Games People Play – Joe South
Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean
And they while away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine
1968. Dad is living in Eastbourne. Mum and the three boys – I’m the oldest – live in a house in a small Sussex village called Selmeston. Mum has had a nervous breakdown and spent 9 months in Hellingly Hospital getting electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and various different drugs. It was my last year in primary school. We have a lodger in the spare bedroom, an Australian called Stan. He was helping to dig Arlington Reservoir about 5 miles away. Stan was a big, tanned, masculine figure. He and Mum became lovers. She adored him. We knew, eventually, like you do.
And then one day Stan and Mum and Ralph, Paul…..and Andrew went into Brighton in Stan’s car, I cannot remember what it was. Probably a late summer’s day. We went onto the West Pier and had ice-cream and played some arcade games. We watched the men fishing off the side, then went into the Theatre and saw Dick Emery and The Barron Knights. Stan didn’t understand a word of it. It was my first ever gig – and it was the first time Andrew had seen an electric guitar. His mouth was in an ‘O’. The Barron Knights were on TV all the time in the 1960s, but have become a forgotten act now. They basically spoofed all the current hits, played them note-for-note but changed the words for comedy effect. They were kind of smooth-looking like Val Doonican or The Batchelors. They were good musicians though, and they were funny. Dick Emery – “Ooh you are awful, but I like you” – I have zero recollection of. He was also on TV “all the time”.
This was probably peak Stan in retrospect. At some point earlier in the following year of 1969 he’d finished digging the reservoir and went back to Australia, breaking Mum’s heart in the process. Various songs from this era were purchased and became holy relics which would make Mum cry, or sing along in defiance depending on her mood, or refuse to listen to – Band Of Gold she almost cracked in half. The main pain records were Simon Dupree & The Big Sound singing “Part Of My Past” and Guy Darrell singing “Skyline Pigeon“. The Guy Darrell single was bequeathed to me some years ago “I don’t want to ever hear it again” – and it is rare now – not on youtube, iTunes or anywhere else. It was written by Elton John and appears on his first LP – but obviously not the same version. It’s a great great song. I’ll write about it another day.
But the song that was acceptable to slide onto the turntable, even after Stan had left was Joe South’s Games People Play. This in fact was one of Stan’s favourite songs, unless I’m very much mistaken, and indeed it was all of ours, it has many memorable lines and a marvellous twanging sitar under a deep brown voice.
Look around tell me what you see
What’s happening to you and me
God grant me the serenity
To remember who I am
Cause you’ve given up your sanity
For your pride and your vanity
Turns you sad on humanity
And you don’t give a da da da da da da da da da
Games People Play is a protest song against various forms of hate, hypocrisy and intolerance. It had a huge impact on me as an 11-year old, there were life-lessons inside it that I unwrapped and digested as I hummed along. People try to sock it to ya in the name of the Lord. It was at this point that I stopped going to Sunday School, that I stopped believing in God, Jesus or Christianity indeed. Before I’d heard the song – my reason for Mum was “I’m going to big school now I need to do my homework”. That worked. I also, more shamefully, stopped seeing my friend Steven Criddle who called round to see me – we were no longer going to the same school and I cut his friendship mercilessly. Mind you, David Bristow and I were going to the same school and often caught the same bus, but I stopped being his friend too because I found him hugely irritating.
Joe South had a long career as a guitarist, playing with Aretha Franklin on Chain Of Fools, Bob Dylan on the Blonde On Blonde LP, and Simon and Garfunkel on The Sounds Of Silence album. This was his biggest hit and it employs a Danelectro electric sitar, strings and horns. South also wrote Walk A Mile In My Shoes covered by Bryan Ferry and Elvis Presley, and Rose Garden sung by Lynn Anderson in 1971.
Mum used to sing along in wistful kind of way, a slightly glazed look falling over her features. when I think of her now, she would have been only 34 years old at this point. Raising three boys on her own. Stan was the fantasy solution, a big strapping loving man who would take care of her and her three sons who needed a father, a male presence, a partner and a lover for her, someone to help her through the challenge of life. But he flew away.
Turn me loose, from your hands, let me fly to distant lands…
Games People Play :