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K-Pop Throwback: The Devils Bring The Drama With 'Bachelor Forty' [AUDIO]

By Jeff Tobias | March 14, 2014 02:46 PM EDT

"He sang like a professional criminal. Typically, he'd start out in some low, barely audible range, stay there a while and then astonishingly slip into histrionics. His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'man, I don't believe it.' His songs had songs within songs."

That's Bob Dylan, writing in his 2004 memoir "Chronicles, Volume One" about one of his heroes: Roy Orbison. (Still waiting on "Volume Two," Bob.)

Sifting through the relics of Korean pop and rock music from the midpoint of the 20th century, one can hear the echoes of legends like Orbison.

"The Big O" could certainly be considered a significant influence on early K-pop due to his eclectic range, to say nothing for his penchant for melodrama.

These echoes are present in the music of the Devils, a group that came very close to slipping into total obscurity. The only reason most people are aware of their existence is due to a 2008 Korean film "Go Go 70s."

"Go Go 70s" appears to be a heavily fictionalized version of the Devils' story, depicting a retro soul group struggling to reach audiences in the clubs and military bases in the 1970s. Sort of "The Commitments" meets "That Thing You Do," as far as one can tell from the trailer.

It's unclear how much of "Go Go 70s" was based on the real-life events of the Devils. The group produced a handful of albums throughout the '70s, but are sparsely documented, even on the normally vacuum-abhorring internet.

For lack of solid biographical information, we can only appraise the music on the basis of the music alone. All the better to get to the bottom of things, as it were.

At first brush, the Devils' debut album from 1971 is typically imitative of the sounds being broadcast from American military base radios throughout the '60s, but clearly takes cues from the godfather of Korean rock, Shin Joong Hyun, as well.

However, the album's final cut, "Bachelor Forty," boasts some exciting moments, genuine urgency and jarringly odd change-ups. It beats the pants off of their version of "Proud Mary," in any case.

As organ and guitar lurch into a waltzing rhythm at the tune's launch, the Devils' leader summons the spirit of Orbison with a throaty, melismatic melody. Again, the listener is reminded of Bob Dylan's affectionate praise for Orbiso.

"With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera," he wrote.

The same mystery resonates here.

A minute in, the players forfeit their sleepy triple rhythm in favor of a amphetamine-speedy backbeat. The trick is clever, upping the drama and allowing the singer to continue to ratchet up his blood-and-thunder delivery.

The alternately fuzzed-out and clean guitars summon images of twin axemen taking center stage and ushering in the psychedelic soul sound that was so popular among Korean musicians of this era.

The singer's range is considerable; he's no Roy Orbison, but you know what? He's got chops.

He only relents to allow the two guitarists to take what appear to be simultaneous solos. The excitement of the performers is self-evident... no one was willing to wait their turn.

When the singer re-enters the picture, the dynamics shift immediately to maximize the theatrical intensity. But as dramatic as the action is, you buy it: it's convincingly gripping, rather than eye roll inducing.

This is an example of a group that would benefit from some excavation - now that they've received their biopic, can audiences hope for a rockumentary? Fingers crossed.

Check out the Devils' "Bachelor Forty" here.

Jeff Tobias is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, he has been researching the history of tuning systems and working on his jump shot. 

Tagged :  devils, go go 70s, Bachelor Forty

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