Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1965: EVE OF DESTRUCTION/Barry McGuire

This song is somehow so apposite of 1965, a gruff yet never more Dylanesque slice of protest, replete with frantically strummed acoustic guitar and brief toots of harp. For, in 1965, many truly felt we were on the eve of a self-imposed destruction, nuclear holocaust a mere button away and seeming so close. Earnest troubadours were on every corner warning of the same, anti-war diatribes billowing forth, from Bob himself to would-be Bobs aplenty. And these were no mere paranoid ideations, as there was a palpable sense that oblivion lay waiting ahead, eagerly itching in the wings for the over-eager finger of a Brezhnev (or even an LBJ). This was the year of US troops arriving in ‘Nam and occupying the Dominican Republic, the assassination of Malcolm X, the Watts riots, with fighting breaking out between India and Pakistan, between China and Taiwan, in the Congo, with coups commonplace elsewhere in sub-Sahara, in Indonesia, in Aden. Hell, no wonder folk were nervous.

It was almost an accident that McGuire came to be the one-hit wonder he became. The Byrds had been given first shout, rejecting it. Offered then to the Turtles, it was tucked away on their debut, taking a full 5 years to eventually sneak into the Billboard Hot 100 as a single. At 100. P.F. Sloan, the writer, had a successful early 60s career as a staff songwriter at publisher Screen Gems, coming to the attention of Dunhill records music mogul, Lou Adler, who put him to work penning for many of his roster, from the aforementioned Turtles to Herman’s Hermits and Jan and Dean. He was also an accomplished musician, playing guitar with celebrated sessionmen the Wrecking Crew, who would be responsible for backing, anonymously, many a more famous name and often instead of the musicians otherwise credited. (Go see.) Back to Eve, and, mid July, McGuire recorded a rough demo vocal to the backing track, laid down with Sloan, together with other wrecking Crew alumni, Hal Blaine on drums and Larry Knechtel on bass. Although this was intended to be later tidied up, the demo found its way to a radio station. This all happened within 5 days, and the song became a worldwide hit, hitting the Billboard top slot within about  8 weeks. The more polished version was never made.

In 1965 I was 8. It was the year, impending doom regardless, that my parents first bought a record player, a neat little Dansette, capable of playing a stack of singles one after the other. It came with a selection of about 30 or so of said 45rpm discs, ranging from Elvis, through the Beach Boys, to the Swinging Blue Jeans, none of which were to my parents taste. However they were just the ticket for my elder sister and I can probably blame my enduring infatuation with music on this particular acquisition in the autumn of ‘65. And, of course, Eve of Destruction was one of the records and I own it still, being one of a select few I sneaked from home when my sister left for University, writing my name on each of them for keepsake. 

So what happened to McGuire? It seems he was far from the rough hewn counter culture warrior the song suggests, having been earlier a member of the uber-kitch New Christy Minstrels. (He was the singer on this, their best known number.) After stardom beckoned, he retreated from the limelight, becoming a born again Christian, refusing the play the song again for decades and only then with a bowdlerisation of the lyrics to avoid any possible offence. Sloan continued to write and to seek his own stardom, which largely eluded him, but was the subject of this intriguing song, by the arguably far more successful Jimmy Webb, who claimed his inspiration was fired by Sloan's experience.

50 years on, the world lurches on. Is the Eve of Destruction any the further? Or any the nearer? At least we are still here. Yet the song remains worth singing, as performed here by the Pogues.

Buy the original here

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