Eve of Destruction

OHW Eve of Destruction by krin.jpg

Date Aired
April 1, 2016
Running Time
Previous Review
Next Review

Todd plays "Eve of Destruction" on the piano.

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at the full careers of bands and artists known for only one song. And I gotta be honest—I feel like this series has gotten [brief clip of Dead or Alive - "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)"] bogged down a bit in the '80s and '90s. The Music Video Era is very kind to the show, but I want to branch out a bit. So instead, let's go back, way back to the [picture of hippies] '60s. In fact, today, we're doing maybe the sixtiesest song ever written.

Video for "Eve of Destruction" performance on Hullabaloo in 1965
Barry McGuire: Eastern world, it is explodin'

Todd (VO): This dude with the frog voice and the pageboy haircut is Barry McGuire. The year was 1965, and a white dude playing an acoustic guitar was not nearly as much of a tired cliche, partly because there was a good chance they'd actually sing about something that matters, as is the case here. Protest music was really starting to gain ground, and this was one of the first to hit it big on the pop charts.

Todd: And this wasn't one of those happy hippie anthems either. I mean, you can see it right in the title.

Barry: But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Todd: Yeah, none of that [picture of tie-dyed peace symbol] "Give Peace a Chance", "All You Need is Love" crap. No, the message is very clear: [pictures of atomic bomb explosion and person on bench wearing a hazmat suit with sign reading "the end is near"] the world is going to explode and we're all going to fucking die. "I'm telling you, man, it's all gonna be okay." Shut up! We're doomed!

Todd (VO): Of course, to understand the sentiment, you really needed to be there.

Barry: I think of all the hate there is in Red China
Take a look around to Selma, Alabama

Todd (VO): This song is very, very of its time, and littered with enough specific references to major world events to make a good, solid verse of "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Todd: I mean, check out all his concerns. [Present-day pictures of...] Human rights abuse in Communist China, war in the Middle East, racial tension and violence in America. In other words, it has zero relevance to the modern day.

Todd (VO): But, as a snapshot of the world in 1965, you could hardly hope for a more effective song. I mean, you look at the Beatles or the Stones, but if you really want a song from that year that really mapped out the direction of pop music, I'd listen to this. But that future would be one without Barry McGuire. McGuire largely dropped off the map, even as the '60s seemed to inch ever closer to the day of destruction. Why did such a thing happen? Did he die? I mean, it was the '60s.

Todd: Maybe he meant eve of self-destruction.

Barry: This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'
And you tell me...

Before the hit

Todd: As you probably know...

Various clips from the '60s, backed by Bob Dylan - "The Times They Are a-Changin'"

Todd (VO): ...the early '60s folk scene was one of the most fertile and significant times in music, the soundtrack to an era of increased social consciousness and widespread change. Well, Barry McGuire was a key member and the lead vocalist in one of the biggest, most successful folk bands of the day.

Todd: A superstar act in the folk scene: the New Christy Minstrels.

Clip of the New Christy Minstrels performing "Far Side of the Hill"
Minstrels: Green, green, it's green, they say
On the far side of the hill
Yeah, green, green

Todd: The New Christy Minstrels were...[images of the group] They were not the hippest act of the time. Er...uh...pretty non-threatening. Okay, have you ever seen [promo pic of...] A Mighty Wind? The Christopher Guest mockumentary? Okay...

Clip from same

Todd (VO): ...you remember the smiley-smile, squeaky clean group the other folkies hate? That's supposed to be the New Christy Minstrels. I don't think the Minstrels were a cult that worshiped colors, but...yeah, that's supposed to be them.

Barry: Nah, there ain't nobody in this whole wide world
Gonna tell me to spend my time

Todd (VO): Okay, that's Barry. And even with Barry up front, singing with his rougher voice, they're still...the Christies are dorks. You can see why Barry eventually wanted out. Like, eventually, [clips of the Beatles...] it was 1964, Beatlemania was storming the country, [...and...] folk singers were trying to be more relevant to current issues. Like, even Peter, Paul & Mary were singing a lot of political music, in between the, you know, the "Puff the Magic Dragon" and everything.

Todd: Meanwhile, this is what Barry was being forced to sing.

