The early 1970s saw the coming of another talented new kid in the music scene. Lee Jang Hee (이장희) dropped on to the pop music world one day seemingly out of nowhere. Despite no special affinity to music in his family and having taken no musical training, he had a deep fountain of creative idea. As one of the early singer songwriters together with Kim Min Gi and Hahn Dae Soo, he produced quite a few big hits in the pop arena. His music seemed to have no boundaries, ranging from personal and melancholy, poetic and introspective, to energetic light rock.
한 잔 의 추 억
A shot of Memories
The legend has it that Lee Jang Hee (이장희, 1947-) listened to a song on the radio, the title of which eludes me, and thought he wanted to write songs like that, which started everything. He got a guitar and taught himself to compose songs. It was the creativity lurking in him and nothing else that started the whole chain of events. After dropping out of college to pursue music, he started make headway in the early 1970s. It’s You (그건 너) which was released in 1973, was a major hit that solidified his position as a major artist. It was quite a feat even in the new era that saw many new songwriters and lyricists such as Kim Min Gi and Hahn Dae Soo as it was such a huge mainstream hit. While Kim and Hahn’s songs were modest hits that gained popularity over time and especially among the followers and aficionados, Lee’s pop hits were massive ones that immediately dominated the media and generated huge record sales. It was a phenomenon that no one thought possible, that a virtually known newcomer could be a major star in such a short span of time through nothing but his self composed songs and passion. Remarkably, Lee did not have good looks or even above average voice to help him in his quest, as is often the case with the recent K-pop artists. Lee’s music was very diverse and did not limit him in one genre, which he once said had a strong influence of Hank Williams Jr. Lee’s inexhaustible output continued for several years, putting out more chart hits for himself, doing movie theme songs, and writing songs for other artists as well. He was another happy story of pure artistic sensitivities trumping the trappings of the industry.
It’s You was a high octane light rock that was especially popular with the youth. About a youngster lost and thrashing about in the city, it was in a way an anthem for the youths, a sound track of their lives done in an apt and compelling mainstream pop with lyrics that depict them in a cool and honest way. It seemed break all the records among the self penned, new artist songs, reaching a level even the well established singers would be envious of.
A Shot of Memories (한 잔의 추억) a year or two later follows in the same spirit. It is all about the young souls lurching and wandering for love and a direction in life, at a time Korea was a place exciting and oppressive at the same time. As the title suggests, nothing beat relaxing and letting loose with friends over a drink in the many youth friendly taverns and joints. With their susceptible and sentimental young mind, they were drinking shots of memories out of the shot glass, albeit at an age not really ripe at all to have accumulated many memories.
After a whirlwind career of a decade or so, the eccentric Lee left the music scene and went over to the United States to run an ethnic radio station in Los Angeles. A couple of decades later he called it quits and came back to Korea, settling into a hermit-like life nestled deep in nature. While making media appearances on the side and performing for old time fans occasionally, he seems to be happy with his lot living on the remote island in the East Sea, acquiring the nickname Keeper of the Ullung-do.