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Updated on May 30, 2013

Politics and Music DO Mix

If you thought Kanye West was the first musician to make a politician mad, think again.

In The Record Professor Part 2, we talked about a record called "Eve of Destruction," and we had our second quiz. Who recorded the song first? You could choose among Barry McGuire, the Turtles, Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Weavers.

"Eve of Destruction" holds several records in the history of rock and roll. Number one, it's the first overtly protest song to hit the top of the charts; number two, it hit the top without hardly any radio play at all. The reason? Writer P.F. Sloan didn't pull any punches.

Remember the lyrics to Peter, Paul, and Mary's "I Dig Rock and Roll Music"--but if I really say it, the radio won't play it? American Top Forty radio, for most of its history, shied away from any song that was controversial (even though the format was a magnificent racial melting pot, without any segregation or specialty categories of music. At one point in 1966, the Beatles, Otis Redding, and Buck Owens all had hit songs on the same chart.) As Peter Yarrow said, I have to lay it between the lines.

But P.F. Sloan didn't lay anything between the lines. He laid out his philosophy for all to hear, knowing that radio play would probably be non-existent.

The Eastern world, it is explodin', violence flarin', bullets loadin.' You're old enough to kill, but not for votin.' You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin.' And even the Jordon River has bodies floatin.'

Sloan wasn't always so confrontational or controversial. He wrote a lot of fluff Top 40, too, especially for the Turtles. So when "Eve of Destruction" came around, the Turtles put it on one of their albums, "It Ain't Me Babe," ironically the title of a Bob Dylan song, and one of the first top 10 singles for the Turtles. (Dylan was direct, but he wasn't that direct, at least not in 1965.)

So the answer to the quiz is: The Turtles. But not really. The first single of "Eve of Destruction" was recorded by Barry McGuire and released on Dunhill Records. McGuire had a strong gravelly voice that once sang out on several New Christy Minstrels hits. Listen to "Green, Green," and then, "Eve," and it will be obvious the same guy could handle two widely different genres. Actually, the song that Barry made was really a demo, and the producer planned to sweeten the master up later. But an early, rough copy got to an L.A. radio station, and the record took off. Maybe L.A. would play it, but hardly any other market would touch it. The song became a giant hit mainly by word-of-mouth and by the fact that the record was "banned." If you want to make a book or a record a hit, just tell people they can't buy or listen to it.

A personal aside--my writing career began at precisely the same time that "Eve of Destruction" was released--I wrote a teen column for the Key West Citizen newspaper when I was still in high school. One of my first topics was going to be this new "flavor of the month" called a protest song. I wanted to quote from the Sloan song, but it was never played on local Key West radio, and I didn't have the money for the record. I knew the local station HAD the record, even if they didn't play it, so I called the program director and asked him if I could stop by and copy the lyrics. As I did so, he stood over me, nervous that I would tell my readers where I listened to the record. No, I assured him, I wouldn't name the station that let me listen to this dangerous record. (FOR the record, it was WKIZ-AM, the Voice of the Keys. The secret is out.) The subsequent column created a minor firestorm of letters-to-the-editor from both liberal and conservative sides, and even Sloan's then-girlfriend wrote the paper. The crusty old managing editor of the Key West Citizen was duly impressed the next time my mother brought my teen column to the paper. "Did you see the reaction your son got?" she bellowed.

So McGuire's version of "Eve of Destruction" hit number one without radio support, and it paved the way for so much to come. But it also created a backlash of conservative song answers, so we'll attack that subject next time. (See quiz below.)

The Turtles weren't quite out of the picture on this song yet, however. In 1970, their label, White Whale, issued "Eve of Destruction" as a single, but it quickly tanked, not getting above the 90's on the Hot 100. If you can't find the 1965 Turtles album where the song debuted, try looking for a nice little novelty that came along in 1982. Rhino Records issued a green vinyl extended play record in the shape of--guess what?--a turtle, and titled it "Turtlesized." On the record is "Happy Together," their number one smash, and "Eve." No matter what the venue or the artist, it's still a powerful message song that strongly resonates today. So much so that a little-known group called The Red Rockers issued their own highly-electrified version on Columbia Records in 1984.

Which only goes to show that if you have something to say, there are plenty of people who want to listen--even if the programmers won't.







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