Eve of Destruction (song)

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"Eve of Destruction"
Single by Barry McGuire
from the album Eve of Destruction
B-side"What Exactly's the Matter With Me"
ReleasedAugust 1965
RecordedJuly 15, 1965
GenreFolk rock
LabelDunhill (U.S.)
RCA (Canada)
Songwriter(s)P. F. Sloan
Producer(s)Lou Adler, P. F. Sloan, Steve Barri
Barry McGuire singles chronology
"Upon a Painted Ocean"
"Eve of Destruction"
"This Precious Time"
Audio sample

"Eve of Destruction" is a protest song written by P. F. Sloan in mid-1964.[1] Several artists have recorded it, but the best-known recording was by Barry McGuire.

The song references social issues of its period, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the draft, the threat of nuclear war, the Civil Rights movement, turmoil in the Middle East, and the American space program.

The American media helped popularize the song by using it as an example of everything that was wrong with the youth of that time.[2] Due to its controversial lyrics, some American radio stations, "claiming it was an aid to the enemy in Vietnam",[3] banned the song.[4] The song also drew flak from conservatives. It was also banned in some parts of the United Kingdom.


The song had initially been presented to The Byrds as a Dylanesque potential single, but they rejected it. The Turtles, another L.A. group which often recorded The Byrds' discarded or rejected material, recorded a version instead. Their version was issued as a track on their 1965 debut album It Ain't Me Babe, shortly before McGuire's version was cut; it was eventually released as a single and hit #100 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.

Lyrical references[edit]

  • "You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin'" refers to the United States law requiring registration for the draft at age 18, while the minimum voting age (in all but four states) was 21, until a Constitutional amendment changed it in July 1971.
  • "And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'" refers to The War over Water.
  • "If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away." Refers to the threat of a nuclear war at any moment, and the damage that this would cause.
  • The song's mention of Selma, Alabama pertains to the Selma to Montgomery marches and "Bloody Sunday" in March 1965. (The Jan and Dean version substitutes "Watts, California" in the lyrics, in apparent reference to the Watts riots.)
  • "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 over four days.
  • The lyric "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.[2]

Barry McGuire version[edit]

McGuire's recording was made between July 12 and July 15, 1965, and released by Dunhill Records. The accompanying musicians were top-tier Los Angeles session players: P. F. Sloan on guitar, Hal Blaine (of Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew) on drums, and Larry Knechtel on bass guitar. 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 disc jockey, who began playing it.[5] The song was an instant hit, and as a result, the more polished vocal track that was at first envisioned was never recorded.

McGuire recalled in later years that "Eve of Destruction" had been recorded in one take on a Thursday morning, reading lyrics scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper. The following Monday morning he got a phone call from the record company at 7:00 am, telling him to turn on the radio — his song was playing.[6] McGuire's single hit #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the UK Singles Chart in September 1965.

After becoming a born-again Christian, McGuire re-recorded "Eve of Destruction" as the lead track on his second contemporary Christian release: "Lighten Up". He updated the lyrics when he performed at a reunion of folksingers, with the line about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches replaced by the words "Columbine, Colorado", referring to the student massacre of 1999.

On March 12, 2008, McGuire appeared on the Australian music comedy/game show Spicks and Specks, performing an updated version of "Eve of Destruction", with new lines such as "You're old enough to kill/you just started voting" and "... can live for ten years in space". The reference to "Red China" was also removed, and in its place were the more generic "Now think of all the hate, still living inside us/it's never too late, to let love guide us".


In the first week of its release, the single was at #103 on the Billboard charts. By August 12 Dunhill released the LP, Eve of Destruction. It reached its peak of #37 on the Billboard album chart during the week ending September 25. That same day the single went to #1 on the chart, and repeated the feat on the Cashbox chart, where it had debuted at #30.[7] McGuire would never again break into the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. It went to #1 in Norway for two weeks.[8]

Chart history[edit]

Controversy, parodies, and response songs[edit]

In addition to its being banned in some parts of the U.S., it was also banned by Radio Scotland.[15][4] It was placed on a "restricted list" by the BBC, and could not be played on "general entertainment programmes".[16]

A group called The Spokesmen released a partial parody and answer record entitled "The Dawn of Correction". A few months later, Green Beret medic SSgt. Barry Sadler released the patriotic "Ballad of the Green Berets". Johnny Sea's spoken word recording, "Day For Decision", was also a response to the song. In addition the British musician Alan Klein wrote and performed a parody and attack on folk-singers such as Donovan and Bob Dylan entitled "Age of Corruption" on his album Well at Least It's British.[17]

Other versions[edit]

