My Favorite Korean Singers

(6 April 2008)


Music has been called a 'Universal Language' and I agree completely. In 1973, I returned from a US Army tour in Korea with 48 LP Albums. The songs on these albums have seen more play than any other music I own, even though I do not understand much of the Korean language.

In the Summer of 2007, I was privileged to hear the Westminster Choir of Soongsil University in Seoul. It is hard to describe the fantastically beautiful music produced by this group of students from schools of Law, Engineering, Computer Science, Public Relations and more; but NOT music. There is no School of Music at Soongsil! After the concert, I had a chance to talk to several of the students, and when they saw CDs of my music, they all said that it was from before they were born. Yet one of them pointed to a title in Hangul and asked me if I knew that one. Suddenly we were all jamming to 'Keopi Hanjan' from their parent's generation.

I hope that this meager attempt to document some of my favorite music will benefit others. The information here comes from all over, but the main sources are the very few albums with English record jackets, and the Internet (Web).

One of the biggest aids in tracking this old music was the Korean Pop Database site (www.kpopdb.com) which apparently ceased operating at the end of 2004. In 2005, much of the kpopdb content was available on 'matia and xfactor's maniadb' site (www.maniadb.com). Available information includes brief artist information, their albums, CDs and tapes, dates, and thumbnail pictures of most products. From this, I was able to search for specific products, and confirm that many of my albums have apparently never been indexed.

Another site which features some early history of a few of the singers here is from a European radio show (http://progressive.homestead.com/KOREA.html). This site answered some of the questions I had on the early days of some of my favorite singers.

Finally, there is simply searching, reading, questioning and relating pieces of information from various sources. So, here is my list of favorite music, and as much current information on each as I have been able to find:


Pearl Sisters

The Pearl Sisters (Bae In Soon and Bae In Sook) first peaked my interest in Korean music. Whether singing to the driving beat of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" in Korean (Dalkumhan Sarang) or perhaps the most melodic rendition of "White Christmas" that I have ever heard (with verses in both Korean and English), their voices blend together and express emotions and feelings with the accompanying instruments.

The B-side of KLH-1 contains versions of American pop tunes, but the A-side has several of the songs that made the Pearl Sisters popular such as 'Nima' (My Darling), 'Keopi Hanjan' (A Cup of Coffee) and 'Du Keurimja' (Two Shadows). The B-side of KLH-9 contains songs by Lee Jeong Hwa including 'Bombi' (Spring Rain, the title on the Cover Art), 'Meonkil' (A Long Way) and 'Naeil' (Tomorrow), while the A-side features Pearl Sisters' 'Napalbaji' (Bell Bottoms) and several versions of American rock tunes. The cover art for this album was re-used on the Pony Canyon/Shim Jung Hyun CD (still available in 2004) but the songs are mostly from KLH-1 and other albums. Also the second title was changed from Lee Jong Hwa's 'Bombi' to the Pearl Sisters' 'Nima'. JLS-120346 features several big hits of the Pearl Sisters with some songs from other artists of the time. All but one of the Pearl Sisters songs from this album are on Jigu Record's CD JCDS-0186, and all are on JMCD-0079.

These three albums contain only Pearl Sisters' music, and several of the tunes are common to two of the albums. SEL-100,006 is unique in that the album and platter lettering are in English. The short Biographical sketch is almost all I knew about the sisters until recently, but their music plainly shows their awesome talent! The cover art for this album was also re-used on King Records CD KCD-047, but with different lettering on the cover and featuring a different playlist.

These albums all feature a number of different artists in addition to the Pearl Sisters. JLS-120502 also features Jeong Hoon Hee's hit 'Ankae' (Fog) while OL-1099 features Kim Sang Hee's hit 'Pyeonji' (Letter) as cover art in addition to featured hits by the Pearl Sisters. Many other artists are also on each album. KLS-33 and OL-1147 differ in that the A-sides are all songs by the Pearl Sisters, but the B-sides are all by Trio Japonese (KLS-33) and Na Hoon Ah (OL-1147) respectively. From playlists, it appears that the Oasis CD ORC-1171 contains cuts from OL-1147, but I have not been able to obtain a copy of the CD.


Update: If you search for Pearl Sisters music these days, you will probably only find CD versions. I have been able to locate three of the four identified in my searches (less a fourth new release).

King Records KCD-047 is still available as of May 2005 from several vendors such as www.music-plaza.com. It has a dozen of the most popular hits, all of which are on the vinyl records in my collection. A couple of them, 'Koepi Hanjan' (A Cup of Coffee) and 'Deonayahal Keusaram' (Let Him Go) have been modified by adding instruments to the left and right channels to create a stereo effect from the original monophonic records. As I mentioned above, the cover art is re-used from the SEL-100,006 special album, but this CD does not have English anywhere except the group name in the cover. The tracks are also different than the LP.

Until Jigu began releasing their Golden two-CD sets, my favorite CD was Jigu Records JCDS-0186. This CD was available at www.annyoung.com as late as early 2007, but is no longer listed. Selections on the disc seem to span the entire career of the Pearl Sisters, but only those released on the Jigu label. Half of the tracks are not in my collection of vinyl and cassette but seem to come from vinyl records in the late 1960s and after 1973 when my collection ended.

The right-most cover above (SJHMVD-0005) seems to still be available either under this label, or the Pony Canyon number PCSD00076. It contains only a few of the early tracks from KLH-1, one from KLH-9 (Napalbaji; Bell-bottoms or 'Trumpet Pants') and one from KST-2 or KLS-29 LPs. The first copy of the CD I ordered sounded as if it was recorded over a telephone. A second order from music-plaza.com in 2005 was better, although all tracks played slower than they should by up to nearly 10 persent, and were heavily filtered and clipped, limiting the dynamic range. Consequently, I have spent many months cleaning my old vinyl tracks for listenable copies. This CD does have several pictures in and on the cover which make it worthwhile. The cover art is from the KLH-9 LP with the lower name in blue altered from the LPs 'Bombi' which was a side B hit by Lee Jeong Hwa to 'Nima' which was a big Pearl Sisters hit. Of note is how the cover art bears a similarity to the JCDS-0186 CD next to it. That day must have been a busy photo shoot!

As part of Jigu's re-release of old music, they released this 2-CD set of Pearl Sister's music (although they seem to have forgotten how to spell). This release only adds six cuts (4 by the Pearl Sisters, 2 instrumentals by Kyeong Eum Ahk) to the play list on JCDS-0186. From my perspective, it is a good buy because of the four new songs which are new to my collection.

The one CD that I have not been able to locate is an old one, and seems to come with two covers as:

I have not been able to determine which is the later cover, but the photo is the same as a Cassette (Oasis Records GS-474) I picked up around 1983 and played so much that it is now severely degraded. The title (Final Selection) and play list (to include a mis-spelling of 'Nima') on the Cassette is almost the same as the CD, less a track by 'Kon Jon Gayo' which is on the Cassette but not the CD track list. Two of the biggest hits, 'Koepi Hanjan' and 'Nima', on the cassette are instrumental versions by Kyeong Eum Ahk instead of the Pearl Sisters, and I do not know if this was done on the CD as well.

What happened to them? According to releases from maniadb.com and many web searches, the Pearl Sisters apparently split in the mid-1970s. The younger sister, Bae In Sook, continued to sing into the 'disco' era of the late 1970s producing a couple of albums, including one collection of hits. A CD of these hits is still available, but apparently nothing new since 1984.

The older sister, Bae In Soon, re-entered singing in 2004 with a brand new set of songs on her CD 'A Cup of Coffee with My Song'. I located both of these CDs at www.music-plaza.com in the Spring of 2005.

I heartily recommend both of these CDs. TOP Music's TOPAMCD0997 is a fantastic collection of Bae In Sook's music, and you can plainly hear her voice as part of the Pearl Sisters, especially in 'Algo Shipeoyo' (I want to know what Love is) on KLH-1 and the Shin Jung Hyun MVD-0005 special Pearl Sisters CD.

Equally exciting is Synnara Music's KSC-A4002 release of new music by Bae In Soon. I was a little reluctant in ordering this after hearing how badly other pop singers from that time had ruined their voices. This was not the case here though. Bae In Soon has taken excellent care of her voice and nails the music with emphasis! The full range that she sings, from slow melodic ballads to driving rock, leave no doubt that the Pearl Sisters were a phenomenon in Korean Pop music, IMNSHO.

Bonnie Girls

This sister group apparently only sang for only a short while, but in my opinion might have developed as worthy successors to the Pearl Sisters.

OL-1148 featured the Bonnie Girls as cover art on the back of the jacket, headlining a couple of their 1972 hit songs. Both of those songs are also included on OL-1289 which is completely Bonnie Girls. Their music differs from the Pearl Sisters in that they have a 'breathy excitement' in their songs and seem to have slightly less maturity in their musical expertise. Nonetheless, I enjoy their songs and they definitely keep me awake while driving!


Moon Jeong Seon

What a voice! I haven't tired of listening to this artist since I first heard her. Unfortunately, all I have ever been able to obtain are these two collections.

