Saturday, January 17, 2015

Song Spot: Protest Songs / Eve of Destruction, Part 2

This week will be all about Number 2's, or rather, Part 2's. . . various items where I have posted Part 1 but not yet Part 2. Here is No 1 of Part 2 . . .

Eve of Destruction, Part 2:  

The song that killed the careers of its songwriter and performer.

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Video clip:

See and hear Barry McGuire perform the song live, with some altered lyrics, on Spicks and Specks, at:

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The song was written by P F Sloan in 1965. 

Although several artists have recorded it, the best known version is by Barry McGuire, with Sloan playing guitar on that version. That track was a rough mix and was not intended to be the final version. It had been recorded on a Thursday morning from words scrawled on a piece of paper, with McGuire’s voice tired and raspy. However a copy was leaked to a DJ who began playing it, notwithstanding that that was also the B side of the intended vinyl. The song was an instant hit and as a result the intended more polished vocal track was never recorded. 

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McGuire was in The New Christy Minstrels before recording as a solo artist. He had a few hits with the group, including "Green Green" and "Saturday Night," but this was his only hit as a solo artist. 

Sloan explains: 

"Barry McGuire had just left the group and was on his own and looking for material to record. He wound up at my publishing company and he was told there was a quirky songwriter he might want to listen to. Now, Barry didn't like the song 'Eve of Destruction' that much. He liked a few other songs of mine better. One in particular called 'What's Exactly The Matter With Me,' which originally was the A-side of the record. When he was ready to record he picked four songs and 'Eve' was the 4th to be recorded, if there was time. If you listen to the recording he's rushing singing through the lyric because of the time constraints and he was reading it for the first time off a piece of paper I had written the lyric on! Okay. McGuire's record is released but 'Eve' is the B-side. Somewhere in the Great Midwest of America a DJ played the wrong side by mistake! So as you can see, when people had written that this song was some calculated idea on how to capitalize on the emerging folk scene, it's simply B.S. Honest to God that's what happened and how the song got played."

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Sloan was 19 when he wrote the song. He was with McGuire’s record label at the time, writing songs for artists such as Jan & Dean and performing on songs such as California Dreamin’.

According to Sloan:

"The song 'Eve of Destruction' was written in the early morning hours between midnight and dawn in mid-1964. The most outstanding experience I had in writing this song was hearing an inner voice inside of myself for only the second time. It seemed to have information no one else could've had. For example, I was writing down this line in pencil 'think of all the hate there is in Red Russia.' This inner voice said 'No, no it's Red China!' I began to argue and wrestle with that until near exhaustion. I thought Red Russia was the most outstanding enemy to freedom in the world, but this inner voice said the Soviet Union will fall before the end of the century and Red China will endure in crimes against humanity well into the new century! This inner voice that is inside of each and every one of us but is drowned out by the roar of our minds! The song contained a number of issues that were unbearable for me at the time. I wrote it as a prayer to God for an answer. 
I have felt it was a love song and written as a prayer because, to cure an ill you need to know what is sick. In my youthful zeal I hadn't realised that this would be taken as an attack on The System! Examples: The media headlined the song as everything that is wrong with the youth culture. First, show the song is just a hack song to make money and therefore no reason to deal with its questions. Prove the 19-year old writer is a communist dupe. Attack the singer as a parrot for the writer’s word. The media claimed that the song would frighten little children. I had hoped thru this song to open a dialogue with Congress and the people. The media banned me from all national television shows. Oddly enough they didn't ban Barry. The United States felt under threat. So any positive press on me or Barry was considered un-patriotic. A great deal of madness, as I remember it! I told the press it was a love song. A love song to and for humanity, that's all. It ruined Barry's career as an artist and in a year I would be driven out of the music business too."

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Both Sloan and McGuire experienced a backlash as the song charted and became a Hippie anthem, as well as a potent symbol for opposition to the Vietnam war, at that stage such opposition being regarded as unpatriotic and treasonous.

Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, a Special Forces soldier himself, released a reply, The Ballad of the Green Berets. See and hear at:

Sample lyrics:

Trained to live off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand-to-hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage peak from the Green Berets

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her his last request

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

A group called The Spokesmen also recorded a response. Hear it at:

Sample lyrics:

The western world has a common dedication
To keep free people from Red domination
And maybe you can't vote, boy, but man your battle stations
Or there'll be no need for votin' in future generations

So over and over again, you keep sayin' it's the end
But I say you're wrong, we're just on the dawn of correction

There are buttons to push in two mighty nations
But who's crazy enough to risk annihilation?
The buttons are there to ensure negotiation
So don't be afraid, boy, it's our only salvation

So over and over again, you keep sayin' it's the end
But I say you're wrong, we're just on the dawn of correction

You tell me that marches won't bring integration
But look what it's done for the voter registration
Be thankful our country allows demonstrations
Instead of condemnin', make some recommendations
I don't understand the cause of your aggravation
You mean to tell me, boy, it's not a better situation?

According to John Madara, one of the duo who wrote and recorded Dawn of Correction:

"We wrote the song on a Wednesday, recorded it the following Monday, and it was released by the end of the week. We did not have an artist at the time to record it, so we did it ourselves. We did take a positive stand with our lyrics and tried to answer Barry McGuire's statements in his lyric. In 1966, after recording Joey Heatherton for Decca, we started dating for the next two years, and I was invited in 1966 to go on the Bob Hope tour to Vietnam with Joey. I always felt a little uncomfortable about the lyrics. After the trip to Vietnam, I saw what our soldiers were going through and how much the war made no sense at all. I definitely had some personal regrets with 'The Dawn Of Correction' lyric. When we wrote the song, we were never for the war, we were just for America, and we felt that 'The Eve of Destruction' was a slap against America. Because of the anti-war sentiment, 'The Dawn of Correction' was obviously taken the wrong way."

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The backlash against the song saw Sloan frozen out of the music industry. He battled physical and mental illnesses over the next 35 years, earning income at a series of regular jobs including delivering beer and telemarketing. He made a comeback of sorts when fellow Sai Baba devotee Jon Tiven coaxed him into recording the album Sailover, released in 2006. Sloan didn't release another album until 2014. This time it wasn't Tiven who coaxed him back, but Beethoven.

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McGuire also experienced the backlash.

He became a born again Christian and refused to perform the song for years, instead devoting himself to contemporary Christian songs. He has recommenced singing the song and often alters the lyrics, changing the reference to Selma, Alabama to Columbine, Colorado, as an example. On the above Spicks and Specks clip he changes the reference to Red China to "Now think of all the hate, still living inside us/ its never too late, to let love guide us".

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The lyric "you're old enough to kill, but not for voting," galvanised the debate over voting rights in America, since in many states citizens couldn't vote until they were 21. During the Vietnam War, support to lower the voting age picked up as so many young people were sent to war but denied participation in the political process. In 1971, the US Constitution was amended, lowering the voting age to 18.

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P.F. Sloan credits his religious studies for giving him inspiration for this song. Born Phil Schlein to Jewish parents, he studied a branch of Judaism called Kabbalah not long after his Bar Mitzvah. The song, says Sloan, is essentially a conversation with God, with Sloan venting his frustrations over "this whole crazy world," and God replying that he must move past it ("You tell me over and over and over again...")

Speaking with the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Sloan explained: "It's an endless dance around this razor's edge about what God is saying every time I sing this song. He's telling me, 'Don't believe we're on the eve, I'm not going to allow it.' And then other times when I sing it, I get the message he's going to allow destruction to happen. Every time I sing it, I get an insight into what's going on."

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