Archive for the ‘First Wednesday’ Category

First Wednesday (Friday): July 1968

Friday, July 6th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month

(The first Wednesday of July 2018 turned out to be, of course, Independence Day, and that distracted me, and the next day, yesterday, the Texas Gal was not feeling well. All of that means that the post intended for the first Wednesday of July now shows up on the first Friday. So it goes. In ten years, no one will know the difference.)

It seems as if the world took a deep breath in July 1968.

The first six months of the year had brought blow after blow, especially for those who lived in the United States: The growing and bitter debate over the Vietnam War, the capitulation of a sitting president, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And even events that didn’t directly affect the U.S. – one of those being the general revolt in France in May – came into American homes through increasingly immediate news coverage, which brought with it images that made many, I’m sure, feel as if the entire world had gone mad.

The listing of events of July 1968 at Wikipedia is fairly slender, and nothing that is listed triggers gut-wrenching memories, as do so many of the events listed there for the first half of the year. Still, in the bright glare of hindsight, there is at least one event that intrigues:

On the first day of the month, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency inaugurated its Phoenix program in Vietnam. Coordinated with the security apparatus of South Vietnam, the program was designed to “identify and ‘neutralize’ (via infiltration, capture, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.” That organization – the National Liberation Front – was better known as the Viet Cong, the guerillas operating in South Vietnam in support of North Vietnam.

According to the entry at Wikipedia – which pulled information from the March/April 2006 edition of Military Review and from a paper written by a U.S. Army colonel at the U.S. Army War College – the Phoenix Program was half a success. Between 1968 and 1972, South Vietnamese militia and police forces, using data gathered by CIA operatives “neutralized 81,740 NLF members, of whom 26,369 were killed.”

The matter-of-fact language chills me. Some would say, I imagine, that war is war and one does what one has to. But the CIA was (and is) not military, and – as government investigations in the mid-1970s revealed – was essentially accountable to no one for many of its 1960s operations.

And the Phoenix program, notes Wikipedia, was not fully successful. First, the wrong people were sometimes “neutralized,” having been purposely mis-identified as Viet Cong by rivals. Second, by 1968, the Viet Cong were well established throughout South Vietnam; the organization had won, to use a phrase that became a cliché in later years, the hearts and minds of many South Vietnamese.

The words “Phoenix program” are for many, I imagine, a memory of the Seventies rather than the Sixties, for it was in the mid-1970s that Congress investigated years of intelligence activities. That was when Phoenix and all the other shadowy efforts – some tragic, some laughable – came to light. But that particular effort began on a Monday at the start of July 1968.

A few other things happened that month, some of which echo to this day:

Saddam Hussein became vice chairman of Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Council on July 17 after a coup d’état.

Pope Paul VI published his encyclical Humana Vitae (On Human Life) on July 25. The encyclical bans birth control.

Mount Arenal, a volcano in Costa Rica that was presumed extinct, erupted July 29 for the first time in four hundred years, destroying the town of Arenal and killing eighty-seven people. The eruption caused three new and active craters to form, and the volcano has been active ever since, with minor eruptions taking place every five to ten minutes.

In Cleveland, Ohio, police surveillance of African-American militant Fred (Ahmed) Evans and his followers – they were suspected of purchasing illegal weapons – resulted in a July 23 shootout in the city’s Glenville neighborhood. Six or seven people were killed (Wikipedia says that newspaper accounts differ) and fifteen were wounded. In addition, the confrontation sparked arson and looting throughout the six square miles of the neighborhood that continued until police and the National Guard restored order July 28.

Even in those days, at the age of fourteen, I followed the news fairly closely, and I have no recollection at all of those events in Cleveland, which came to be known as the Glenville Shootout. I’m sure accounts were in the news and on television, and in hindsight, it seems like a fairly major event. But for some reason, it didn’t stick.

Then again, not a lot of things have stuck with me from that month. I guess I had a pretty standard American Midwest summer: a few chores in the mornings, orchestra practice (and occasional performances) on Monday evenings, lots of time spent knocking about the neighborhood with Rick.

The only thing that was really new that summer of ’68 was that I worked out at the trap shoot for the first time, most likely in mid-July. As I wrote more than a year ago, there were a number of songs I heard so frequently on the radio in the trap pit that they immediately take me back to that dirty and loud place.

But as July started, here’s what the Billboard Top 15 looked like:

“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts
“Here Comes the Judge” by Shorty Long
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Reach out of the Darkness” by Friend and Lover
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills

That’s an okay Top 15. It could rock a little more, yeah, as only the Stones’ single and “Think” have much bite. As I noted when I wrote about June 1968, I can definitely get along without “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Mony Mony.” And “Here Comes the Judge” is a novelty that’s funny on occasion but doesn’t wear especially well. (It was inspired by a running gag on the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.)

