Turn! Turn! Turn!
"Turn! Turn! Turn!", sometimes known as "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)", is a song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s. The lyrics, except for the title, which is repeated throughout the song, and the final two lines, are adapted word-for-word from the English version of the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. The song was originally released in 1962 as "To Everything There Is a Season" on folk group the Limeliters' RCA album Folk Matinee and then some months later on Seeger's own The Bitter and the Sweet.
The song became an international hit in late 1965 when it was adapted by the American folk rock group the Byrds. The single entered the record chart at number 80 on October 23, 1965, before reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on December 4, 1965. In Canada, it reached number three on Nov. 29, 1965, and also peaking at number 26 on the UK Singles Chart.
Lyrics and title
The lyrics are taken almost verbatim from the book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), though the sequence of the words was rearranged for the song. Ecclesiastes is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon who would have written it in the 10th century BC, but believed by a significant group of biblical scholars to date much later, up to the third century BC.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
The Biblical text posits there being a time and place for all things: laughter and sorrow, healing and killing, war and peace, and so on. The lines are open to myriad interpretations, but Seeger's song presents them as a plea for world peace because of the closing line: "a time for peace, I swear it's not too late." This line and the title phrase "Turn! Turn! Turn!" are the only parts of the lyric written by Seeger himself.
The song is notable for being one of a few instances in popular music in which a large portion of the Bible is set to music, other examples being the Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon", Sister Janet Mead's "The Lord's Prayer", U2's "40", and Cliff Richard's "The Millennium Prayer".
The song was published in illustrated book form by Simon & Schuster in September 2003, with an accompanying CD which contained both Seeger and the Byrds recordings of the song (ISBN 978-0-689-85235-0). Wendy Anderson Halperin created a set of detailed illustrations for each set of opposites which are reminiscent of mandalas. The book also includes the Ecclesiastes text from the King James version of the Bible. Handwritten lyrics to the song were among the documents donated to New York University by the Communist Party USA in March 2007. 45% of the royalties for the song are donated to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions because, in Seeger's own words, "[in addition to the music] I did write six words."
Early folk versions
The song was first released by the folk group the Limeliters on their 1962 album Folk Matinee, under the title "To Everything There Is a Season". The Limeliters' version predated the release of Seeger's own version by several months. One of the Limeliter's backing musicians at this time was Jim McGuinn (aka Roger McGuinn), who would later work with folk singer Judy Collins, rearranging the song for her 1963 album, Judy Collins 3. Collins's recording of the song was retitled as "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)", a title that would be used intermittently by McGuinn's later band the Byrds, when they recorded the song in 1965. In 1963, Marlene Dietrich recorded "Für alles kommt die Zeit (Glaub', Glaub)," Max Colpet's German translation of the song. Dietrich was backed by Burt Bacharach conducting a studio orchestra, and the song was released as monaural single. Australian folk singer Gary Shearston also recorded a version of the song for his 1964 album Songs of Our Time, with the title "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)".
The Byrds' version
|"Turn! Turn! Turn!"|
1965 German picture sleeve
|Single by The Byrds|
|from the album Turn! Turn! Turn!|
|B-side||"She Don't Care About Time"|
|Released||October 1, 1965|
|Recorded||September 1, 10, 14–16, 1965,|
|Studio||Columbia, Hollywood, California|
|Genre||Folk rock, jangle pop|
|Songwriter(s)||Pete Seeger (words from the Book of Ecclesiastes)|
|The Byrds singles chronology|
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" was adapted by the Byrds using a folk rock arrangement. Columbia Records released it as a single on October 1, 1965, with the Gene Clark original composition "She Don't Care About Time" as the B-side. The song is included on the band's second album, Turn! Turn! Turn!, which was released on December 6, 1965. The Byrds' single is the most successful recorded version of the song, having reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts and number 26 on the UK Singles Chart. The book of Ecclesiastes was written between the 3rd and 10th centuries BC, thus "Turn! Turn! Turn!" is the number one pop hit with the oldest lyrics.
The song had first been arranged by the Byrds' lead guitarist Jim McGuinn in a chamber-folk style during sessions for Judy Collins' 1963 album, Judy Collins 3. The idea of reviving the song came to McGuinn during the Byrds' July 1965 tour of the American Midwest, when his future wife, Dolores, requested the tune on the Byrds' tour bus. The rendering that McGuinn dutifully played came out sounding not like a folk song but more like a rock/folk hybrid, perfectly in keeping with the Byrds' status as pioneers of the folk rock genre. McGuinn explained, "It was a standard folk song by that time, but I played it and it came out rock 'n' roll because that's what I was programmed to do like a computer. I couldn't do it as it was traditionally. It came out with that samba beat, and we thought it would make a good single."
The song's plea for peace and tolerance struck a nerve with the American record buying public as the Vietnam War escalated. The single also solidified folk rock as a chart trend and, like the band's previous hits, continued the Byrds' successful mix of vocal harmony and jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar playing. Pete Seeger expressed his approval of the Byrds' rendering of the song.
During 1965 and 1966, the band performed the song on the television programs Hollywood A Go-Go, Shindig!, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Where the Action Is, as well as in the concert film, The Big T.N.T. Show. Additionally, the song would go on to become a staple of the Byrds' live concert repertoire, until their final disbandment in 1973. The song was also performed live by a reformed line-up of the Byrds featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman in January 1989. In addition to its appearance on the Turn! Turn! Turn! album, the song also appears on several Byrds' compilations, including The Byrds' Greatest Hits, History of The Byrds, The Original Singles: 1965–1967, Volume 1, The Byrds, 20 Essential Tracks From The Boxed Set: 1965-1990, The Very Best of The Byrds, The Essential Byrds and There Is a Season.
The recording has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows, including 1983's Heart Like a Wheel, 1994's Forrest Gump, and 2002's In America. Following Joe Cocker's cover of "With a Little Help from My Friends", the song was the first to play on the first episode of the television series The Wonder Years. It was also used in a Wonder Years parody, during The Simpsons episode, "Three Men and a Comic Book". In 2003, it was used in the closing sequence of the Cold Case episode "A Time to Hate" (Season One, episode 7).
Other cover versions
The song has been covered by many other artists:
- Dolly Parton recorded it in 1984 for her The Great Pretender album, and again in 2005 for Those Were the Days; on Parton's 2005 recording of the song, she was joined by McGuinn, who played guitar and provided harmony vocals.
- McGuinn, Parton, Marty Stuart, and Kathy Mattea performed the song together in the 2003 movie Our Country.
- Norwegian singer Kari Rueslåtten covered the song as "Turn, Turn, Turn" and released it as the lead single for her 2015 album To the North. A video was also recorded for the song.
- McGuinn, Emmylou Harris, and Ricky Skaggs cut a new version for the soundtrack and ending credits of the 2014 film, The Song.
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