A protest song about political issues of the '60s, many radio stations refused to play it because of its antigovernment lyrics. There was an upside to this controversy, however, as it piqued interest in the song, sending it to #1 in the US.
The song takes on racism, hypocrisy and injustice at a volatile time in American history. The assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was a big influence on the song.
This was written by 19-year-old P.F. Sloan
, who was a staff songwriter at McGuire's label and went on to form The Grass Roots. Sloan wrote on his website: "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 engage 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 realized 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 writers 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."
This was originally recorded by The Turtles, who released it on their first album earlier in 1965. The Turtles did not release it as a single, and McGuire's version became the hit. As management problems and personnel changes plagued The Turtles, they finally decided to release this as a single in 1970, shortly before they broke up. It was their last song to chart, reaching #100.
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."
McGuire's vocal was recorded late at night as a rough take. His voice was raspy and tired, but the producer loved it and used that take. The producer Jay Lasker brought the song to Los Angeles radio station KFWB the morning it was finished, where it was played for the first time.
The biggest protest song of the '60s, "Eve Of Destruction" became a hippie anthem as the Vietnam War escalated. The song was not written specifically about the war, but the conflict in Vietnam made it even more relevant.
A folk group called The Spokesmen recorded an answer song to this called "The Dawn Of Correction." The Spokesman were actually John Madara and David White, a Philadelphia songwriting team whose hits include "At The Hop
" and "You Don't Own Me
." Madara explained to Forgotten Hits
: "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." Madara added: "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."
Legendary session drummer Hal Blaine played on this, and considers it one of his favorites. Blaine has played on songs by Simon And Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys and many others.
When P.F. Sloan wrote this song, he was a pop songwriter and half of a surf-rock duo called The Fantastic Baggys with Steve Barri. Sloan had been listening to the music of folk singers like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, which prompted the change of direction in his songwriting, and also the change in moniker - he was known to this point as Phil Sloan. In the ensuing years, he scored hits with Where Were You When I Needed You
" by the Grass Roots and "Secret Agent Man
" by Johnny Rivers, but he faced a backlash in the pop music community, who caved to political pressure and froze him out. Sloan went into a depression and spent time in a mental hospital, earning a living at jobs like drug store clerk and telemarketer. It wasn't until 2006 that Sloan returned to music with his album Sailover
, which came together at the urging of the songwriter Jon Tiven
, who convinced Sloan to record the album and also produced it.
The lyric in this song, "you're old enough to kill, but not for voting," galvanized 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.
P.F. Sloan wrote some other protests in 1964 along with this one, including "The Sins of the Family" and "Take Me For What I'm Worth." This was when he adopted the moniker "P.F. Sloan" - he was previously known as "Phil Sloan."
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."