Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Evolution of "Eve of Destruction" and Singer Barry McGuire


"Barry McGuire's splenetic "Eve of Destruction" was the commercial zenith and, for many, the artistic nadir of this (protest music) trend.  Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney both dismissed it, but the record went to N. 3 in the U.K. and No. 1 in the U.S."

- John Savage, British author
From 1966 - The Year the Decade Exploded

"The song "Eve of Destruction" was immediately labelled by the media as a protest song.  I never thought of it as such, to me it was nothing more than a diagnosis of the human condition.  I always thought of it as a societal mirror reflecting back on the world-wide community the inconsistencies of our culture."

- Barry McGuire
Official Website

They don't write protest songs the way they used to back in the 1960s.  That decade was the golden age of poetic folk music, some reflecting deep-seated anger and rage.  The '60s folk movement is just a memory now, albeit a fond one for many.  Sadly, there are no contemporary versions of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, John Lennon, Buffy Sainte-Marie and others .  I know, I know.  The Baby Boomers are grandparents now.  Folk music is not exactly popular with millennials and the Vietnam War ended in 1975.  However, it seems to me that there is plenty to protest about in this era of Donald Trump, climate change and the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea. The Berlin Wall may have fallen, but Trump wants to build another wall.  The Cold War may be over, but Russia's Vladimir Putin leads an authoritarian state

That's why it's always interesting and enlightening to revisit the turbulent 1960s and compare that period to the early 21st century.  So, let me hearken you back to the year 1965.  Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States and the Cold War was in full throttle.  Even though the Civil Rights Act had come into effect in the U.S., there was still a great deal of racial unrest, especially in the South, where the battle over segregation was raging.  The restless and rebellious Baby Boomers were coming of age and they were filled with defiance.  The new generation was listening to the words of Bob Dylan as he proclaimed that "the times they are a changin'." and "a hard rain's a-gonna fall."

It was during this volatile era that Barry McGuire had a hit song that reflected the times.  It was a fearful song, an apocalyptic ballad called "Eve of Destruction."  The song was written by American pop-rock singer P.F. Sloan (1945-2015) in mid-1964, not long after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which undoubtedly had an influence on him, as did the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marches and "Bloody Sunday" outside Selma in March of 1965. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was also a recent memory at the time, as was Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 warning about the military-industrial complex.

"Eve of Destruction" was initially offered to The Mamas & the Papas, who declined it.  It was then offered to The Byrds, who also rejected it.  It was The Turtles who finally recorded the song on their first album, It Ain't Me Babe, in 1965. The Turtles' recording of "Eve of Deestruction" was made before Barry McGuire's, but the song was not released on their album until October 18, 1965, two months after McGuire's single. The Turtles did not release it as a single until 1970, the year the band broke up..  Although other artists, such as Jan & Dean, have recorded "Eve of Destruction," the best known version was made by Barry McGuire. His version became a worldwide major hit.

Barry McGuire was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on October 15, 1935.  Barry's parents divorced when he was two years old and he moved to California with his mother.  His stepfather worked in construction in the Los Angeles area.  Barry didn't start singing until 1960 and he bought his first guitar at the age of 25 (He did play a ukulele when he was about 12 years old).  On his official website, Barry admits that he's never been a really great guitarist.  He says that he doesn't even know the names of some of the chords he plays," although he knows how to tune his guitar and he loves playing his chords.

After working as a commercial fisherman and a pipe fitter, Barry found employment singing in a bar. A bar owner who had heard him singing at a birthday party called from Santa Monica and offered him a job at his bar there, even though he only new four or five songs.  However, he  quickly expanded his repertoire and ended up singing there five days a week.  One night at the club, Barry was approached by film and television producer Fred Briskin.  Briskin introduced him to the great singer Peggy Lee.  Peggy told Barry that he had a great voice and that he should be singing at better places.  Soon after, Barry received a call from Briskin informing him that he had a gig at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills.  Before long, he was performing at other uptown clubs such as The Troubadour.

Around this time in 1961, Barry Guire  released his first single, "The Tree." for Mosaic Records.  It didn't make any waves and Barry says it only sold "about 10 copies " That same year, Barry formed
a duo with singer/songwriter Barry Kane, whom he had met at the Troubadour.

Sometime later, Barry was working at a club in Hollywood when Randy Sparks, the founder of the New Christie Minstrels, came in one night and watched his show.  A few days later, guitarist and songwriter Artie Podell, who was working with Randy, invited Barry to join a new folk group they were putting together.

New Christy Minstrels

Barry accepted Podell's invitation, relocated to New York City and became a member of the New Christy Minstrels.  He was designated the band's lead singer and he co-wrote their first hit single, "Green, Green," which was released in 1963.  In early 1965, after three and a half years with the group, Barry decided to launch  a solo career because of his desire  to sing songs "that were more relevant to the social injustices I perceived taking place around the world."  According Barry the Minstrels wanted to keep singing "the sunshiny, happy tunes that had made them famous."

In 1963, Barry released his solo debut  for Lou Adler's Dunhill Records.  It was called The Barry McGuire Album. In July of 1965, he recorded "Eve of Destruction." It was released by Dunhill,in August of 1965.  By September of 1965, McGuire's single had hit #1 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the U.K.'s Singles Chart.  It's interesting to note that explosive race riots broke out in the Watts neighbourhood of Los Angeles from August 11 to August 16, 1965, just before "Eve of Destruction" spiked on the charts.

In his August 31, 2016 article in the Los Angeles Times, Randy Lewis opined that most 1960s aficionados would likely agree that any list of the most iconic protest songs of that decade should include Barry McGuire's rendition of "Eve of Destruction."  Lewis stated that the song "packed about every hot button issue of the time into a 3 1/2 minute musical rant, made all the more brash by the buzz-saw vocals of McGuire . . ."

'Eve of Destruction" was quite controversial because of its anti-government lyrics.  Many American radio stations refused to play it, calling it an aid to the enemy in Vietnam. Radio Scotland banned the song and the BBC placed it on a "restricted list" (it could not be played on "general entertainment programmes"}. All of the controversy served only to provoke interest in the song and increase record sales..  "

"Eve of Destruction" deals with issues such as nuclear war, racism, hypocrisy and violence.  Here are the opening verses of the song:

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 Jordan River has bodies floatin',
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say?
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away,
They'll be no one to save with the world in a grave,
Take a look around you boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,
And you tell me over and over and over gain my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

P,F. "Flip" Sloan was only 19 years old when he wrote "Eve of Destruction."  He worked as a staff songwriter at Dunhill Records, Barry McGuire's label at the time.  He would later form the band The Grass Roots, for which he wrote "Where Were You When I Needed You.".  His other hits included "Secret Agent Man" for Johnny Rivers and songs recorded by The Turtles, Herman's Hermits, The 5th Dimension and The Mamas & the Papas.

P.F. Sloan had a falling out with Dunhill Records over the issue of royalties.  He believed his life was in danger and eventually dropped out of sight with addiction and mental health problems.  He joked that the "only good thing about it was that I missed the whole disco era."

P.F. Sloan
Sloan's view of the world in the 21st century was even more bleak that when he wrote '"Eve of Destruction."  He told the Wall Street Journal that the song "sounds naive in today's world, with ISIS, ongoing wars and all those terrorist attacks.  I was looking from the point of view that we can fix this, really - if we put our attention to it.  Talk about naive."

In a 1972 interview with Melody Maker magazine, music executive and  producer Lew Adler claimed that he had to  coax the song out of P.F. Sloan by giving him a pair of boots, a hat and a copy of Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home album.  A week later. Sloan returned with ten songs, one of them being "Eve of Destruction." Adler described "Eve of Destruction" as "the first rock 'n' roll protest song."  "Sloan laid it down in very simple terms," Adler stated, "not like the folk people were doing."

Barry tried to follow up his  success with "Eve of Destruction" by recording some more songs by P.F. Sloan, but was unable to score another hit.  He branched out into acting and had a role as Old Wrangler, the leader of a band of hippies in the 1967 satirical film, The President's Analyst, starring James Coburn.  He also appeared in the musical Hair on Broadway.

After his 1968 album, The World's Last Private Citizen. was poorly received by the public, Barry ceased recording until 1971.  That was year he became a born-again Christian and began recording gospel music for the Myrrh Records label.  A remake of "Eve of Destruction" was included in his 1974 album Lighten Up  

In the mid-1980s, Barry and his wife, Mari, moved to New Zealand and worked for the charity organization World Vision.  They remained there until the 1990s.  Upon their return to the United States, Barry recorded a series of albums with gospel singer/songwriter Terry Talbot.

These days, 82-year-old Barry McGuire says he's "doing whatever presents itself to be done."  He says that "if all the bits fall into place, I go and sing.  He also spends a great deal of time with his wife and grandchildren.


* In a Rolling Stone magazine readers' poll, Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" was voted one of the ten best protest songs of all time, along with works by artists such as Bob Dylan ("Hurricane","Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Masters of War,"} Buffalo Springfield ("For What It's Worth"), Creedence Clearwatar Revival ("Fortunate Son") l, Country Joe and the Fish ("I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag"), Rage Against the Machine ("Killing in the Name") and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ("Ohio').

* P.F. Sloan died of pancreatic cancer on November 15, 2015 at the age of 70.  In January of 2015, he and Barry McGuire performed "Eve of Destruction" at an Altadena, California coffeehouse.

* Due to the line "You're old enough to kill but not for votin'," "Eve of Destruction" has been credited with helping to bring about with the passage of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971.  The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age in the United States from 21 to 18.

* In September of 2016, Barry was joined by latter-day Byrds member John York for a concert benefitting the South Pasadena Public Library in Los Angeles County, California.

Sources: The Encylopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin; Los Angeles Times;Wikipedia, Rolling Stone magazine; Barry McGuire's official website:

- Joanne