The tumultuous sixties seem to be repeating themselves these days, with news reports that echo some of the violence and insanity of that era’s topsy-turvy world. Maybe that is why Eve of Destruction has been rolling into Mister Boomer’s skull these past few weeks, or maybe it has something to do with the Republican and Democratic conventions happening this month. In any case, the song still rings true today, and has a story of its own to tell.
American musician and songwriter P.F. Sloan penned the tune in mid-1964. The original intent for the song was for polished, harmonizing vocals. He thought The Byrds would do it justice, but they declined to record it. Sloan had worked with The Turtles, writing many of their hits, including You Baby, Let Me Be and Can I Get to Know You Better. The Turtles often took on songs that were rejected by The Byrds, and Eve of Destruction was no exception. The band recorded it in 1965. That same year, Sloan enlisted Barry McGuire to sing his song. Sloan played guitar on the track, but he thought McGuire’s vocal wasn’t crisp enough and didn’t want it released. The record company had other ideas. McGuire said in an interview in the 1990s that he recorded the song on a Thursday, and the following Monday he got a call from his record company, telling him to turn on his radio. The song was getting airtime and hit number one in September 1965.
Boomers loved it but Conservatives thought it displayed everything that was wrong with the youth society. A few months after the song reached number one, Sgt. Barry Sadler, a medic in the Green Berets, released Ballad of the Green Berets as a sort of response song. McGuire had a solo career and later became born-again and sang Christian music. He never had another top 40 hit.
In 1966, Eve of Destruction was recorded again, this time by The Grass Roots. That same year, P.F. Sloan had two more hits on the radio: Johnny Rivers’ Secret Agent Man and A Must to Avoid by Herman’s Hermits.
Mister Boomer remembers hearing the Barry McGuire version on the radio, and Brother Boomer bought the 45 RPM record that Mister B still has in his collection. Mister B also has The Turtles version, but by far prefers the rasp and rawness in McGuire’s voice. The Cold War; Vietnam; racial unrest; it was a real time of awakening for young boomers like Mister B, and this song coalesced a lot of those fears into one package.
What memories do you have of Eve of Destruction, boomers?