But even if it’s a pretty mellow top 15, there’s some nice stuff there. The Alpert and Mendes singles are sweet, and “Angel of the Morning” is one of the great one-hit wonders of all time. “Lady Willpower” is a nice – if a little bombastic – period piece. “Mrs. Robinson” was a great single, now heading down the charts after hitting No. 1 for three weeks. And – speaking of bombast – for some reason, I’ve always had a fondness for “MacArthur Park.”

Then there was “Indian Lake” with its unremarkable-for-its-time war whoops, which I would guess would be unthinkable today. I wonder if the record – which went as high as No. 10 in late June – is on any oldies playlists anywhere. I don’t recall hearing it on radio for years.

Over on the Billboard album chart during the first week of July 1968, the top spot was occupied for the fourteenth straight week by an album with Simon & Garfunkel on it. For five of those weeks – including this first week in July – that album had been Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends. The top album for the other nine weeks had been the soundtrack to The Graduate, which featured four previously released songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as snippets of an early version of “Mrs. Robinson.” (The full and final version was on Bookends.)

The two albums had switched places for a couple of weeks, but from April 6 through July 6, the top two spots on the chart belonged to Simon & Garfunkel. And on July 6, 1968, here’s how the Top 10 looked:

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Disraeli Gears by Cream
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Look Around by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel

Movement on the album chart was close to glacial. Seven of those albums had been in the Top Ten during the first week in June. The three that hadn’t were the Richard Harris, Sergio Mendes and Jimi Hendrix albums, and Are You Experienced had been bouncing in and out of the Top Ten for months.

I would have no time for the Goldsboro, and there would be better Monkees albums to own if one wanted to go beyond the singles. (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and Headquarters come to mind.) With those exceptions, it’s not a bad Top Ten: Some pretty robust rock, some folk rock, some Latin sounds and some instrumentals that aren’t utterly soporific.

The album I’m sharing today didn’t come near the Top Ten, peaking at No. 30 during a five-week stay on the album chart in February and March of 1969. But it’s still an interesting album: I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely of covers of songs by Bob Dylan.*

And who better than Baez to do it? She was the reigning queen of folk when Dylan shambled onto the world’s stage in 1962 and 1963; her support and her recordings of some of his early work gave him exposure and legitimacy. Lovers for a few years, the two of them were linked inextricably and permanently by their pre-eminence in the folk movement of the early 1960s. So if anyone had a claim on covering Bob Dylan for an entire album, Baez did.

And for the most part, Baez does well. The decision to record the album in Nashville was probably the crucial decision regarding the entire project. Using many of the same musicians that Dylan had used for Blonde on Blonde in 1966 (two of whom also played on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding in 1967), Baez puts Dylan’s songs into a country-ish context. The sessions for Any Day Now took place in September or October 1968 (sources I’ve seen differ), shortly after the release of the Byrds’ landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and it seems pertinent to wonder how much influence the Byrds’ sound had on Baez.

Highlights? The most obvious is “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word,” a song that Dylan has seemingly never recorded. In addition, her recording of “The Walls of Red Wing,” was, it seems, the first ever released: Dylan’s version was released in 1991. (The song, maybe not one of Dylan’s best, is of interest here because “The Walls of Red Wing” surrounded Minnesota’s penal institution for boys in the 1960s, a place of rumor and dread back in my grade school and junior high days even for generally well-behaved boys.)

Another highlight is “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which surfaced for the first time on Sweetheart of the Rodeo but gets a warmer and more relaxed reading here.

One of the chief assets of Any Day Now is in Baez’ vocal approach. On many of her folk recordings of the early 1960s, there was little interpretation, with every folk song presented almost as a jewel to be admired and not to be tampered with. By the time she got to Any Day Now, Baez was becoming an interpreter, leaning on some words and phrases and sliding past others, telling tales with the songs rather than presenting them as museum pieces. That makes Any Day Now one of Baez’ most accessible albums. (The same holds true for Baez’ next release, 1969’s David’s Album, which was recorded at the same time as Any Day Now.)

Musicians listed for the Any Day Now sessions at All-Music Guide are: Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Jerry Reed, Harold Rugg, Stephen Stills and Pete Wade on guitar; David Briggs on keyboards; Kenny Buttrey on drums; Fred Carter on mandolin; Pete Drake on steel guitar; Johnny Gimble, Tommy Jackson and Buddy Spicher on violin; Junior Husky and Norbert Putnam on bass; Bill Pursell on piano; and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on keyboards.

Tracks: Love Minus Zero/No Limit
North Country Blues
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Drifter’s Escape
I Pity The Poor Immigrant
Tears of Rage
Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
The Walls of Red Wing
Dear Landlord
One Too Many Mornings
I Shall Be Released
Boots of Spanish Leather
Walkin’ Down the Line
Restless Farewell

Joan Baez – Any Day Now [1968]

The link above leads to a YouTube play list of the album that includes two bonus tracks: “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

*Any Day Now was not the first album made up entirely of covers of Bob Dylan tunes. In a later post, I passed on information from readers citing an album by Odetta and I noted in the same post an album by Linda Mason cited at All-Music Guide.

First Wednesday: June 1968

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

As 1968 entered June, nearing its halfway mark, the body blows kept coming.

