Posts Tagged ‘Joe South’

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
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

‘Go Where You’ve Got To Go . . .’

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone from Saginaw. My only knowledge – such as it is – of that central Michigan town comes courtesy of Lefty Frizzell, whose “Saginaw, Michigan” spent four weeks on top of the country chart in early 1964.

But not knowing much about the city didn’t stop me from looking this morning at a radio chart from Saginaw’s WKNX, a chart dated January 26, 1968, forty-four years ago today. And I find a few things that I don’t recall running into before.

That includes the No. 1 record in Saginaw for that week, “Love Power” by the Sandpebbles, a kind of Motown/Stax workout with some nifty call and response vocals, some nice horn parts and a killer instrumental/drum break. The record was on the Calla label, and I have no memory of it at all, even though it went to No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 14 on the R&B chart.

As the music was playing, I did some digging at the Oldies Loon and looked at a few charts for Twin Cities Top 40 from early 1968. “Love Power” went to No. 25 on WDGY, but WDGY’s signal was weak to nonexistent in St. Cloud; my friends – with me as a bystander – listened to KDWB. The only two early 1968 KDWB surveys at the Oldies Loon are from earlier in January and do not list the Sandpebbles hit at all. Given that those weeks were when “Love Power” was climbing the WDGY rankings, I’m assuming that the record got little or no play on KDWB.

(That turns out not to have been the case, highlighting once again the risk of assuming anything: As chart oracle Yah Shure points out in a note below, “Love Power” went to No. 14 on KDWB’s survey, two weeks after peaking at No. 22 on the WDGY survey. Thanks, as always, Yah Shure.)

But back to Saginaw: It was certainly not uncommon, but I think it was still noteworthy for a record to do so much better in a single market than it did nationwide. And there were a few other such entries on the WKNX survey for that last week of January 1968.

Sitting at No. 14 on the WKNX survey was “United, Part 1” – an instrumental version of the Intruders’ “(We’ll Be) United” – by the studio group called the Music Makers. The single went to No. 78 nationally and is worth noting because the Music Makers evolved into MFSB, who hit No. 1 in 1974 with “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).”

As I write, I’m tempted to guess that the greater success of some records in Saginaw than elsewhere was because Saginaw was at least somewhat a R&B market: The Sandpebbles’ single did better (No. 14, as noted above) on the R&B chart than on the pop chart (No. 22), and the Music Makers’ single went to No. 48 on the R&B chart while reaching No. 78 on the pop chart.

That’s also the case with “Sockin’ 1-2-3-4” by John Roberts, which was a gritty dance workout based on the catch phrase “Sock it to me!” It was at No. 19 in Saginaw during the last week of January 1968; No. 19 is also where it peaked on the R&B chart, while it got only to No. 71 on the pop chart.

Another R&B hit that did better on the WKNX survey than it did on the pop chart nationally was the cover of the movie theme “Born Free” by the Hesitations, a vocal group from Cleveland, Ohio. The record peaked on the pop chart at No. 38, but went to No. 4 on the R&B chart. During the last week of January 1968, the record was at No. 31 on the WKNX chart.

The late Arthur Prysock sang jazz, blues and R&B and did well enough that he placed seven record in the R&B Top 40 and eleven records on or near the Hot 100 (most of them in the Bubbling Under portion). His presence on the late January WKNX survey is kind of an anomaly, as “A Workingman’s Prayer” was a Christmas record; it was sitting at No. 25 on the WKNX survey and it went to No. 74 on the pop chart; it did not make the R&B chart.

But that wasn’t as much of an anomaly to me as the presence of Joe South’s “Birds of  Feather” at No. 26 on the WKNX survey. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says that the record was released twice, in 1968 and in 1969. This was the first release, when the single went to No. 106 nationally. (It didn’t do much better in 1969, peaking at No. 96.) I can understand what happened with some of the other records in this brief list, but I have no shred of an idea why South’s record was so popular in Saginaw. Someone, somewhere, must know.

There was one other record on the WKNX survey from January 26, 1968, that ranked far higher than it ever did on the national charts. And it’s no wonder: The Cherry Slush was made up, Whitburn says, of six kids from Saginaw. In 1967, “I Cannot Stop You” was released on the Coconut Grove label; by January of 1968, it had been released on the U.S.A. label. It would spend three weeks bubbling under the Hot 100, peaking at No. 119.

But during the last week of January 1968, “I Cannot Stop You” was No. 6 at WKNX: