Part 1: Shin Jung-hyun's 1958 LP 'Hicky Shin'
What would be considered to be modern popular music in Korea essentially came into being in the mid-to-late 1920s with the release of the earliest commercial recordings in 1925 and the introduction of radio in 1927 (initially split between Japanese language and Korean language broadcasting; a Korean-only station began in 1933).
As Michael Robinson puts in in his chapter on colonial era broadcasting history in Colonial Modernity in Korea (which can be mostly read here).
From 1933 until the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, Korean radio stimulated a revival of traditional music genres, created new forms of dramatic arts, introduced Western classical music and jazz, fed its audience’s insatiable appetite for modern, popular song (yuhaengga), and served as a vehicle for standardizing the Korean vernacular.This fascinating chapter goes on to describe the generational clashes between the old, who wanted to hear more traditional music, and the young, who wanted to hear popular songs, as well as the 'purification' campaigns carried out by Japanese authorities during the Pacific War which banned songs that, for example, had references to crying in them (Park Chung-hee would eventually take a page from this campaign). Some of the hit songs from the 1930s and 1940s can be listened to here.
With the end of the Pacific War, American influence would make itself felt, especially during and after the Korean War. One major influence was AFKN radio, which began in 1951 and exposed anyone with a radio to American pop music. American films were also shown in Seoul, though the slower, but more thorough influence may have been the stage shows put on for US soldiers by Korean performers.
An in-depth look at the history of two variety show collectives which performed from the 1930s to the 1950s and at times entertained Japanese and U.S. troops can be found in Roald Maliangkay's essay "Koreans Performing for Foreign Troops: The Occidentalism of the C.P.C. and K.P.K."
Another chapter by the same author - ‘Supporting Our Boys: American Military Entertainment and Korean Pop Music in the 1950s and early 1960s’ - can be found in the book "Korean Pop Music: Riding the Korean Wave" (Keith Howard (ed.), Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental: 2006). For those not wanting to drop almost $200 on the book, both Yonsei and SNU have it in their libraries (in the music and international studies libraries, respectively).
One of the artists who developed as a musician playing on USFK stages was Shin Jung-hyun. As is noted in Mark Russell's article about Shin Jung-hyun, he was born in 1938 and moved around, living in Japan and Manchuria before returning to Korea after liberation. Orphaned at the age of 15, he moved to Seoul at the end of the Korean War.
The post-War years in Seoul were tough. Shin woke up at four o’clock each morning to work in a pharmacy, then went to night school in the evenings. At night, in between, and any chance he got, he taught himself guitar.In 1958 (or 1959, according to some sources), Shin recorded and released the first rock and roll record made in Korea with the help of other musicians who played on the Eighth Army stages. Titled '히키-申 [Hicky Shin],' it may refer to his English name, Jacky Shin. The cover also describes it as 'guitar melody' in Hangeul and '경음악 선곡집' [album with a selection of songs of light music] in Hanja (though 경음악 perhaps had a different meaning then]. The entire album can be listened to on Youtube.
Soon Shin was good enough at the guitar to find work teaching at a music institute in Jongno, the center of old Seoul. He reputation grew quickly, and someone suggested he audition to play for the U.S. Eighth Army.
In 1957, he started playing rock music for U.S. Army bases (under the name “Jackie Shin”), where he would continue for ten years. The American Army circuit was a godsend for musicians then, with plenty of clubs (jazz standards for the officers clubs, more country music for the NCOs, and rock for the enlisted men) and decent pay.
“The American bases are where Korean rock developed,” Shin says. “At the time, Korean clubs only played ‘trot,’ tango, music like that.” Shin still remembers the music he most liked to play then: “Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle,’ Duane Eddy’s ‘40 Miles of Bad Road.’”
If you go to the Youtube page, you can skip ahead to the second song, 'Twist Arirang', which is pretty damn cool. Interestingly, the song 'The Twist' only became popular in 1960, but other songs with 'twist' references existed before that song (and Shin's song sounded nothing like music one would do the twist dance to), so it's obviously not referring to that song. As a rock and roll version of 'Arirang', it predates by 40 years the Yoon Do-hyeon Band's rock version made popular during the 2002 World Cup. There are also a number of popular American songs Shin did versions of, in addition to his own material.
While the pop music of the 1930s instituted new forms of westernized popular music in Korea, this was the first album to introduce rock and roll to Korea. Few listened to it at the time, but eventually tastes would begin to change...
[I've (obviously) been rather busy recently, but hope to do more posts like this about 1960s and 1970s Korean rock music.]