The Godfather Of South Korean Rock

Jung Hyun

Shin Jung Hyun is widely considered the godfather of South Korean rock. hide caption

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Shin Jung Hyun, commonly called the godfather of Korean rock 'n' roll, is often compared to Elvis Presley. But that really doesn't do him justice. Sure, he might have been as popular as Elvis in South Korea. But he's more like the David Axelrod, Brian Wilson or Jimi Hendrix of South Korea. Here are a few songs from the star, as well as some of his proteges.

The Godfather Of South Korean Rock

Jang Hyun cover

Jang Hyun and The Men

  • Artist: Jang Hyun and The Men
  • Album: The Beautiful Rivers and Mountains
  • Song: The Beautiful Rivers and Mountains

This album, like many that Jung Hyun produced, is not about the man featured on the cover. It would seem like he had a deal with every Korean label that wished to record him: "I'll do whatever you want on the A-side if you give me the B-side to freak out a little something with my friends." Thus, we're given "The Beautiful Rivers and Land," which Jung Hyun supposedly composed because president Park Jung Hee asked him to compose a song about the presidential residence. Instead, Jung Hyun responded with this dreamy, psychedelic masterpiece.

This album is available from Dusty Groove.

Pearl Sisters cover

Pearl Sisters

  • Artist: Pearl Sisters
  • Album: Pearl Sisters
  • Song: Don't You Want Somebody To Love

A killer interpretation/interpolation of the Jefferson Airplane song. Jung Hyun tears "Somebody to Love" apart with his solo. The American records that hit Seoul largely came from the American GIs stationed there, then made their way to the progressive populace via sessions at the tea houses, whose owners covertly smuggled the records into their collections.

Shin Jung Hyun and Questions cover

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Shin Jung Hyun and Questions

  • Artist: Shin Jung Hyun and Questions
  • Album: In A Kadda Da Vida
  • Song: In A Kadda Da Vida (The Psychedelic Sound)

When Jung Hyun wails "The psychedelic sound!" at the end of the spoken intro to this song, the Korean psych-rock movement hit its zenith. This album, presumably a bootleg though released on the label that released most of his albums from the period, contains the freakiest version of Wilson Pickett's "Funky Broadway" I've heard. But the reason to pay the $1,000 price of admission is the title track. The standard that every Korean psych group covered goes to new heights over the course of 16 lo-fi minutes. I can just imagine how wild it must have been to hear Jung Hyun utter, "You might think I'm crazy / I'm outta my head / but I'm doing my thing," in English, in the middle of his solo.

Shin Jung Hyun and The Golden Grapes cover

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Shin Jung Hyun and The Golden Grapes

  • Artist: Shin Jung Hyun and The Golden Grapes
  • Album: Now
  • Song: Sound Vol. 3

The rarest of Jung Hyun records; when it exchanges hands, it's usually well-worn -- and it still fetches about $3,000. Westerners lucky enough to have found a copy of the reissue of the "Sound" trilogy might have heard "Instrumental," a funky dirge performed in Jimi Hendrix style. It never loses an ounce of intensity over nearly 15 hard-earned minutes. The drum break that ends the song so abruptly must have been the result of tape spooling off the reel. Why else cap such a sublime experience in such an awkward fashion?

Shin Jung Hyun and The Yup Juns cover

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Shin Jung Hyun and The Yup Jun

  • Artist: Shin Jung Hyun and The Yup Juns
  • Album: The Exciting
  • Song: The Exciting

This song is best known as part of the second pressing of the Yup Juns album. (The first, extremely rare, was only distributed to radio stations in Seoul.) A South Korean hard-rock classic, "The Exciting" received some notoriety on the collector's circuit, when footage of Jung Hyun and the Yup Juns performing the song surfaced. Too bad this altogether funkier version never made it to wax...

Watch Jung Hyun and The Yup Juns perform "The Exciting" on YouTube.

Egon is the general manager of the Stones Throw label. He also founded Now-Again Records, which reissues American funk and soul albums, and the Soul-Cal imprint with Peanut Butter Wolf. He DJs funk and psychedelia sets at venues all around the world.

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