June 5 was a Wednesday, one of the first days of summer vacation, so I slept in, as did my mom. We weren’t sluggards, but neither of us had risen with Dad as he left for the college before seven o’clock, which was his custom. Instead, we wandered downstairs about eight o’clock.

And there was a note on the kitchen table, in Dad’s distinctive hand, sharing the news he’d heard on the radio as he had his breakfast: Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles after winning the previous day’s California primary. He was in critical condition. I’m not sure if it actually said so, but the note at least gave the impression that Kennedy’s survival was unlikely.

I was not necessarily a supporter of Bobby Kennedy; I had some parochial pride that two of the Democratic candidates for president – Eugene McCarthy and Hubert H. Humphrey – were Minnesotans. I was, however, beginning to pay some attention to Kennedy’s message, and so – I think – was my father. My mother’s political sympathies, I know, were on the other side of the aisle. But those preferences and differences were unimportant at that moment.

I remember standing there, next to my mom, looking at the note, reading it a second time. Its content was, as had been so much already that year, difficult to grasp, to process. To a boy of fourteen – even to a fairly bright boy who kept up pretty well with current events – it was one more piece of an adult-sized puzzle, a mystery that seemed further and further from solution as every bit of new information came to light. The import of the morning’s news and its insanity – there is no other word for it – tumbled through my mind as I ate breakfast and went out to take care of my only chore of the day.

And I remember clearly that as I pushed the lawn mower that morning, I was distracted. It struck me as strange, as somehow wrong and disrespectful, to be doing something so ordinary, so mundane, while in a distant hospital room a life, a family and – yes, I thought this – maybe even the country hung on the edge of tragedy. And early the next morning, Robert Kennedy died.

The next days felt unhappily familiar and unreal: The ceremonies of grief and farewell, the funeral in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the slow train ride from New York to Washington, D.C. with crowds of mourners lining the tracks. My attention wandered; I was tired of grief, conflict and anger, and that seemed to be all the adult world was offering. So I paid less attention to those ceremonies than I otherwise might have.

And when those events ended, the rest of the month went by with little notice. In an odd bit of cosmic timing, James Earl Ray, the suspected killer of Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested in London on the day of Robert Kennedy’s funeral. And with that, the major news of June pretty much ended.

The days lengthened, at least for a couple more weeks, and turned warmer. For all the sorrow that 1968 had brought so far, there was a summer. And I think a lot of us moved toward that warm season numbly, wondering “What next?”

During those moments we sought comfort from music, as many of us always have done, what did we hear that month? Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 for June 1, 1968:

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Love Is All Around” by the Troggs
“She’s Lookin’ Good” by Wilson Pickett

Well, that’s about seventy percent okay. Of the top four, I can imagine a large number of people looking askance at the Hugo Montenegro single, but I’ve always loved it for some reason. So the first four on that list are just fine with me. The bottom eight are fine, too: “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” was one of best things Marvin and Tammi did during their too-brief time as partners; the Intruders’ track is pleasant, if a little slight; and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” might be the third best thing among these fifteen, challenged for that spot only by the Marvin and Tammi duet, “Mrs. Robinson” or “Think.” As to the top two for me, the Alpert single and “MacArthur Park” have always been favorites of mine.

But those other three, from No. 5 through No. 7! They look like a bad tongue twister. Of the three, the Goldsboro is the worst, but I’ve never cared much for the other two, either. Those three singles would create a ten-minute segment on the oldies countdown when I’d find a reason to leave the room, maybe change the furnace filter or take out the recycling.

You’ll note that even the good singles there are all pretty light. There are some R&B grooves in “Tighten Up” and hints of that in “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “Cowboys to Girls,” but this is a pretty soft Top Ten. Maybe the album chart was a little tougher.

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel and Dave Grusin
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Good, The Band And The Ugly soundtrack by Ennio Morricone
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Music From “A Fistful of Dollars” & “For A Few Dollars More” & “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro

Again, those are pretty light, with only the Cream and the Aretha entries having much weight, although it should be noted that Simon & Garfunkel were always a good listen. The soundtrack to The Good, The Band And The Ugly had originally been released with the film in 1966 and popped back into the album charts after the success of Montenegro’s album of covers.

I’m not sure when the album I’m sharing today was released, beyond the fact that it was 1968. And it’s an odd album, even though there are portions of it that I enjoy very much.

Fever Tree came out of Houston, Texas, and recorded and released four albums between 1968 and 1970 without drawing much attention. In fact, I’d wager that the group is better known these days as a result of its music having been released on CD than it ever was back in the Sixties.

Still, there is some interesting music in Fever Tree’s catalog, especially on the first, self-titled album from 1968. The song that most folks know is “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” which has popped up on a number of anthologies over the years, including one of the highly regarded Nuggets collections in the 1980s. It’s a track that, if not great, is at least fun to listen to and worthy of some attention because of, All-Music Guide notes, its “dramatic melody, utopian lyrics, and searing fuzz guitar.”