Image of single record of "Chim, Chim, Cheree"
Minstrels: Chim, chiminy, chim, chiminy
Chim chim cheree
A chimney sweep's lucky as lucky can be

Todd: Yes, that is in fact a cover of [clip from...] "Chim, Chim, Cheree" from Disney's Mary Poppins. I couldn't even make that up.

Clip of Barry

Todd (VO): So yeah, for Barry, it was either quit the band or spend the rest of the '60s singing "Old MacDonald." He quit right at the band's commercial peak and spent some time being a broke loser.

Todd: That is until legendary producer [picture of...] Lou Adler scooped him up and put some music in front of him and let him put out an album.

The big hit

Intro on Hullabaloo
Jerry Lewis: This song is something special. It has an awful lot of important things to say about how we grown-ups are running the world.

Todd: Okay, I don't know if you know this, but the '60s were really intense, and a lot of shit happened.

Jerry: Barry McGuire and "Eve of Destruction."
Performance begins

Todd (VO): "Eve of Destruction" is, I think, the first big pop hit protest song, something that would get a lot more popular as the decade went on. There were protest songs before this, too, obviously, most notably from [clips of "Blowin' in the Wind" by...] Bob Dylan, but they were not hits. Bob Dylan didn't have his first hit until [...and...] that year—"Like a Rolling Stone." It went to #2.

Todd: "Eve of Destruction" went to #1.

Barry: And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend

Todd (VO) That seems really unfair, doesn't it? 'Cause "Eve of Destruction" is a complete and total Dylan rip, raspy voice, harmonica and all.

Harmonica solo

Todd: Dylan might as well have sued if there weren't also a billion other Dylan wannabes he had to worry about.

Todd (VO): And...for many people who grew up after the boomer era, I can see why they might not like this song. I mean, the Baby Boomers certainly love crowing about how much better their music was. So, to a lot of people my age, Vietnam War-era music just turns their stomach.

Clip from Animaniacs - "Hot, Bothered and Bedeviled"
Satan: You'll remain in here for an eternity listening to...[opens door to reveal] whiny protest songs from the '60s.
"Bob Dylan": Oh, I hate the government
More than you and me
The government stole my goldfish
And unplugged my TV
[The Warners scream]

Todd: I mean, personally, I really like this song...

Todd (VO): ...even though the individual details have nothing to do with me or my life.

Barry: You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place

Todd (VO): Like I said, there are a lot of '60s-specific references in it, to Jim Crow, space race, to the draft.

Barry: You're old enough to kill but not for votin'

Todd (VO): A few years after this, [picture of protest march to...] the government passed the 26th Amendment, [news footage of Nixon certifying the Amendment] which lowered the voting age to 18. I like to think it was entirely because of this song.

Todd: So, see how much better you have it now, 18-year-olds? You can vote now, [chart demonstrating low voter turnout] not that any of you do. [Presentation slide of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984] Oh, and you can't buy beer anymore, either. [Todd gives a...] Thumbs up.

Barry: If the button is pushed, there's no running away
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave

Todd (VO): For the record, there was a pretty big backlash against this song. Legendary protest singer Phil Ochs hated it, and I get why, 'cause it's a bit adolescent and naive. I mean, we all go through that phase, right, where...

Todd: ...we've just discovered that the world isn't perfect, so we decide that the world must be 100% shit, and, "Quit telling me to smile, Mom! Everything sucks!" The songwriter was 19 when he wrote it, and you can tell.

Barry: Even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'
But you...

Todd: Even the Jordan River! [Picture of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis] Violence in the Middle East, the cradle of civilization! Perish the thought!

Todd (VO): And despite the song's apocalyptic bent, if you don't know, humanity did, in fact, survive the '60s.

Todd: If you're more optimistic, you can listen to a response song some guys wrote—"Dawn of Correction."

Clip of the Spokesmen performing "Dawn of Correction"
Spokesmen: Over and over again, you keep sayin' it's the end
But I say you're wrong, we're just on the dawn of correction

Todd (VO): And it argued that, you know, things are actually getting better and no one's actually crazy enough to start a nuclear war, and seriously, quit whining. And also, there's some stuff in there about how we need to gear up and fight the Commies. But ignoring that, I think both sides of this argument had a point. Things did get better, and things also got a lot uglier.

