Born January 2, 1951, in the city of Chuncheon, the youngest in a family of 5 sisters, Kim Choo-Ja (김추자) is considered the first sex symbol of Korean pop music. Despite being an unknown worldwide, she’s one of the most influential artist’s from the Republic of Korea. Born with a lascivious curvy body, something unusual for an Asian, she was not afraid to show off in her dances, performances, clothes and record covers, wearing tight jeans or mini skirts, tops with cleavage-boosting and tall boots, a real foxy! During her career, Choo-Ja passed through a lot of personas and attitudes, that not only reflected on her appearance but also on her sound and sexuality, like the early beat-girlie, the stoned-rock-hippy, and ultimate ferocious diva!
Even didn’t write her songs, as an interpreter, she was much helped by Shin Joong Hyun, the godfather of K-Rock, through her career, especially in her first steps. They met each other in 1969 after she had won the first prize in a festival of Arts at the University of Dongguk, where she graduated in Theatre and Cinema.
In October’s same year, debuts her first album: Before Its Late (늦기 전에), produced by Shin and accompanied by the band The Donkeys, the record reached great commercial success, introducing a new face in Korean pop music. Based on the psychedelic combo bass-drums-guitars-keyboards they Americanize traditional folk/trot music, until then, sung only in a high pitch by singers that looked like plasticized mannequins with their stern-tacky Hanboks.
With more than 30 (!) albums released between 1969 to 1975, Kim Choo-Ja completely dominated the 70’s and has established herself as one of the greatest singers of an era. She had problems with the censors for her hit ‘It’s a Lie’, which was banned by the military dictatorship, on the allegation that it instigates distrust. The military government, ruled by the infamous Park Chung-hee, also suspected her dance moves to be a hand signal for North Korean spies. (?!)
There was a period of blacklists and stronger repression, motivated by Shin’s charge and arrest for marijuana possession, in December 75. During those years she was out of the charts, but it won’t last much, her big comeback took place in the series of shows Recital 78, released on 1980, the album brings her greatest hits on some different live arrangements, but it’s probably the cover, its most iconic and extravagant leap, an incredible Korean Power Booty!!
For a society that has lived under a dictatorship for decades, Choo-Ja suffered constant boycotts from the government until its fall in 1988.
With the ’80s, she launches more than 15 (!) discs from live shows (mostly) and romantic collections; due to their children, a remarriage and family reasons, she retires from the market in 1988. But the legacy of Choo-Ja can be seen, in parts, with all those never-ending pretty dolls who littered the Korean pop music scene today.
Let’s go to our record:
Today’s album is actually a Mixtape, organized by myself, traversing many records, trying to go through all periods from our Korean Bombshell!
It’s a pop-psychedelic beginning, the encounter with the Soul and its variations, the Latin accent, their romantic-modern versions of Trots and even a medley from the aforementioned ‘Recital 78’, with several successes, such as ‘Sgt. Kim’, ‘Regret’, ‘Rumour’, and even a version from ‘Ani Holem al Naomi’, single that sold more than 1 million copies in 70s Japan, from the Israeli duo Hedva and David!
We would be unfair to Choo-Ja if we just label her as an exclusively psych-folk singer, such as Kim Jung Mi (김정미) was. What we see here are Big Bands and their orchestrations, Brass Funk-Soul, Psych, Rock, Trots, Ballads and a familiar Korean tendency to put a few spoons of sugar into the romanticism: ‘Nangman’ (낭만)!
Unfortunately, the translation and reading in Hangul are extremely difficult, the content of the lyrics is still an incognita, as well some of the albums where the songs came out. A large number of compilations, pirate and collaboration albums, contribute to make this a HARD work, but in almost all themes the year is indicated on the mp3 file.
The ‘IM’ highlights today are for: ‘No’ (아니) a megaton groove, with breakbeats, brass, and an outstanding guitar swing! This is a really infectious soul that could be covered by any funk masters, such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power or even the pope James Brown! The other one is ‘Rain’ (비), one of the few that I couldn’t retrieve any info, what a pity! I’ve got a sentimental keen on that, a standard ballad, with Big Band accompaniment and a blue finale, an instant CLASSIC!
Lastly, don’t forget to check our special gallery selection, with some personal and rare photos. Phew! Perjalanan Yang Baik!