Eve of Destruction

One of the most iconic protest song of all times which takes on racism, war, hypocrisy and injustice at a volatile time in world history.

Eve of Destruction is a protest song written by P. F. Sloan in mid-1964.

Several artists have recorded it, including The Turtles who recorded it at first in their first album It Ain’t Me Babe earlier in 1965 but released it as a single only in 1970.

The most famous recording was by Barry McGuire. This recording was made between July 12 and July 15, 1965 and released by Dunhill Records. The accompanying musicians were top-tier LA session players: P. F. Sloan on guitar, Hal Blaine (of Phil Spector‘s “Wrecking Crew“) on drums, and Larry Knechtel on bass. The vocal track was thrown on as a rough mix and was not intended to be the final version, but a copy of the recording “leaked” out to a DJ, who began playing it. The song was an instant hit and as a result the more polished vocal track that was at first envisioned was never recorded. McGuire also mentioned that Eve of Destruction was recorded in one take on a Thursday morning (from words scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper), and he got a call from the record company at 7:00 the following Monday morning, telling him to turn on the radio because his song was playing. Thus, many radio stations refused to play it because of its anti-government lyrics. There was an upside to this controversy, however, as it sparked interest in the song, sending it to #1 in the US.

As stated, Eve of Destruction was written by P.F. Sloan, who was a 19-year-old staff songwriter at McGuire’s label and went on to form The Grass Roots.

Years later, reminiscing the day he wrote the song, Sloan says to have has a premonition, told to him by a voice in his head, who he claims had information that no one else had. Whilst he had originally written “think of all the hate there is in Red Russia” his inner voice told him that he should have written Red China, and that China whilst Russia would soon fall, China would continue engaging in crimes against humanity even into the new century. Sloan stated that he then wrote the letter as a prayer to God, to give him answers.

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!

At first, the song was not well accepted by the critics. According to Sloan, the media headlined it as “everything that is wrong with the youth culture” and thought it was just something he had written to make money and not worth examining. They even accused him of being a “communist dupe”.

Sloan also credited 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, Sloan said, 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.”

Lyrics contain several references to historical events:

  • You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’ ” refers to the fact that in the US at that time men were subject to the draft at age 18, while at that time the minimum voting age (except in four States) was still 21, before a Constitutional amendment changed it in July 1971.
  • And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’ ” refers to The War over Water.
  • The song’s reference to Selma, Alabama pertains to where the Selma to Montgomery marches and “Bloody Sunday” had taken place in March 1965.
  • You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return it’s the same old place” refers to the June 1965 mission of Gemini 4, which lasted just for four days.
  • The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace” refers to the November 1963, John F. Kennedy assassination and his funeral, which featured muffled drumming as the casket was slowly taken to Arlington National Cemetery.

The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but whats 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
There’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 again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Yeah my blood’s so mad feels like coagulating
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace

And tell me
Over and over and over and over again my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Mmm, no, no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Sounds from the Bucket
Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS as Fundraising Manager. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
5 Comments on this post.
  • Avatar
    Larry Pryluck
    7 October 2018 at 6:24 am
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    I’m not convinced that Eve of Destruction was recorded in one vocal take. If you listen to the final chorus, it sounds like there is a drop in at “tell me over and over…”. The “me” is either dropped in or the “over and over” was. I always noticed an overlap on the voice in the two parts.

  • Avatar
    JohN P
    9 November 2018 at 12:10 pm
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    To Larry, Sounds like Barry may have held the ‘me’ too long, and they shortened it. Doesn’t necessarily mean a second vocal take.

  • Avatar
    6 May 2019 at 5:22 pm
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    Very interesting, but how can there be references to events that took place after the song was written?

    • Marco Principia
      Marco Principia
      6 May 2019 at 7:32 pm
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      Hello Cla. The song was written in mid-1964 by P.F. Sloan, but we are addressing the version recorded in July by Barry McGuire. So no event took place after.

      Thank you for your interest!

  • Avatar
    G L Tyrebiter
    1 November 2019 at 11:14 pm
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    I was 12 when the Barry McGuire version of this song was released. I remember it and the times very well. It may even mark the beginnings of my social & military awareness. Not a helluva lot has changed since then.

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