Todd: As a song though, "Dawn of Correction" blows because it's a response record, and all response records kind of blow.

Todd (VO): But also, it's because "Eve of Destruction"'s anger is honest and real. Don't tell him to stop whining.

Barry: Yeah my blood's so mad, feels like coagulating

Todd (VO): Sorry if he's harshin' your buzz, man. But sometimes, you just need someone to look at all the shit goin' on and yell...

Todd: ..."fuck this! Fuck everything!"

Barry: This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'
And you...

Todd (VO): And boy, oh boy, you know, I can't pretend that this doesn't all hit really close to home, even though the details are off.

Barry: And marches alone can't bring integration

Todd (VO): Yeah, segregation is over, and the Jordan Water War isn't happening anymore, but... [pictures of...] the Middle East still sucks, racism is still ugly, people are still blowing up, [...and clip from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice] Superman kills people now! Wow, that was a fun movie to watch while I was writing this episode.

Todd: Yeah, that felt really appropriate, not gonna lie.

Todd (VO): No, the song is just a genuine cry of rage. As the song goes on, the verses get longer and longer, like McGuire is just spontaneously thinking up more things to add on to the rage list.

Barry: 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...

Todd (VO): "Eve of Destruction" is righteously pissed off, and pop music just needs more apocalypse songs.

Barry: We're on the eve of destruction

Todd (VO): Eve of destruction. We were on the eve of destruction!

Todd: Specifically, the destruction of Barry McGuire's career.

The failed follow-up

Todd: And now, his follow-up single: "California Dreamin'."

Clip of the Mamas & the Papas - "California Dreamin'"
Mamas & Papas: All the leaves are brown

Todd (VO): Okay, you can tell this is not his follow-up single, this is the Mamas and the Papas. He was real tight with them, for the record. They even name-checked him in a song once.

Clip of "Creeque Alley"
Papa John Phillips: McGuinn and McGuire just a-gettin' higher in LA

Todd (VO): And they were gonna let him release "California Dreamin'" as his next single. ["California Dreamin'" continues] But at the last minute, they changed their minds and recorded it themselves, which was probably for the best. So instead of recording one of the greatest pop songs of all time...

Todd: ...he released this.

Clip of The Ed Sullivan Show
Ed Sullivan: Here is Barry McGuire. Let's bring him out here.

Todd (VO): This is his follow-up, "Child of Our Times," written by the same guy who wrote "Eve of Destruction." That's The Grass Roots playing backup for him, but not the actual Grass Roots. The Grass Roots [Album cover of More Golden Grass] wouldn't become a real band and get famous for a couple years yet. I don't...I don't know why I'm bothering; most of you are kids, you...

Todd: ...don't even know who The Grass Roots were to begin with. Anyway, let's check out the song.

Barry: Every minute you're alive
You're that much closer to death

Todd: Oh, God, this is gonna be even wangstier than the last one, isn't it?

Barry: Child of our times
Child of our times
Product of our society
In your burnin', turnin' minds
You are your own worst enemy

Todd (VO): This...this is not really doin' it for me. It's a lot less specific than "Eve of Destruction"...

Todd: ...was, and it's not as catchy, and...

Barry: Ah, don't wave banners you don't believe, parasites
You'll have to discover...

Todd (VO): Instead of being angry, he's lecturing you about how the world is rough and you'll have to defeat your own prejudices and... I don't know, if the narrator were addressing it to himself instead of me, this would go down a whole lot better, 'cause...

Todd: ...there's a level of hippie preachiness that I'm willing to tolerate, and this is well past that.

Barry: Ah, forever gone is your serenity
For the fleeing fawn, there's no sacred tree

Todd: What the hell did that mean?

Barry: They'll thank you in the end after they've seen the light

Todd (VO): And this live version especially is...Barry does not sound great. I mean, granted, you were allowed to sound like that back in the '60s.

Todd: Just like how, in the '90s, [yarling] everyone sang like this for some reason.

Todd (VO): I don't know, maybe there just wasn't a market for a guy like McGuire. He didn't write any of his own songs—at least not during this phase of his career, he had before—but not here. I looked through his other singles; there's, like, [single record of "Masters of War" written by Bob Dylan] a lot of Dylan covers in there. I mean, yes, lots of pop acts cover Dylan, but Barry McGuire was already kind of a ripoff of Dylan. He was kinda not real enough for the folkies, and not pop enough to go mainstream. And if you're gonna be a studio creation, let's face it, he wasn't exactly Davy Jones. Kinda looks like a blond Pete Rose.

