This post-apocalyptic folk-rock song was written by the Canadian singer Bonnie Dobson while she was staying with a friend in Los Angeles. She recalled to Uncut magazine August 2014: "It was the first song I wrote! It was '61, the Cold War was raging. One night, my friends had a very gloomy conversation about it. I was staying at a friend's in West Hollywood, and after she went off to bed I sat there and thought about that film, On The Beach, which was about the aftermath of a major atomic war, and the words came to me."
"The following morning, I rang a friend and said, 'Janie, I've written this song – do you think it's any good?' and I just started singing. I had no idea what would happen next."
Dobson premiered the song in her set at the inaugural Mariposa Folk Festival in 1961 with the song's first recorded version being on her At Folk City live album the following year. Dobson eventually recorded a studio version for her 1969 self-titled LP.
Many artists have covered the song. They include:
Fred Neil and Vince Martin: This was the first studio recording of the track and appeared on their 1964 album Tear Down The Walls. Dobson recalled to Uncut: "Fred Neil covered it, and I have a lot to thank Fred for. I always sang 'Take me for a walk...' and he changed it to 'walk me out...'- the Grateful Dead and everyone else seem to have taken that version."
Tim Rose: He recorded the song for his 1966 self-titled debut album giving it a harder rock feel. After soliciting permission to revise the song with a resultant co-writing credit. Dobson was subsequently upset to learn that the sole lyrical revision in Rose's version was the same one that Fred Neil made in his recording of the song. She told Uncut: "That was annoying because he never acknowledged I was the writer. I never met him, I only once heckled him at the Half Moon many years ago. I have a bad temper. Not really, but I did that night."
Grateful Dead: This became a signature song of the Grateful Dead after frontman Jerry Garcia was alerted to the Fred Neil recording by roadie Laird Grant in 1966. They recorded it for their self-titled debut album.
Sugar Shack: The Irish Rock band had a Top 20 single in their native country in 1968. A UK release of the single was planned but canceled.
Lulu: The Scottish singer had a #52 hit in the US in the summer of 1968 with her version, taken from her album Lulu Sings To Sir With Love.
Robert Plant: Recorded for his 2002 solo album, Dreamland . Dobson told Uncut that she is "very partial" to his version.