Moon Jeong Seon has an extremely powerful voice that simply reaches into your body and grabs your heart! Her emotions in each song become yours, and you feel what she wants you to feel in each song. OL-1185 is from 1972 and features several songs with a slight Latin rhythm.

The only other sample I have of Moon Jeong Seon's music is a cassette, GS-507, with 19 of her hit songs up to 1986 (the 20th song is by the group Kon Jon Gayo). One early edition of GS-507 used the picture from OL-1185 as cover art, but the one shown above is a later release with slightly higher quality (I'm still searching for the CD version, ORC-1175). Several of the songs in this collection show a 'disco' influence where the power and precision in her voice is simply overwhelming.


Kim Boo Ja

This singer is unique in my experience, but appearently nearly unknown to the current generation.

While other singers use mechanical sound effects to create extra effects, Kim Boo Ja has a unique ability to sound as though she is singing several different songs at the same time! Listening to her use volume, tempo, tonality and lyrics in seemingly different songs simultaneously is a marvel to the ears. I have never heard another artist before or since with such a talent.

In addition to these unique songs, many cuts on the above albums are Korean folk songs also performed by other artists such as early Kim Serena, Eunbangul Jamae (Silver Bell Sisters) and Bidulki Sisters whom I also have on albums. In nearly all cases, Kim Boo Ja's renditions are my favorites and feature pure tones, a blending of voice with accompanying instruments and a very pleasant listening experience.


Choi Yang Sook

Choi Yang Sook is an artist I recently discovered from some CD collections. She seems to have only scored big hits with a couple of songs, and seems to have had several releases of the same basic playlist. I am surprised that she is not better known because her voice is pure, powerful and precise. Her songs are a great soothing factor after a hectic day.


Park In Hee

Folk Singing at its absolute best.

Park In Hee apparently started becoming popular in the Folk music area about the time I left Korea, so I missed collecting any records by her. Fortunately, Jigu published three Hit collections which I managed to find online. Additionally, several of her songs are available in collections with other artists such as Eun Hee.

The fascinating aspect of Park In Hee's singing is the excellent control she has of her voice at very low volumes. Her wide vocal range and control along with light instrumental accompaniment gives her selections a very light sound with positive therapeutic effects. Her music helped me relax during recovery from recent surgery and in weeks of physical therapy. Furthermore, my young grandson nods to sleep more calmly when Park In Hee sings in the background. Oh for more singers with her talent!


Hit Collections

While not in my titled category of 'Favorite Singers', a few other albums in my small collection also deserve note.

These albums are collections by year and are only a sampling of what else was produced. KLS-25 is titled "'71 King Hit Album" and features several artists in the early part of their careers. OL-1162 and OL-1207 are "'72 Oasis Hit Songs" Volumes 8 and 10 respectively. I wish I had more, but these are the only ones I could find during and after my Army tour. They present a small view of what was considered popular in those two years.

NEW RELEASES. For the past couple of years, Jigu Records has been re-releasing much of their collection as 2-CD "Golden" collections. I have obtained quite a few of the series from either www.music-plaza.com or www.annyoung.com. Some of my favorites are:

The Park In Hee Golden is identical to JCDS-0033 and JCDS-0137. Since I have all three of her single CDs, this did not help my collection. The Eun Hee CD is a nice one, and provides clean copies of a few single cuts I have on vinyl LPs. Jeong Jong Suk is new to my collection, but is half of the folk duet "1 + 1", and here shows off a wonderful and powerful voice. It is a more developed and mature sound than the duet.

The Kim Boo Ja Golden set contains all cuts from my LP JLS-120549 on CD-2 so I will not need to clean the vinyl for these cuts. Unfortunately, many other cuts are Jigu versions of songs on my two Oasis LPs and I consider them of inferior quality. The Cho Mi Mi release is appreciated to complement the few songs I have by her on LP collections. Her voice is somewhat similar to early Lee Mi Ja, and quite pleasant to the ear. Jeong Hoon Hee is on the other end of the scale. I have one Oasis LP by her and a few single cuts on collections. Her lively rock-style singing is quite good and will get the feet tapping to the beat. Again, these CDs only contain Jigu released songs, so I still need to clean some vinyl.

FINAL THOUGHTS. In trying to find clean CD versions of songs to have better quality than the scratched LPs, only Jigu seems to be interested in making the old classics available. In general, I prefer the Oasis versions of hit songs, but recent CDs seem to only have recently-performed songs, and not the original hit versions. Universal is even worse in that they seem to have completely hidden their early repertoire. It would be a shame if the music disappeared completely. Come on Oasis and Universal .. re-release the old classics! You have at least one potential buyer here!


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