South Korean recording artists on Korean pressing LPs
I recently saw (and played) an original copy of Kim Jung-mi‘s 1973 Now LP in near mint condition (priced at 2.2 million Korean Won – around $2000.00). I was tempted for a while, but my wife would definitely beat me if I went ahead and bought it (only half-joking about being beaten here). This original album is particularly in demand in South Korea partly due to Shin Jung-hyeon‘s involvement, and the history related to some of the music he was associated with at the time this album was first released being withdrawn and destroyed after he refused to write and perform a pro-dictatorship song. Now is a fantastic album and I really like the songs, music and vocals on this album.
KIM JUNG-MI (김정미) “Now” (Korean) Fontana SEL-100 023 (1973)
While 1980s Korean pressings of vinyl records are relatively commonplace here in South Korea, and are usually inexpensive, as the release date further predates 1980 the records from these earlier times become more and more scarce and prices increase accordingly. As long time music collectors understand – quality trumps quantity – and like elsewhere, in South Korea the challenge is to find the more interesting older records in high range condition, rather than mass quantities of more recent albums or albums that grade below the EX/EX condition watermark. Please see my thoughts on grades/condition here.
Much of the recent price rise dynamics for Korean pressed vinyl from the mid 60s to mid 70s era are likely due to the usual suspects … the Japanese. No doubt, many of the most interesting Korean psych/folk/jazz/prog rock LPs of the period are currently in collections in Japan. Of course, this is true of many of the US and European pressings of beat/psych/prog music from this era as well. Japanese influence on prices is reasonably well understood by those who seriously engage the worldwide music collecting scene.
The local South Korea record collectors especially seek LP records by Shin Jung-Hyeon (Shin Joong-Hyun) (신중현) (and bands associated with him such as ADD4 etc), The Key Boys, San Ul Lim, Kim Jung-mi and others.
High range condition original Shin Jung-hyeon and Yeop Jeons, and Add4 LPs (when they do surface) are usually priced at the very least in the high 100 000s or even well over the 1 million plus range. But after exploring the Korean collecting scence in Seoul I am beginning to understand that there is an intricate market for Korean artists with albums in the folk-rock genre of the early 70s being the most sought after. In addition, there seems to be that there was a lot more going on within pre 1970 Korean music culture than I ever suspected, and due to the constrained nature (and economy) of Korean society in the past , most music products from the pre 1970 era are genuinely rare.
The Korean music records I most look for myself are those with up-beat female vocals and guitar backing, circ. 60s to mid 70s. I’m also interested in Korean disco/funk discs from artists like the Hee Sisters, and possibly some records from early respected Korean rock/heavy metal bands, but at this point in time I’m not greatly interested in 80s pop/rock. There are some excellent Korean web sites detailing 1980s rock and pop music, but for me, this era is a time in Korean music to explore at a later date.
I do have most the Seo Taiji vinyl records and will be on the look out for any rare ones, especially promos.
SEO TAIJI & BOYS 서태지와 아이들 ‘Self titled’ LP (Korean) Bando Records BDL -0023 (1992)
Korean 78s (Standard Play records) seem to be much harder to find and are priced in South Korea much higher than 78s are in the U.K or Australia. This may be because of their original cost in relation to average wages at the time of their release. At that time in Korea only a limited few could afford to buy records and even fewer people could afford an actual gramophone record player to play them on. Please see the 78s link on the main page. Link: 10 Inch 78 Records (SP – Standard Play Records). Also please see my (evolving) links page for links to academic and other publications related to Korean 78 rpm discs and the music culture of that era.
Outside of musical content on vinyl records, I really like vintage Korean discs from pre-1975 with ‘period covers’. Some LP covers (and labels) are like relics that really convey the mood of a past era through their pictures and artwork.
LEE MI JA (이미자) Hit songs LP (Korean) Jigu LMS 120053 (1965) + PATTI KIM (패티김) Highlights Stereo Volume 3 LP (1969)
Lastly on this subject, I am also aware of a 1973 Kim Jung-mi 7 inch single (봄/햇님 [great track]) that sells for around the 1.5 million mark. I may at some stage have to take the plunge and get this one if it surfaces again (and take the beating from my wife if she finds out I spent that much money on a record).
