You Don’t Believe We’re On the Eve of Destruction

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Song: Eve of Destruction (1965)

Artist: Barry McQuire

Album: Barry McGuire Featuring Eve of Destruction

Writers: P.F. Sloan, Steve Barri

It would be understandable if many folks figured that Eve of Destruction was a Dylan tune or at least a cover of a Dylan tune. It was originally written by P. F. Sloan (Philip “Flip” Sloan) in 1964 to sound a bit like a Dylan song, or at least to take advantage of Dylan’s commercial success with “Like a Rolling Stone” and the rising popularity of protest songs. Sloan originally pitched it to the Byrds, who didn’t want it. He then presented it to The Turtles, best known for their Zombies-inspired Happy Together. At first, they were solidly Dylan-inspired. They recorded it on their first album, It Ain’t Me Babe, in 1965.

The Turtles were the first to record this anti-war protest song, but it was the Barry McGuire version, recorded soon after the Turtles version, that became the best known. Sloan and Steve Barri, a songwriting team from way back, were staff writers for Lou Adler, the owner of Dunhill Records, to write songs for Barry McGuire for his upcoming album on the Dunhill label. McQuire was a songwriter himself. He had been with the New Christy Minstrels since their beginning in 1962 and had written the song Greenback Dollar, a hit for the Kingston Trio before being signed onto the Dunhill label. He released his first solo album, The Barry McGuire Album, in 1963. It wasn’t until his second album that he achieved any real success as a result of Eve of Destruction.

Through a simple mixup, the McQuire version of the song that made its way onto the radio, and has since become the only version, was nothing more than an unfinished rough mix. When Sloan and Barri suggested the song for McQuire’s album, Lou Adler wasn’t crazy about it and suggested as a B-side. He had them record a rough vocal on the track so that Barry would have it as a reference before recording the final version.

Sloan and Barri played this rough version for Dunhill Vice-President Jay Lasker without Adler knowing about it. Unlike Adler, Lasker thought it was brilliant. They left the tape with him and he had someone take it to the KFWB radio station. Not more than two hours later, Adler, while driving to work, heard the song on the radio. The station had made it a pick of the week. McQuire never actually recorded the final vocals for the song. It went to no. one in September of 1965 and sold many records.

Despite its success on the charts and with the public, the song was hated by many and even banned by some radio stations. The lyrics were called words like “sick” and “awful” as well as a “bad introduction to protest songs.” Perhaps the negative reaction was due to the song’s very specific references.

While most protest songs were general and only alluded to specific events, Eve of Destruction didn’t hide any of its references, including the War Over Water (conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the Middle East), Bloody Sunday in Selma, Georgia, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and the threat of nuclear war with the USSR. It also brings up the absurdity of the draft age versus the voting age. Young men of 18 could be drafted into the war but were not allowed to vote until they were 21. The song says, to a hypothetical listener, that despite all this evidence, you still don’t think the world is in danger. You still think we are living in an era of peace and love. For a guy that was just as comfortable writing surf music, Sloan didn’t mess around.

Eve of Destruction Chorus

But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

The “rough” vocals may have been a lucky stroke. Barry McQuire’s voice was gruff by any means, but is on the track he sounds almost out of breath, lending an urgency to the song. He unintentionally achieved something that many of today’s singers try to do in a contrived way. Perhaps it’s a good thing he wasn’t able to record his ‘smoother’ version.

Although the Turtles had recorded Eve of Destruction earlier, their version wasn’t released as a single until 1970, a day late and a dollar short.

Watch Barry McGuire Perform Eve of Destruction

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