DEAR JERRY: In 1969, while serving in Viet Nam, one of the few luxuries we were allowed was music. Virtually everyone in my outfit had some kind of stereo equipment. At that time, 4 track, reel-to-reel tape decks were all the rage (we burned out innumerable diesel fueled generators). My roommate and buddy was a guy from California named Joe, as in the song "Hey Joe" on the Johnny Rivers album, "Realization." In fact, one wonders just what Johnny Rivers meant by "Realization."
Memories fade with time and I do not recall Joe having a turntable so the Johnny Rivers tunes we listened to back then may have been on tape rather than vinyl.
Several years after coming home I was looking for the lyrics to another song on the album, "The Way We Live." At the time I remembered the album title to be "Revolver," not "Realization."
Also I distinctly recall hearing the line "Hey, Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand." This line is absent on "Realization." Inside it indicates "New [Hey Joe] lyrics by Johnny Rivers."
During the war, the news reaching the troops was censored (e.g. Adrian Cronauer, etc.) and so was the music. We knew little about the anti-war activities back home. The only real hints we received was through the music sent to us by family and friends.
Music is a powerful medium that can either build, or destroy, morale. Also, music can be and often is used for propaganda.
So, was there ever a "Revolver" album by Johnny Rivers? Was there ever a gun mentioned in "Hey, Joe"? Is there an earlier rendition of "The way We Live?
Wayne F. Reske, Milwaukee
DEAR WAYNE: A 1968 release, "Realization" (Imperial 12372) reached the Top 5 on the LP charts and turned out to be the best selling Johnny Rivers album ever. Though "Realization" is the name of the LP, there is no track with that title on "Realization." As you no doubt know, "Revolver" is the title of a 1966 Beatles album, but none by Johnny Rivers.
Other versions of "Hey Joe" do have the "gun in your hand" lyrics. As indicated on "Realization," Johnny must have felt the need to rewrite a bit.
The Top 40 hit of "Hey Joe" came out in mid-1966 (Mira 222), using exactly that two-word title. However, when first released, in 1965, labels showed the title as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go?" (Mira 207).
Two other singles of "Hey Joe" that made the charts are by Cher (1967) (Imperial 66252), and Wilson Pickett (1969) (Atlantic 2648).
Other than the track on Johnny's "Realization" LP, I know of no earlier version of "The Way We Live."
Thank you for your interesting letter and distinct perspective on the influence of music, applicable in times of war as well as peace.