Joe South would like to make one of his songs disappear. That isn’t uncommon. Usually the best songwriters have one, two or a few they’d rather not claim. But in Joe South’s case, it’s one of his best, “These Are Not My People.”

Nearly 35 years after writing the song, South explained, “When I hear it back it sounds like a guy disavowing his presence from the human race. Which I was, I guess, because I was a real unhappy soul and that’s what came from it.” Joe South worked wonders with unhappiness.

Written and recorded in the late ’60s, “These Are Not My People” was one of many insightful, straight-to-the-point songs South delivered in short order. As with “Games People Play,” “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” and “Rose Garden,” “These Are Not My People” was sort of a secular sermon. In this song, the sermon was more personally directed. South’s words hit hard at the friend being addressed. The words probably violate the “judge not, lest ye be judged” directive. Still, it’s a great song.

In the song, a friend is being called on the carpet over a lifestyle out of control. The era in which the song takes place adds color to what South describes. The friend had been sent to the finest schools, given “a credit card in your good name” and drawn to the people of the night where all discretion was set aside. The images conveyed recall the party scenes Warren Beatty’s character was part of in “Shampoo.” Yes, it does sound very tempting. South’s lyrics indicate as much, declaring “whether right or wrong, I’d still tag along behind.”

Near the end of the song, South’s observer has seen enough and lets fly at his friend:

‘Cause when you fall down from your cloud

And you’re just another face in the crowd

They’re going to throw you away like last week’s magazine

It’s been a gas but I’m gonna have to pass.

The observer emphatically states in the chorus that “these are not my people” and implies they are not his friend’s people either. He’ s giving sound advice on escaping that scene. But his friend may be in too deep and wish to indulge awhile longer.

The sad fury in South’s words is especially understandable if the friend is also a love interest. He has time, energy and emotions on the line. In putting an end to the relationship with his friend/lover, invectives are hurled, not such a rare thing by that time in popular music, but far beyond the sneering cries of jilted lovers commonly heard in songs prior to the mid-sixties.

Bob Dylan, who South played guitar for on the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, broke new ground for disdainful charges on “Positively 4th Street,” opening with the line, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend.” Obviously, reconciliation isn’t in the works here. Released as a single in September ’65, “Positively 4th Street” is, according to critic Tim Riley, “the most mean-spirited onslaught to hit the top ten since Elvis sang ‘Hound Dog.'”

In early ’66 the Rolling Stones opened their new single,”19th Nervous Breakdown,” by dismissively addressing a spoiled young woman  with the words, “You’re the kind of person you meet at certain dismal dull affairs.” No empathy there. South’s observer, despite his conclusions, does feel for his friend/lover, but she’s at a place he wants no part of. It’s simply time to move on, leaving the frustration and despair behind.

Originally included on South’s ’68 Introspect album, his version of “These Are Not My People” is a mid-tempo offering. It features a solid vocal performance by South but the production doesn’t mirror the song’s attitude. One wishes South had let loose on the guitar, gracing the music with the same passion he brought to the lyrics.

Johnny Rivers released his own version in ’69. As expected, Rivers’ vocals were solid and spirited. The recording rocks with fine guitar and piano work, but the horn arrangements and back-up vocals are intrusive. The Rivers version got some airplay but was not a hit, peaking at 55. Even with the production flaws, it should have found a larger audience.

One wishes R.E.M. would record “These Are Not My People.” It has the kind of melody the band has long taken to. There’s the perspective offered in the song. It’s a perfect fit. R.E.M. could really make it rock. It would be worth it just to hear Michael Stipe cry out, “It’s been a gas but I’m gonna have to pass.”

This article continues The Southern Song Of The Day Series.

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes' Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.

  1. Lo, many years ago, Joe South was traveling through Fayetteville, Georgia, in an erratic manner. Our Sheriff placed him in jail for several days, until South’s head got straight.

    South had asked if he could have his guitar in his cell, and the Sheriff said O. K. Much to the Sheriff’s regret – I don’t remember South’s most popular tune at that time, but that’s all that was heard, day and night, the entire weekend.

  2. Joe South was one of the real heroes of Southern music, in my mind.
    In addition to his own hits, he wrote songs recorded by the Tams (“Untie Me”) and a string of tunes by Billy Joe Royal that he wrote, produced, etc. “Hush” was a hit for Deep Purple, if memory serves.

    It often seemed that specific tunes were almost pastiches of someone else’s style: “Down in the Boondocks” was a Gene Pitney-ish tune, and “These Are Not My People” was something of a Dylan knockoff. Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” was all over “Birds of a Feather,” but what a great tune anyway:

    “Your folks didn’t want me hanging ’round/Said that I was bad for you
    “So we’d meet in another part of town, down a long dark avenue.”

    But some of the great tunes were simply South all the way. “Yo-Yo,” do y’all remember that one? And “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.” Absolutely wonderful.

    I hear he’s back in Georgia. Used to see him in Nashville all the time. Wonderful man and artist.

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