(Ten years ago, my music library was in process, so I was unable to report that a single release of “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” had spent six weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 but never got any higher than No. 91. It was Fever Tree’s only chart entry. As to the album, it went to No. 156 on the Billboard 200. I should also note that when it came time to compile the records in my Ultimate Jukebox in early 2010, “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” was one of the 240 records included.)

The rest of the album? Well, it’s all over the musical map. The opening track – “Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?” – begins with a Bach quote and a snippet of what sounds like a lift from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack before settling into a swirling song that alternates harsh vocals and lilting flute. On my first listening some time ago, that first track reminded me of a review of another musician I once read, noting that the performer in question “never threw away any idea.” That’s kind of the sense I got about Fever Tree and its producers, Scott and Vivian Holtzman (who wrote or co-wrote all of the original material on Fever Tree).

Elsewhere on the records, the Wilson Pickett cover “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” doesn’t work all that well as a psychedelic freakout, but a couple other covers connect: A medley of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” includes sly brass quotes from “Norwegian Wood” and “Eleanor Rigby,” and the cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is simply beautiful.

Of the originals, beyond “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” the two closers come off best. The other originals are not bad, but “Unlock My Door” and “Come With Me (Rainsong)” are mellow, maybe sentimental, and close very nicely an album that seems to have wandered all over the map before coming home at last.

Tracks:

Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?
San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)
Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)
Man Who Paints The Pictures
Filigree & Shadow
Sun Also Rises
Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
Nowadays, Clancy Can’t Even Sing
Unlock My Door
Come With Me (Rainsong)

Here’s a link that will take you to the entire album as an automatic playlist at YouTube: Fever Tree (1968).

Historical error corrected after first posting.

First Wednesday: May 1968

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger or knew someone who was murdered or had a loved one murdered. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were still spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here are the Top 10 albums in Billboard from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventually cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

And from the vantage point of fifty years later, I wince as I see one of Bill Cosby’s comedy albums on the chart. I had one of them, Wonderfulness, which I bought in 1967. Does that also make me wince? Only a little. I was fourteen. My copy of Wonderfulness, which I would guess hadn’t been played since the late 1960s, went out the door during the Great Vinyl Selloff a little more than a year ago. Did I sell it because of the allegations of criminal sexual behavior (now, in one case, found to be true) or because I no longer wanted it? A little of both, I’d guess.

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s, hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which, in 1958, went to No. 11 on two of the Billboard pop charts of the day and to No. 3 on the magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. He then left the group and moved to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 on the pop chart and spent seven weeks on top of the R&B chart in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 (No. 23, R&B) – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20 pop, No. 4 R&B), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16 pop, No. 1, R&B), “Are You Happy” (No. 39 pop, No. 9 R&B) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4 on the pop chart and at No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

Video unavailable.

First Wednesday: April 1968

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

Forty years ago this evening, I went into the living room to watch something on television. It was just after dinner and dishes, so it was somewhere between six and half-past six. Or maybe it was nearly seven o’clock. I’m not sure, and I have no idea what it was I was planning to watch that Thursday evening.

The television schedule for that evening shows nothing I’d have been interested in: Batman, The Flying Nun, Cimmaron Strip and Daniel Boone occupied the hour between half-past six and half-past seven. I’m sure I was planning to watch as much as I could that evening of a Minnesota North Stars playoff game from Los Angeles, but that would be later. When I turned the television on that evening, it was still light outside.

But almost as soon I turned the television on, it was dark. One of the national newscasters – I do not recall which one – told me and millions more that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that evening in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot while on the balcony of his motel room, preparing for another evening of supporting the sanitation workers’ strike that had brought him to the city.

I was fourteen but already had – as I’ve noted before – a sense of news and a sense of history. I imagine I went and told my parents the news, but I know I sat in front of the television for a couple hours as the white men employed by whatever network I was watching tried to make sense of the assassination of a black leader. Except they couldn’t make sense of it, of course. It was one more brick of insanity falling in place in the mad wall that 1968 was building.

Campaigning in inner city Indianapolis that evening, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy found himself relating the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd of black supporters. “It fell to Kennedy,” writes Tom Brokaw in his book, Boom!, “to deliver the news, which was so shocking and unexpected that it took everyone a few moments to absorb the enormity of the fact.”

Brokaw goes on:

“As he stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the lights of news cameras, Kennedy talked gently but intensely about the need to resist ‘hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction . . .’ he said, ‘or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to . . . remove that stain of bloodshed that spread across our land’.”

In what Brokaw calls “one of the most powerful speeches of Kennedy’s career, delivered extemporaneously,” the senator told the crowd:

Aeschylus once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country; whether they be white or whether they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.

There was no violence in Indianapolis that night, but riots broke out starting that night and over the next few days in more than a hundred U.S. cities in response to Dr. King’s murder, including – according to Wikipedia – Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. In an event that may or may not have been related but that added to the tension in the country, two days after Dr. King was murdered, a shootout in California between Oakland police and members of the Black Panthers resulted in several deaths, including that of Panther Bobby Hutton, who was sixteen.

Racial tension continued to spark riots through the spring, as in Louisville, Kentucky, in late May, where rumors that white authorities were intentionally delaying a plane that was bringing black leader Stokely Carmichael to Louisville triggered two days of rioting in the city’s west end. A year already bad was getting worse.

Also that month, Rudi Dutschke, the head of APO, a German left-wing student organization opposed to the sitting government, was attacked and injured April 11 (he would die eleven years later from his brain injuries). The same day, German left-wing students blockaded the Berlin headquarters of the Springer Press. Many of them were arrested, including Ulrike Meinhof, who in the next few years would organize the Red Army Faction, a German revolutionary organization.

From April 23 through April 30, protestors at Columbia University in New York took over administration buildings and shut down the university. Wikipedia says the “protests erupted . . . after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as their concern over an allegedly segregatory gymnasium to be constructed in a local park.”

From where I sat in the American Midwest, the world was falling apart. That wall of insane bricks the year was building, seemingly of its own accord, was getting larger. At the end of the month, there was an event that, looking back, provides a smile. At the time, though, it did nothing more for people of my parents’ generation than provide another bit of confirmation that the world was indeed going mad: On April 29, the musical Hair – with its songs about drugs and sex and its on-stage nudity – opened on New York City’s Broadway.

Within a year, despite its depravity, Hair would spin off four Top Ten singles for four different groups or performers: “Hair” by the Cowsills (No. 2), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension (No. 1), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (No. 3) and “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night (No. 4).

But those hits came in 1969. What was it we were listening to during the first week of April 1968, when the bricks began to fall faster?

Here’s the Top 15 from Billboard for the first week of April 1968:

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Valleri” by the Monkees
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” by Manfred Mann
“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark

If nothing else, it was a great time to seek solace with a radio (with the probable exception of “Honey”; I can live with “Simon Says”). Some folks, of course, liked their music in long form. Here’s what the Top Ten album chart looked like during the first week of April 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/Soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack

If one were looking at that as a shopping list, there are only a couple of hitches. One could get by without The Graduate for the most part as long as he or she had three Simon & Garfunkel albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; and the forthcoming Bookends. That would give the listener all the S&G songs from the movie except for one version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Completists, of course, would need The Graduate.

Other than that, the only album that’s not essential to get a musical sense of 1968 would be the Dionne Warwick record. The album’s two hits – the title song and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” – don’t gain anything by being heard in the context of the album, which has otherwise always seemed extraneous to me. The Paul Mauriat album, on the other hand, has always been enjoyable, from the hit title song on down, a remnant of the times – not all that far gone – when the album charts were dominated by pretty music and not by rock.

The album shared here today, Tom Rush’s The Circle Game, was not nearly that large a seller. I’m not sure where it ranked in sales when it was released in 1968; all I can safely say is that it did not reach the Top 40 album chart. Nor did its creator ever have a Top 40 hit.

[Ten years later, with a larger reference library, I can say that The Circle Game peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard 200 during a fourteen-week run in the spring and early summer of 1968. It was the best chart performance of any of Rush’s albums. And the best any single of his did was in early 1971, when “Who Do You Love” bubbled under for five weeks, peaking at No. 105.)

Rush, a native of New Hampshire, came to public attention through the folk scene in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the early 1960s. His early work, according to the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, “placed him squarely in the folk-blues vein of contemporaries John Hammond and Koerner, Ray & Glover.”

A move to Elektra Records for 1965’s Tom Rush brought some experimentation with song choices and performing styles. The 1966 follow-up, Take A Little Walk With Me, which featured one side of rock-styled performances and one side of country/folk blues, was well-received.

It was in 1968, with The Circle Game, that Rush hit his high-water mark, according to the Rolling Stone guide. Rush’s choice of songs is impeccable: The record draws from the catalogs of the then-unknown trio of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and Rush provides a couple of good originals, with one of them – “No Regrets” – being one of those songs a writer hears once and immediately wishes he had written.

Beyond “No Regrets,” the record’s highlights include two of the Mitchell compositions – the title song, which Mitchell released on Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, and “Urge for Going,” which she placed on the B-side of “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” in 1972. The Rolling Stone guide says Rush’s take on “Urge For Going” sums up the atmosphere of The Circle Game, saying that the song’s “low-key, spare arrangement characterizes the educated, wistful and warm style Rush had evolved.”

Rush’s performance of Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” is also effective. If I have a quibble about the album, it’s that sometimes the arrangements behind the songs are a bit lush. It’s a mood that works for the most part, but sometimes I’d like something a little more spare. But that’s a minor quibble about a very good record.

Tracks
Tin Angel
Something in the Way She Moves
Urge for Going
Sunshine, Sunshine
The Glory of Love
Shadow Dream Song
The Circle Game
So Long
Rockport Sunday
No Regrets

First Wednesday: March 1968

Friday, March 9th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month (except for this month, when my schedule and memory failed me, delaying the post by two days. But we’re still calling it “First Wednesday”).

As had been the case for many of the months preceding it, and as would be the case for many of the following months, the month of March 1968 was dominated – at least in the U.S. – by news of the Vietnam War and of the presidential campaign just getting under way.

During the month’s first week, what is now called the First Battle of Saigon ended. The battle had started in January as part of the Tet, or New Year’s, offensive of the army of North Vietnam and the guerrilla Viet Cong. During the First Battle of Saigon, thirty-five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces attacked six specific targets in the capital of South Vietnam, then called Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fighting – in Saigon and elsewhere in South Vietnam – ended in a clear military defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but those forces won the war of perception, as U.S. military and civilian leaders had been telling us here in the U.S. for some time that the enemy no longer had the ability to mount major military operations. Oops.

Back in the U.S., the war was the major topic of conversation in the presidential election, then just getting underway. President Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic side of the March 12 primary election in New Hampshire, the first in the nation. But the president’s slender victory – 49 percent to 42 percent – over anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy was received by the president as a repudiation of his policies, especially in Vietnam. Consequently, on the last day of March, he announced to a nation-wide television audience that he would not seek re-election.

Between the end of the Tet Offensive and the end of President Johnson’s presidential campaign came one of the U.S.’s darkest days in Vietnam. On March 16, a battalion of American soldiers was told to enter the villages Sơn Mỹ and find the hamlets called My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sympathizers had been reported. Their orders, according to Wikipedia, were to “burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.” The battalion’s Charlie Company was told by its commander, Captain Ernest Medina, that nearly all the civilian residents of the village would have left for the market that morning by seven o’clock, meaning that anyone in the village when the company arrived was almost certainly an enemy.

Wikipedia says that, in a later court martial, some of the soldiers in Charlie Company testified that they understood their orders as being “to kill all guerilla and North Vietnamese combatants and ‘suspects’ (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.”

And that’s what they did. The toll? Even today, fifty years later, it’s unclear. Wikipedia says that the number of civilian deaths at My Lai was either 347 (according to the U.S. military) or 504 (according to a memorial at the site in Vietnam). The consequences? The U.S. military quickly initiated a cover-up of the massacre, a cover-up that eventually unraveled, thanks largely to a whistle-blower in the U.S. Army and to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Eventually, the U.S. Army tried one general for the cover-up and one soldier – Lt. William Calley – for the massacre. The general was acquitted; Calley was convicted and would up serving four and one-half months in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girlfriend, according to a book by Aryeh Neier on war crimes and their effects.

By utter coincidence, on the same day as the massacre, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race.

Also in March 1968, according to Wikipedia:

A demonstration against American policies in Vietnam took place March 17 in London’s Grosvenor Square, site of the U.S. Embassy, and turned violent. A total of ninety-one people were injured and 200 were arrested.

On March 19, student protests began at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. The protests were marked by “the first building takeover on a college campus,” which Wikipedia says marked “a new era of militant student activism on American college campuses.” For five days, students staged a sit-in of the university’s administration building, temporarily shutting down the school. The impetus for the demonstration, according to Wikipedia, was the punishment of thirty-seven students who had disrupted the university’s Charter Day celebration on March 1. Additional causes of the protests were “the school’s ROTC program and military recruitment; the disproportionate number of African-Americans being sent into combat in the Vietnam War; and the lack of curriculum of African-American studies.”

In Nanterre, France, on March 22, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other students “occupied the eighth-floor faculty lounge in the administration building at University of Paris X Nanterre, commonly referred to as the University of Nanterre,” an action whose consequences eventually brought France into a state of revolution in the month of May.

Even during a grim month in a grim year, there was always music for solace, though any kind of solace was becoming more difficult to find. Still, we listened, and in the first week of March, these were the top fifteen songs on WDGY in Minneapolis:

“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Valley of the Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving” by Herman’s Hermits
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“Too Much Talk” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by the Foundations
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“We’re A Winner” by the Impressions

That same week, the top albums in the U.S. were:

Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Disraeli Gears by Cream

The top fifteen singles are not bad, maybe a little gooey in spots, especially the top spot. The albums are a great set, except for one. And no, it’s not the Paul Mauriat I dismiss. That’s still a pretty good album, for what it is. It’s the Rolling Stones’ record that doesn’t fit. I have digital versions of eight of those ten albums, and I have a Supremes anthology that includes the tunes on Greatest Hits. The only one of those ten albums unrepresented on the digital shelves is Their Satanic Majesties Request. Even when I had the vinyl, I never listened to it. It’s a mostly inconsequential album, with only “She’s A Rainbow” and, maybe, “2000 Light Years From Home” having any weight.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit and Memphis. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop.

The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from Stoned Soul Picnic charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13 on the Hot 100) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(The video includes a bonus track, “East of Java,” which one can only assume came from the same sessions.)

Tracks:

Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java (bonus track)

First Wednesday: February 1968

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

One of the most indelible images of the Vietnam War was captured forty years ago this month. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was working in the streets of Saigon during the Tet Offensive when, on February 1, he came upon South Vietnamese police and soldiers detaining a man named Nguyễn Văn Lém, who has most often been described over the years as a member of the Viet Cong guerillas. Whatever he was, Nguyễn was executed in the street by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the chief of the national police. Adams was there, as was NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. Adam’s photo of the execution won a Pulitzer Prize, but his photo and Suu’s footage earned world-wide criticism for the executioner and the South Vietnamese forces and government.

That’s where it becomes important to know exactly who Nguyễn Văn Lém was. Wikipedia says that Nguyễn Văn Lém, according to South Vietnamese sources, “commanded a Viet Cong insurgent team, which, on February 1, 1968, the second day of the Tet Offensive, had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their place, the police officers’ families. Corroborating this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution.”

Wikipedia also says that “[t]he execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lém’s admitted guerrilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general ‘wartime mentality’.”

(I have read a few times over the years that Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the North Vietnamese army operating in Saigon in civilian clothes; in that case, the Geneva Conventions allow for summary execution. From what I can tell, that claim is historical revisionism intended to justify Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s administration of summary justice.)

It should also be noted that Wikipedia states that some of its sources for its entry on Lém “may not be reliable.” Whatever the truth fifty years later, I remember the revulsion the photograph and the film footage caused at the time. There was the usual yipping of approval from some quarters, but I think that even most of those still supporting the U.S. efforts in Vietnam were sickened by the brutality of this one incident.

Elsewhere in February 1968:

The Winter Olympics took place from February 6 through 18 at Grenoble, France. With loads of coverage on ABC – though not nearly as much coverage as the Olympics get these days – we were able to watch a fair amount of the action. The two leading personalities of the Games – as defined, I suppose, by ABC and other media – were ice skater Peggy Fleming, who won the only gold medal for the U.S., and French skier Jean-Claude Killy, who won all three men’s downhill events. A side note: The Grenoble games marked the first time that ABC used the now-familiar tympani- and brass-laden musical theme for its production; the work’s title is actually “Bugler’s Dream,” and it was composed by Frenchman Léo Arnaud.

Here in the U.S., there was a civil rights protest at a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with officers of the state Highway Patrol firing into the crowd of protestors, killing three and wounding twenty-seven. Civil rights protests also took place that month at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And the month ended on a tragic note in the music world, as Frankie Lymon of Frankie & the Teenagers was found dead of a heroin overdose February 27 in Harlem. He had been scheduled to begin recording for Big Apple records the next day.

The top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of February 1968 were:

“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations

And the top ten albums that week were:

Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross & The Supremes
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. by the Monkees
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Golden Hits by the Turtles
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Farewell to the First Golden Era by The Mamas & the Papas
The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck

Today’s featured album came from much later in 1968. (As I said in January, it would be nice if I could share one album from each month as the year goes along, but I’m not that organized.) The hit single that came from the album actually didn’t chart until 1969. The record is Introspect by Joe South. (I called the album little-known ten years ago; in the era of reissues, I’m not sure that’s the case now.)

It’s an odd record, in that it didn’t exist long in its original form. A long-time writer and session guitarist in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, South wrote “Hush” for Deep Purple and several songs for Billy Joe Royal, including “Down in the Boondocks.” And in 1968, South went into the studios and came out with Introspect, arranging and producing the album himself. (Some sources say the album was released in 1969, but the Rolling Stone Record Guide and All-Music Guide say it was 1968, so I’m going with that.)

When Introspect was released in November 1968, the album track “Games People Play” began to get some air play, if I’m reading between the lines correctly. Capitol released “Games People Play” as a single, and the record entered the Top 40 in February of 1969, going as high as No. 12 during a nine-week chart run. And at that point, Capitol pulled Introspect from the shelves. Three songs from the record were included on a new album, Games People Play, with the rest of the new record made up of South’s versions of songs he’d written for others and a few new things.

Capitol’s quick yank of Introspect made it a little bit of a collector’s item over the years. Amazon currently lists a U.S. CD set for release at the end of March 2018, with the pre-order price set at $38.99. The website also offers a Japanese issue on CD and vinyl, with streaming and mp3s available as well (prices vary). And a two-fer CD of Introspect paired with Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, South’s 1969 album, is available new for the tidy price of $245.22, with used copies starting around $35 and going up from there.

So what do you get for your money? Well, the eleven songs on Introspect kind of collide together with a mixture of country, pop, soul, a touch of gospel and even a little bit of Indian raga. It’s an odd mixture, an idiosyncratic blend that fits perfectly with South’s maverick persona. (AMG calls him a “prickly character” and relates that, after his brother’s suicide in 1971, South moved to Maui, Hawaii, and lived in the jungle.) The hit, as mentioned above, was “The Games People Play,” and “Rose Garden” was a hit in 1971 for Lynn Anderson.

Along with those tracks, I hear the album’s high points as its opener, “All My Hard Times,” the biting “These Are Not My People” and the closer “Gabriel.” But the entire album is well worth hearing (as is almost any of South’s work).

