First Friday: July 1968

Originally posted July 4, 2008

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 U.S.’ 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 becamee 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, which came to be known at 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, maybe at the end of July but more likely a week or two later. 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. And a look ahead at the Billboard lists shows some of those songs nearing the top of the chart as August approached.

But as July started, here’s what the 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 and the Union Gap
“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush and 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 and 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 & Gafunkel’s Bookends. The top album for the other seven 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 May 11 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 10: 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 10, 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 even for those generally well-behaved.)

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]

*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 albums by Odetta and I noted an album by Linda Mason cited at All-Music Guide. Note added July 18 & 20, 2011.

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One Response to “First Friday: July 1968”

  1. Simply Red & Northern Lights « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] When I wrote about Joan Baez’ album Any Day Now earlier this month, I said, “I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely […]

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