First Friday: February 1968

Originally posted February 1, 2008

One of the most indelible images of the Vietnam War was captured forty years ago today. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was working in the streets of Saigon during the Tet Offensive when 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. If he was a member of the Viet Cong, an irregular group rather than a formal army, he should have been taken prisoner when he was captured, although Wikipedia says that South Vietnam’s treatment of the Viet Cong as prisoners as defined by the Geneva Conventions was limited to those captured during military action. Nguyễn Văn Lém, according to South Vietnamese leaders and Wikipedia, “commanded a Viet Cong assassination and revenge platoon, which on that day had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers’ families; these sources said that Lém was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives.”

(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.)

Whatever the truth forty years later, I remember the revulsion the photograph and the film footage caused. 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 typmani- 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.

Singles released in February 1968 included:
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Madeline Bell
“I Thank You” by Sam & Dave
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sittin’) On The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“Walk Away Renee” by the Four Tops
“Words” by the Bee Gees

Among the albums on the charts during February 1968 were:
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Wild Honey by the Beach Boys
Disraeli Gears by Cream
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Lettermen!!!…and “Live!” by the Lettermen
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. by the Monkees
Album 1700 by Peter, Paul & Mary
Clambake by Elvis Presley
History of Otis Redding by Otis Redding
Vanilla Fudge by Vanilla Fudge

The No. 1 album for the entire month was the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.

The album I’m sharing today 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 the little-known Introspect by Joe South.

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, 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, Captiol 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 was 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, and as far as I know, there’s been no CD release of the album in the United States, although Amazon has on occasion listed an import copy with prices running about $50. GEMM lists copies of the album on single CD for $20 or more, and a two-few CD of Introspect paired with Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, his 1969 album (again, the date seems to be uncertain; none of the three records in their original vinyl configuration have dates on them), runs anywhere from $15 to $80. The original vinyl of Introspect runs about $8 to $15, from what I can tell.

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 idiosynractic 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). I found this rip of Introspect on line some time ago; from its quality, I assume it came from a CD release.

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

Joe South – Introspect [1968]

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