Track list
All My Hard Times
Rose Garden
Mirror of Your Mind
Redneck
Don’t Throw Your Love to the Wind
The Greatest Love
Games People Play
These Are Not My People
Don’t You Be Ashamed
Birds of a Feather
Gabriel

First Wednesday: January 1968

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or make notes as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

Looking at the list Wikipedia presents of events that took place in January 1968, one wonders if the year started with a sense of foreboding. Probably not.

We have the advantage of hindsight, of course, so – to take one example – when we see in a list of events the notation, “January 5 – Prague Spring: Alexander Dubček is elected leader of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia,” we know that the Prague Spring, the easing of social and political repression in that small corner of Eastern Europe, was doomed. We remember the news footage from August showing Soviet tanks in Prague and in other cities. We recall the reports of students and other protestors shot or arrested as a new and much more repressive government took over, one whose approach continued for another twenty-one years, until the Communists in Prague fell in the series of mostly peaceful revolutions of 1989-90.

If there was no sense of foreboding, of tense anticipation as the year’s events began to spin out in January, there is now, forty years later, when one reads the list. It reminds me of something film director Alfred Hitchcock said once. He described a scene in which a woman comes in off the street, climbs a staircase and finds a dead body. The best way to show the scene, he said, is not to follow the woman and show her finding the body, but to show the body in its place and show the woman entering the building. Then, Hitchcock said, keep the camera on the street. The audience knows what the woman will find, and the anticipation of her discovery will heighten the tension and horror.

So when one reads the list of the events of January 1968, it’s like watching the first moments of that scene, like we’re watching the world enter the building of 1968. We know the building is full of bodies.

On January 23, North Korea seizes the U.S. ship The Pueblo, claiming that the ship violated its territorial waters, with more than eighty U.S. sailors and officers taken prisoner. The crew was moved twice to POW camps during the ensuing months, and – crewmen said after their release in December – was systematically starved and tortured. That treatment was said to have worsened, Wikipedia notes, when the North Koreans realized that the sailors were flipping the camera off during the taking of propaganda photos.

On January 30, the Tet (or New Year’s) offensive, an attack by the People’s Army of [North] Vietnam and Viet Cong guerillas, began in Vietnam. As I wrote in an earlier post, Americans had been assured time and again by military and political leaders that the opposition was were no longer strong enough to mount major operations. Oops! During the Tet offensive, some of the fighting took place on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in the city that was then called Saigon.

It was not an auspicious start to the new year. There were, of course, some more pleasant events during the month. The NBC network aired the premiere of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Johnny Cash recorded his live album, At Folsom Prison. In Super Bowl III on January 12, the New York Jets, in what has been described as one of the two most important professional football games ever played (the 1958 NFL title game is the other), defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7.

(And that bit about the New York Jets and Super Bowl III is wrong, of course. The championship game played in 1968, as faithful reader Steve reminded me in a comment, “was Super Bowl II, where the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers repeated as champions, defeating the Oakland Raiders.” Thanks, Steve!)

Here are the Top 15 records from the Billboard Hot 100 released on January 6, 1968:

“Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“Woman, Woman”by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Boogaloo Down Broadway” by The Fantastic Johnny C.
“Skinny Legs And All” by Joe Tex
“Honey Chile” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers
“Incense & Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock

Sitting at No. 50 was “Dear Eloise” by the Hollies, and “Born Free” by the Hesitations was at No. 100.

And the record at No. 14, Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” leads perfectly into the album I shared here ten years ago, Rivers’ Realization. Here’s what I wrote about it then:

While the album’s single, “Summer Rain” is well-known – it went to No. 14 during the winter of 1968-69 – and is a great song, it’s quite likely not the best track on the album. The entire album is full of sparkling performances, but if I had to select three that stand above the rest, I’d go with “Look To Your Soul,” written by James Hendricks (who also wrote “Summer Rain”), “Brother, Where Are You,” written by Oscar Brown, and Rivers’ own composition, “Going Back to Big Sur.”

It’s difficult, though, to separate out those tracks, as the entire album is truly great. Among the eye-openers are three covers: The album’s first track, “Hey Joe,” credited here to William M. Roberts and Rivers; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” released only a year earlier by Procol Harum; and Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”

Personnel on the record included Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, James Burton on guitar, James Hendricks on rhythm guitar, Joe Osborn on guitar and bass and Marty Paitch in charge of the strings and the horns. Rivers produced the album.

There’s nothing there I disagree with now, ten years later. Back then, I knew that the story of the origins of “Hey Joe” was a complicated one, so I just listed the credits as they were on the LP (and eventually got around to touching on the writing of “Hey Joe” in another January 2008 post about the Indigo Girls’ cover of “Get Together”).

I suppose I should note that over the years, I have included Rivers’ “Summer Rain” in the list of my four favorite singles of all time. It remains there.

The tracks on Realization are:

Hey Joe
Look To Your Soul
The Way We Live
Summer Rain
Whiter Shade Of Pale
Brother, Where Are You
Something’s Strange
What’s The Difference
Going Back To Big Sur
Positively 4th Street