  • The song was recorded by Jan and Dean on their album Folk 'n Roll in 1965, using the same backing track as the McGuire version
  • The song was recorded by The Grass Roots on their first album Where Were You When I Needed You in 1966.
  • An Italian version, "Questo vecchio pazzo mondo" ("This old crazy world"), was recorded by Gino Santercole in 1967; a 1984 recording by Adriano Celentano was included in his album I miei americani (a collection of US hits translated into Italian).
  • In the late 1970s US punk band The Dickies recorded a cover of "Eve of Destruction".[18]
  • In 1978, Dave Warner's From the Suburbs released a live recording of "Eve of Destruction" on the band's debut album, Mug's Game.[19]
  • New wave group Red Rockers covered the song in their 1984 album Schizoprenic Circus.
  • Johnny Thunders recorded it on his 1984 album Hurt Me[20] and also frequently covered the song in concert (a live version is included on his 2000 CD, Belfast Nights).
  • The Undead recorded a cover of "Eve of Destruction" in 1986 and it was released on their album "Act Your Rage" in 1989.
  • Tiny Tim included a 23-minute cover of the song as the final track of his 1993 album Rock.
  • Christian punk band Crashdog also covered it on their 1995 album Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus.
  • The song has also been covered by Australian band Screaming Jets on their 1997 album World Gone Crazy.
  • Larry Norman released his cover version on a maxi-single CD in 2004.[21]
  • Post-industrial group Psychic TV released "Eve Of Destruction" as a limited edition single in the late 1980s.
  • The indie rock group Bishop Allen performs a version of "Eve of Destruction" borrowing heavily from the original, but with an even more sharply apocalyptic theme. It includes the lyrics "And if this moment is gone in a flash/And my hand in yours becomes ash in ash," followed in the next verse by an imagining of rejection from Heaven: "Then we'll have a dance, yeah a dance, on the head of a pin/Then God will grin, and shoo us away". The band released their version of "Eve of Destruction" on their 2003 album, Charm School.
  • Punk group D.O.A. also covered the song on their 2004 album Live Free Or Die.
  • Public Enemy covered the song on their 2007 How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul album.
  • Singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy also covered the song on her 2011 album Alone, and often performs the song live with the lyrics altered to acknowledge more contemporary issues.

In popular culture[edit]

The Temptations' song "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" mentions the song title. The song was briefly featured in Stephen King's 1994 miniseries The Stand. With a burning Des Moines, Iowa, as a backdrop, Larry Underwood sits atop the hood of a car, belting out the song to amuse himself until interrupted by another survivor of the superflu. It also appeared in The Simpsons episode GABF16, "The Girl Who Slept Too Little", and was featured in Michael Winterbottom's 1997 film Welcome to Sarajevo.

A Joey Scarbury cover was played repeatedly in the original airing of The Greatest American Hero episode "Operation Spoil Sport," to encourage the hero to prevent an automated nuclear strike being triggered by a renegade U.S. general (the aliens who provided the hero's super-powers commandeered his car radio and tuned it to stations playing the song). Due to copyright issues, the song does not appear in the DVD version of the episode.

A French translation is used in the closing credits of Michael Moore's film Sicko. "Eve of Destruction" also makes an appearance in The Doors (directed by Oliver Stone), as the opening act performs it before The Doors take the stage in Miami.

The song is played during the fourth-season finale of The A-Team, "The Sound of Thunder," when the team returns to Vietnam and flashbacks recall their tours of duty.

The song is featured in the fourth level of the Vietnam War video game Men of Valor. While the song is playing, the main character's lieutenant is dying of his wound on the battlefield. "Eve of Destruction" is featured in the 2016 video game Mafia III.

ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, famous for inventing nicknames for sports figures, and often bringing song titles into the play on words, dubbed slugger Mark McGwire as "Mark 'Eve of Destruction' McGwire".

The song, like many other popular songs of the day, gave its name to a gun truck used by United States Army Transportation Corps forces during the Vietnam War. The truck is on display at the U.S. Army Transportation Museum and is believed to be the only surviving example of a Vietnam era gun truck.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ P.F. Sloan. "P.F. Sloan: In His Own Words — The Stories Behind the Songs". Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  2. ^ a b P. F. Sloan (1999-02-19). "P. F. Sloan - Stories Behind The Songs". The P. F. Sloan Website. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
  3. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 33 - Revolt of the Fat Angel: American musicians respond to the British invaders. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  4. ^ a b Blecha, Peter; Taboo Tunes/A History of Banned Bands & Censored Songs; Backbeat Books, 2004. ISBN 0-87930-792-7
  5. ^ McGuire, Barry (October 9, 2005). "Eve of Destruction". Barry McGuire.com. Archived from the original on June 24, 2006.
  6. ^ McGuire stated this on Spicks and Specks, Australian ABC TV shown on March 12, 2008.
  7. ^ Barry McGuire. "Eve of Destruction". BarryMcGuire.com. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Barry McGuire - Eve of Destruction". norwegiancharts.com. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  9. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  10. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Eve of Destruction". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  11. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  12. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, September 25, 1965". Archived from the original on May 10, 2015. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  13. ^ Musicoutfitters.com
  14. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 25, 1965". Archived from the original on May 10, 2017. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  15. ^ Chapman, Robert;Selling the Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music Radio; Routledge, 1992. ISBN 0-415-07970-5
  16. ^ Unfit for Auntie's airwaves: The artists censored by the BBC. The Independent.
  17. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "Alan Klein - Well at Least It's British". Allmusic. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  18. ^ "The Dickies – Eve Of Destruction". Last.fm. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  19. ^ "Schizophrenic Circus". Amazon.com. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  20. ^ "Johnny ThundersHurt Me". Thunders.ca. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  21. ^ "Eve Of Destruction". Meetjesushere.com. Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  22. ^ "Gun Truck page". U. S. Army Transportation Museum site. Archived from the original on 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2008-03-05.

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