Joe South

Classic Masters

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Classic Masters Review

by William Ruhlmann

For the brief period of 1969-1971, as both songwriter and singer, Joe South had the market cornered on a distinctive brand of country-soul exemplified by his signature hit, "Games People Play." He had been kicking around the music business for more than a decade by then, having scored minor hits with the Big Bopper's "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor" in 1958 and "You're the Reason" in 1961, written the Tams' 1962 Top 20 R&B hit "Untie Me," and worked as a Nashville session musician. Between 1965 and 1967, he wrote and produced five pop chart records for Billy Joe Royal, including "Down in the Boondocks," "I Knew You When," and "Hush." Deep Purple remade "Hush" for a Top Five hit in 1968. By then, South had secured a recording contract with Capitol, and beginning with "Games People Play" he scored six chart entries through 1971, among them "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," which Elvis Presley performed, and "Birds of a Feather," which the Raiders remade for a Top 40 hit. Meanwhile, Lynn Anderson turned South's "Rose Garden" into a gold-selling Top Five pop hit and country chart-topper. Then, following his brother's suicide, he gave it all up and lived on his royalties. (An attempted comeback a few years later failed.) This midline-priced best-of includes all of his Capitol hits as well as versions of many of his compositions that were hits for others. His work remains impressive; the songs themselves have simple, compelling melodies and lyrics and he sings them with conviction. The quality belies the small size of his catalog.

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