A youtube video of this track can be found on my video page here: Kim Jung-mi.
South Korean pressings of 7 inch singles
Until recently I was unaware of 7 inch singles being pressed in South Korea. I knew of a range of 7 inch vinyl records by Korean artists pressed outside of South Korea with the Kim Sisters releasing 7 inch singles in the US from 1959, and a significant number of Korean artists releasing 7 inch singles in Japan (many in the Enka music style).
However, I now know that a great number of 7 inch singles seem to have been pressed in South Korea (on legitimate/semi-legit labels) from the late 60s until the mid 70s. Many are 33 rpm rather than 45 rpm. These all had small spindle holes and many had picture sleeves. A great number of these were 4 track EPs (Extended Plays) and many of the singles were double A side split singles (one artists on one side, a different artist on the other). Most South Korean 7 inch singles were by Korean artists however some were by international artists such as Isaac Hayes (Theme from Shaft)(pictured above). Some recent re-issue/indie Korean albums have also included bonus 7 inch singles.
As a work in progress I have started listing some of the South Korean 7 inch pressings and international 7 inch pressings of Korean music, on the 45Cat discography site – see links below (please feel free to contribute further info) :
I have seen a small number of South Korean 45 rpm 12 inch singles dating from the late 80s, some being promos. But I don’t think the 12 inch single concept really took on in Korea and the releases in this format were quite limited.
Also, please note that often 7 inch singles are listed on e-bay as being Korean pressings, but usually these items have large US style spindle holes and look like pirates (non-licensed issues). These are Thai and Taiwanese pressings and are not actually Korean pressings. The thin sleeve Taiwanese LPs are also very often mistakenly listed on e-bay as being Korean pressings.
South Korean licensed LP releases in general
It is going to take some intricate research to discover more about the relationship between international major record labels (EMI, RCA and so on) and their South Korean affiliates/licencees. Such major labels pressed and released in South Korea but were subject to close oversight by the South Korean Ministry of Culture which resulted in many standard Korean major label releases having adjusted track listings. These major western labels also seem to have entered into distribution partnerships with established Korean labels such as the long established Oasis label.
Above are two examples of (western) major (or the major’s subsidiary) record label South Korean pressings. A Rolling Stones 1972 South Korean Decca release and a Velvet Underground 80s re-issue on Verve. In addition is also an example of the great (unique) Korean language bio sheets that come with most South Korean pressings.
Second only to Japan, and perhaps Singapore/Hong Kong (which had extensive Decca and EMI links) in the East Asian Region, it seems South Korea had quite complex ties with western record labels. What I would be interested to know, is when these relationships between western music labels and Koreans started, and how they were formed? The fantastic Korea Record Archive site illustrates the extent to which Japan based western labels (such as Okeh, Columbia, etc) pressed Korean music on 78 rpm (SP records) in Japan during colonial times. Scholars have also written a number of articles researching this area further. I’m also interested to know to what extent 78 rpm records were actually pressed in Korea. I have North Korean pressed 10 inch vinyl LPs that were supposedly pressed in Pyongyang that are on very heavy thick vinyl, possibly pressed in the 1970s with an old 78 rpm press if this is possible?
Above is a thumbnail of a 78 (Standard Play) record (pre 1958) on the Korean Oasis label next to 1980s pressings of Guns And Roses/Rolling Stones vinyl LPs with Oasis distribution and Oasis based catalogue numbers (OLE/OLW prefixes). From memory, I think the South Korean Nirvana releases from 1992/93 were also Oasis distribution. This indicates that in relation to western artists many South Korean record labels were content to take a back seat after 1970, concentrating on distribution. Many other countries shared this process of an ‘up-front’ foreign label being used with a home based distribution companies’ catalogue number sequence (Festival Records/Distribution in Australia being one prime example). If a time comes when Koreans compile discographies (if they do not exist now), such things will need to be accounted for so that chronological continuity can be preserved.