Barry: Only the orphaned child will sound the cries of a mistake
That could never be rectified

Todd: [flat] Peace. Far out.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: Oh, quite a bit.

Clip from The President's Analyst

Todd (VO): Uh, he had a bunch of other songs he released, not a whole lot I was impressed with, but he also did some acting. Here he is in [soundtrack album cover of...] The President's Analyst, plays a stoned-out hippie who sings folk songs. It is, granted, not the most challenging role anyone has ever taken.

Todd: He also spent a year on Broadway performing [poster for...] in Hair, [pictures of Barry] which is an excellent place to be if you're pretending to be a hippie. [Singing] Gimme a chest with hair. Thick, beautiful hair! So yeah, he did movies, he did Broadway, [picture of Barry with guitar and hookah] but mostly, he did drugs. A lot of drugs. Yeah, turns out my "eve of self-destruction" crack was pretty accurate. To give you a gauge on how far he fell in just a couple years, here's where he was by 1971.

Teaser for...
Announcer: Werewolves on Wheels, starring Steve Olliver and Severn Darden.

Todd (VO): This is Werewolves on Wheels. It is about a biker gang who gets cursed and turned into werewolves. I've seen it, and unfortunately, it is not as good as I made it sound. So yeah, he really hit bottom, and he looked like he was gonna be yet another...

Todd: ...casualty of the '60s, until...

Picture of Jesus on a throne backed by Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus"
Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Todd (VO): Yes, he found Jesus. [Picture of Jesus in tie-dye with guitar and flashing the peace sign] He was a Jesus hippie, a neglected subset of hippies. And he [clip of Barry performing] reinvented himself as a Christian musician, and that's what he's been doing for the last 40 years. And you know, I've already told you about my complete and utter disgust for Christian rock, but apparently in the early '70s, it was still, like, real music with, like, real messages and stuff. Apparently, the idea that Christian music should be bland garbage didn't catch on 'til the end of the decade.

Todd: I mean, I listened to some of his '70s stuff, it's still pretty legit. [Album cover of...] He has an album called Cosmic Cowboy, which is very, very strange, and you can listen to it on Spotify, and I'm not sure he'd actually quit drugs, like he said at that point.

Todd (VO): He also has an album called [Wikipedia page with, highlighted...] Narnia, which I could not find, but which I...

Todd: ...have to listen to eventually.

Recent clips of Barry in concert

Todd (VO): He still records today, Christian music mostly for the kiddies, it seems. He also recorded a new version of "Eve of Destruction" in 2012. This one is less about...

Todd: ...war, has more of an environmental angle.

Single cover of "Eve of Destruction 2012"
Barry: [backed by kids] Tell me over and over and over again, my friend
[Todd stifles a laugh]
You don't believe we're still on the eve of destruction

Todd: Okay, um...when you're singing a song about, you know, the eminent extinction of humanity, I'm not sure the Kidz Bop treatment really works for it.

Did he deserve better?

Todd: [Snorts] No, he's fine.

Barry: Tell me over and over and over again

Todd (VO): Yeah, his other songs, you can skip 'em. He had written a bunch of songs before he got big, he released a whole solo album. I'm not sure why he didn't write his own singles afterwards. The fact that he was broke before he got picked up for a solo career might have had something to do with it. In any case, maybe you'd say he deserved better if he, you know, was, you know, more real, more authentic, but in my opinion, his other singles need to be put out. He found his niche outside of the mainstream, and if you like Jesus music, by all means, listen to his '70s stuff. And if you like his newer Kidz Boppy stuff, well, you probably already listen to it.

Todd: Oh, and "Eve of Destruction" holds up. So if you want a song that implies that you should start hoarding canned goods and live in your basement, that's the one I'd go with. [Gives the sign] Peace.

Gets up and leaves

Performance on Hullabaloo ends

Closing tag song: The Dickies - "Eve of Destruction"

"Eve of Destruction" is owned by Geffen Records
This video is owned by me


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.