Friday, November 10, 2017

Joe South: The Early '70s Charting Singles


Listening to Joe South's late '60s and early '70s records, especially the ones espousing brotherhood and being real, can be a balm for the soul. The Georgia singer-songwriter made a name for himself in the music biz as the writer of "Down in the Boondocks," a #9 hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1965. His own amiable singing voice became most familiar with his #12 hit "Games People Play," a 1969 electric sitar-enhanced song possibly inspired by a 1964 self-help book by Eric Berne. "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (#41), his next hit, imagined an irresistible rural homeland that South (a stage surname for the man born as Joseph Souter) gauzed with a blurry guitar to signify fantasy. The guitar sounds from both hits, in fact, made for appropriate accompaniment for the 3D image—with its counterbalancing suggestions of illusion and truth—on his 1970 greatest hits album.

The Joe South of the early seventies was even more successful as a songwriter for others. Aside from his own humanist hit "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," he wrote the career-defining Lynn Anderson smash "Rose Garden" and saw the Osmonds go Top 5 with his "Yo Yo." Unfortunately, the melancholy he advised against in "Rose Garden" became a palpable component in South's own music career, which had stalled by the mid-seventies. The slowdown coincided with the 1971 suicide of his brother Tommy, who was the drummer with South's band The Believers, but it's worth remembering that Joe South, who passed away in 2012, lived an ostensibly happy life well past whatever challenges he'd gone through in the '70s. Musically, we can keep honoring him as a man who, in "Games People Play," gave us a catchphrase to live by: "To hell with hate!"

Here are all the tracks (with B-sides) sung by Joe South to appear on a Billboard music chart in the early '70s. A list of charting songs written by him but sung by someone else follows.


"Walk a Mile in My Shoes" (1969)
Joe South and the Believers

Written and produced by Joe South * 45: "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" / "Shelter" * LP: Don't It Make You Want to Go Home? * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#12), easy listening (#3) * Entered: 1970-01-03 (Hot 100), 1970-01-10 (easy listening)

Released in 1969, Joe South's "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" entered the charts in early 1970 as a quintessential track for the times, sounding out from radio speakers like a Sunday broadcast from a new kind of southern church. Handclaps and gospel choruses merged with organ and guitar to support words in favor of awareness for those "in the reservations and the ghetto" and the need to "get inside each other's minds" before we "criticize and accuse."

Elvis Presley included the song as part of his On Stage February, 1970 album and gave his apparent fondness the title phrase added traction. (Doyle, Mieder and Shapiro's 2012 Dictionary of Modern Proverbs traces the phrase back to 1930, noting the occasional exchange of "shoes" with "mocassins" and attributions that have alternated between Native American tradition and Confucius). The labels on this 45 and the one before it ("Don't It Make You Want to Go Home") listed the artist as "Joe South and the Believers," who included his brother Tommy South on drums, Tommy's wife Barbara on keyboards and backup vocals, and John Mulkey on bass and backup vocals. The B side, advocating for letting "love be your shelter" and additional church choir voices, kept the new humanist gospel vibe afloat.

Side A: "Walk a Mile in My Shoes"


Side B: "Shelter"




"Children" (1969)
Joe South

Written and produced by Joe South * 45: "Children" / "Clock Up on the Wall" * LP: Don't It Make You Want to Go Home * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#51), easy listening (#32) * Entered: 1970-03-21 (Hot 100), 1970-04-11 (easy listening)

Children were one of early '70s radio's prevailing themes, so hearing Joe South singing about them and adding in signal sounds like recorders and the "na-na boo-boo" seems only natural. From South's "get real" perspective though, the take home message is that all children eventually have to leave their "world of make believe" someday. For the side B, South toys with the theme further in the context of lost romance, asking "what does true love mean to a kid acting smart?" Its tick tock sounds are there to accentuate the record's lost time motif, but they also manage to give it a kid-friendly appeal.

Side A: "Children"


Side B: "Clock Up on the Wall"


"Why Does a Man Do What He Has to Do" (1970)
Joe South

Written by Don Randi and Bob Silver * Produced by Joe South * 45: "Why Does a Man Do What He Has to Do" / "Be a Believer" * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#118) * Entered: 1970-10-03

In his 2015 memoir You've Heard These Hands, the keyboardist and composer Don Randi (a regular with the legendary "Wrecking Crew" studio players in LA) recounts the unlikely scenario of getting Joe South to do someone else's song. "Why Does a Man Do What He Has to Do" was written for an Alan Sidaris documentary about the actor James Garner's Formula One racing activities. Randi reports it as a co-write between him and his friends Bob Silver and Pete Willcox (who received no credit on the label). Because South was Garner's "favorite artist," he asked Randi to work his publishing contacts (and handing him five hundred bucks) to see what he could do. Although the ultimate whereabouts of the cash is unknown, it resulted in a phone from South who treated Randi to a fresh adrenalized playback of the re-recorded tune that eventually did appear in the film and bubbled under Billboard's Hot 100. The electric guitar quotient might be highest on this track then on any other Joe South recording, but the identity of the lead player seems to be lost.

Side B contains a track from his 1969 Don't It Make You Want to Go Home, with a generous serving of that album's echoey strings and choruses. Entitled "Be a Believer," it was a fitting bit of output from South's "Positive Productions."

Side A: "Why Does a Man Do What He Has to Do"


Side B: "Be a Believer"



"Fool Me" (1971)
Joe South

Written by Joe South * Produced by Buddy Buie and Bill Lowery * 45: "Fool Me" / "Devil May Care" * LP: Joe South * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#78) * Entered: 1971-11-06

Joe South's 1971 self-titled album rounded up some of his own versions of songs that had been done—or would soon be done—by artists with greater success. In the case of "Fool Me," South's own interpretation, with his hurting vocals, was the greater artistic success, while Lynn Anderson's too-perky version in 1972 reaped more commercial rewards. Her willing romantic dupe in "Fool Me" seemed like some sort of rebuke for her stronger woman in "Rose Garden."

The hurt in South's voice likely had as much to do with the sad reality of his brother Tommy's suicide in 1970, which darkened what were otherwise his most fruitful years as a songwriter. He'd release three more albums in the '70s, none of which produced any hits. On side B is "Devil May Care," one of the album's lesser products that's produced, like the A side, by two Georgia music business legends—songwriter Buddy Buie and publisher Bill Lowery.

Side A: "Fool Me"


Side B: "Devil May Care"



Early '70s chart songs written by Joe South but performed by others:

Della Reese - "Games People Play" (1/10/70, #121)
Brook Benton - "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (5/30/70, #45)
Lynn Anderson - "How Can I Unlove You" (8/21/71, #63)
The Osmonds - "Yo Yo" (9/11/71, #3)
Joe Simon - "All My Hard Times" (9/25/71, #93)
Donny Osmond - "I Knew You When" (11/27/71, #9 flip)
Lynn Anderson - "Fool Me" (11/18/72, #101)

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