Alternative track selections on many licensed South Korean pressings due to government censorship
In South Korea during the dictatorship periods (1972-1987) it was quite common for the South Korean Ministry of Culture to “disapprove” of certain tracks on western rock albums and not to grant a release license unless the offending tracks were dropped. During this period the small print on labels and backs of sleeves would state “Approved by the K.E.C.P.P. Ministry of Culture and Information. Registration No 16. (or another number)” on almost all LP releases. Because the censorship of certain tracks led to them being either omitted altogether or replaced by another track, many South Korean albums have unique track listings causing them to be particularly interesting to collectors.
This censorship dynamic was in play across possibly hundreds of releases. A good example can be found on the various South Korean pressings of Pink Floyd‘s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol/EMI/Oasis OLE-288) which has has 8 tracks, instead of the 10 tracks on Western issues. “Us and them” and “Brain damage” were dropped from side two on the earlier pressings. Another example is Blondie‘s 1979 album Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis/Oasis OLH 2006) which had “Shayla” and “Atomic” both omitted.
Metallica was one band who got beaten with the Ministry of Culture stick pretty often. The 1986 Master of Puppets (Phonogram/Vertigo SEL-RP 1439) album discarded “Damage, Inc.”, “Disposable Heroes” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” replacing 2 of these tracks with cover versions “Bread Fan’ and “The Prince”. The genuine copy (rather than the high quality pirate) of The $5.98 E.P Garage Days Re-revisited (Mercury/Polygram SEL-RP 1038) omits “Last Caress”/”Green Hell” but compensates with nice Korean language liner notes on the back cover.
Unique albums, cover variations on licensed South Korean pressings
In addition to alternate track listings, there were a lot of South Korea only vinyl LP releases and even more South Korea only covers which were legitimate licensed pressings put out by the major labels.
QUEEN Greatest Hits LP (EMI/Oasis OLE-7012) not only had a unique track listing but also a unique montage picture cover. QUEEN News Of The World LP (EMI/Oasis OLE-209) (1978) not only omitted ‘Get Down, Make Love’ from the track listing but also had a unique variation of the UK cover. AC/DC Rock and Roll ain’t Noise Pollution LP Atlantic/OASIS/WEA OLW-151(1981 first pressing) was unique to South Korea, featuring tracks from “Back in Black” and “Dirty Deeds …” using the sleeve design from the latter. There were also a number of unique albums such as a BOB DYLAN Greatest Hits LP (CBS/Sony/Jigu Records KJPL-0143) that were Korea/Japan only. There are also quite a few Korean only Madonna vinyl releases which are documented here.
And then there is the Creato label …
Like Seagull, DR, Hee Gee and a few other Korean record labels, the status of the Creato label is a bit of a mystery. This is a label that seems to have operated though-out the 1980s releasing a huge selection of high quality Korean only vinyl LP records by major international artists. Everybody from Bowie to Elvis to The Rolling Stones, all had Creato albums issued. They all came in high quality colour glossy covers with “Approved by Ministry of Culture …” text, had anti-static inner sleeves, stamped matrix numbers, a consistent catalogue number sequence and importantly were excellent pressings with good sound quality. These albums were stated to be licensed from Creato/Munhwa Records, or from Golden Dragon Records or somewhere else, and were usually stated to be manufactured by Hansori Records Co Ltd. Many copies of Creato Records LPs I’ve had pass through my hands had small cut out/drill holes through the covers denoting deleted stock. There is a vast selection of releases on this label out there and I don’t know how legit they are. My working theory is that they were sub-licencing from Japanese licence holders. Anyone know for sure? I may need to research Creato in detail at some stage to find the truth of the matter.
I have had in the past (or currently now have in storage) a great many of these Korean only vinyl LP releases by international artists. At some point I may look to compile a discography of exactly what is out there, and will list the information on this site.
South Korean unlicensed releases (pirates)
South Korea produced a great many pirate LPs especially between the mid 70s and mid 80s. Although many of these were full colour cover quite good quality issues, the vast majority were poor quality vinyl pressings with ‘monochrome’ single colour covers. The Zappa and MC5 releases go for high prices, as do the Clash, Cure and Pistols releases. Kiss, AC/DC and some other bands are also usually in demand. But because every Korean and his dog have been listing these on e-bay over the last few years, the supply and demand equation has changed and prices for these (as with the licensed LPs) have dropped to quite modest levels.
The single point I have to make about these LPs is that they are rare in top range condition ! They hardly ever turn up in a genuine EX+ or better grade, and the thin covers are almost always damaged and/or taped. The AC/DC one pictured above is extremely clean, and the cover was exceptionally nice until I carried it back from the shop on a crowded subway in Seoul and forever bent the top left hand corner of the cover.
The scope of international artists on licensed South Korean pressings
Finally, just a few words on the range of artists I have seen South Korean pressings of vinyl records by.
(Unlike Japan) as far as international artists go, until around 1970 there was a very limited selection of international popular music artists who had records pressed in Korea. The Beatles and Cliff Richard being the two I’ve encountered most. Through the 1970s the range expanded and most of the major rock/pop bands/artists had South Korean releases. The exception being the punk genre. I have yet to see any of the landmark albums by The Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc on a legitimate South Korean pressing. Pirate copies of these albums exist but are rare.
Post-punk artists such as The Cure, Joy Division, etc didn’t get a look in either during the 80s, but Depeche Mode released at least one legitimate album as DEPECHE MODE The Singles 1981-85 LP (Mute YMPL-083) (1985) and the CURE released Wish on PolyGram Sung Eum Records 513 261-1 RG 3058 (1992).
During the 1980s and early 1990s (1993/4 seems to be the cut off date for Korean vinyl pressings), South Korea released most of the rock and pop albums that made the charts in the US. The exception seems to be 1980s rap and hip hop albums which either didn’t resonate in South Korea or were fire-walled by the Ministry of Culture censorship entity (although The BEASTIE BOYS Check your head LP Capitol / EMI-Kemongsa Records EKPL-0240 was released on vinyl ). During the early 1990s Nivana‘s Bleach LP (1989) (BMG BMGFL-5053), Nevermind LP (1991)(BMG Korea Records BFPL-1007) and Incesticide LP (1993) (Geffen BMGFL-5016) were all released in South Korea on vinyl as well as In Utero (1993) (Geffen BMGFL 5035) which would have to have been one of the last major label vinyl releases issued in South Korea.
Some interesting observations:
South Korea released a lot of metal albums and surprisingly so, considering South Korea’s past censorship history. Bands like Sepultura and Pantera had Korean releases through Roadrunner. Black Sabbath and Metallica had their full album catalogue released on major labels in South Korea, with Metallica‘s major label releases complimented by quite a few Korean only releases issued by semi-legitimate labels.
At some point a number of South Korean labels re-released an extremely wide selection of classic international 1970s psych/prog/folk LPs mostly by UK and European artists. One label in particular, Si-Wan Records, released a vast series of almost exact reproductions. For example GRACIOUS Gracious LP (self-titled) (South Korea) Vertigo/Si-Wan SRML 0033, was an exact reproduction of the original 1970 album complete with a swirl label except for the catalogue number and a small Si-Wan logo on the back cover. These South Korean pressings were very nicely presented and usually had excellent sound quality, making them a good substitution for the expensive originals. The 1970s Korean band San Ul Lim (산울림) no doubt contributed greatly to the interest in the 70s prog/psych sound in South Korea.
I have also been interested to find many South Korean pressings of post-1970 Asian artists. Vinyl LPs by Japanese artists like Pink Lady are not uncommon, as are LPs by artists from the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. Most of the biggest name Chinese/HK artists had Korean pressed albums released. But I am yet to see any of the Teresa Teng or early Faye Wong albums on Korean vinyl pressings. A very interesting observation to me is that Cui Jian (who is actually ethnic Korean) had a number of albums released in South Korea including his 1986 album 無所有 (Nothing To My Name) which is a somewhat subversive album with some quite critical social statements indirectly expressed in Mandarin language.
Below is a link to a long long long tem project, where I will try to document the details of as many of the Korean pressing albums with adjusted track listing as I can:
Korean Pressing LPs 한국에서 제작된 엘피 레코드 This is a site where I am accumulating basic information about (mostly) Korean pressings of LPs; especially in relation to those LPs with different track listings due to government censorship.
Korean vinyl records – 한국 레코드판 by Michael Dover is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.Based on a work at https://koreanvinyl.wordpress.com/.Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://koreanvinyl.wordpress.com/.