeong Mi-jo, and Lee Jang-hee. Lee's driving, fuzz-guitar solo-featuring "편지" is another standout, and the LP also features Hahn Dae-soo's "물좀주소" The album can be listened to in full here, though note that the song listing in first comment is wrong.
As noted in my lecture, a number of the songs mentioned here were banned by the government in 1975, and many of the people who made this music - including Lee Jang-hee, Gang Geun-sik and other members of Light of the East, Kim Se-hwan, and Yun Hyeong-ju - were arrested for marijuana use in late 1975 or early 1976, and some received lifetime bans on recording, performing, or broadcasting from the Entertainer's Association. In response, Gang Geun-sik switched to making music for advertisements. Others returned to recording after Park Chung-hee's death in 1979, but were never able to attain their former level of success. While some reunion concerts by these performers can be tepid affairs (like this one), Lee Jang-hee and Gang Geun-sik still sound great even today, as can be seen in this 2019 performance along with bassist Jo Won-ik.
(What's interesting is that Gang's guitar work during that performance leans more toward a country sound. During the Q&A of my lecture I was asked about country music's influence on Korean pop music in the 1970s and replied there was little, and while that's still overwhelmingly true, I'd forgotten about the handful of country-ish, or just plain outright country songs Light of the East did, such as "It’s way past midnight" by Lee Jang-hee or "좋은 걸 어떡해" by Kim Se-hwan.)
I should make clear that was more folk music at this time - including truly fantastic music released by Hahn Dae-soo and Kim Jung-ho - but it will have to wait for another discography post.