And the story of its origin in the author's own words: P.F.Sloan In His Own Words: The Stories Behind The Songs
P. F. Sloan : In His Own Words
The Stories Behind The Songs
This new feature will begin with the descriptions of 2 of his most famous songs, "Eve Of Destruction" and "Secret Agent Man". These were written for a book due to be published in the U.K. in 2000, tentatively called "Stories Behind The Songs". More information about this book will be posted here - if the other stories are of the same calibre as these, it should be a worthy investment!
Eve Of Destruction
The song "Eve of Destruction" was written in the early morning hours between midnight and dawn in mid-1964. The song was one of five that were written that evening Three of the five became notable for some reason. The other two were "The Sins of A Family (Fall On The Daughter)", and "Take Me For What I'm Worth", recorded by The Searchers. I was 19 years old. The most outstanding experience I had in writing this song was hearing an inner voice inside of myself for only the second time. It seemed to have information no one else could've had. For example, I was writing down this line in pencil "think of all the hate there is in Red Russia." This inner voice said "No, no it's Red China!" I began to argue and wrestle with that until near exhaustion. I thought Red Russia was the most outstanding enemy to freedom in the world, but this inner voice said the Soviet Union will fall before the end of the century and Red China will endure in crimes against humanity well into the new century! This inner voice that is inside of each and every one of us but is drowned out by the roar of our minds! The song contained a number of issues that were unbearable for me at the time. I wrote it as a prayer to God for an answer. The lines:
"Think of all the hate there is in Red China then take a look around to Selma Alabama.
And marches alone cannot bring integration when human respect is disintegrating"
are about racial un-harmony issues.
"Hate your next door neighbor and don't forget to say grace",
simple hypocrisy but it made me feel angry.
"You're old enough to kill but not for voting"
was about the injustice of using youth in the army to defend the country but they had no say in its policies. More hypocrisy!
"You don't believe in war so what's that gun you're toting!"
"The pounding of the drums the pride and disgrace"
were written in relationship to the powerful Kennedy assassination.
I finished the poem and went into my parents bedroom. My mother was awake and I told her I had written something wonderful. She said, "Shhh, you'll wake your dad." I put a melody to the words and played it for my then writing partner Steve. He listened but I could tell he didn't like it much. He wasn't much interested. The same response followed when I played it for the publishing company people. Their response was stronger. UNPUBLISHABLE! I was told not to write any more songs like that. Quite the contrary to Andrew Loog Oldham's account in his book on ABBA. He stated these were songs for hire!
How did it get recorded? Barry McGuire was the lead singer for a popular folk group at the time called the New Christy Minstrels. Writing and singing his own Number 1 hit, "Green,Green". He had just left the group and was on his own and looking for material to record. He wound up at my publishing company and he was told there was a quirky songwriter he might want to listen to. Now, Barry didn't like the song "Eve of Destruction" that much. He liked a few other songs of mine better. One in particular called "What's Exactly The Matter With Me", which originally was the A-side of the record.When he was ready to record he picked 4 songs and "Eve" was the 4th to be recorded, if there was time. If you listen to the recording he's rushing singing thru the lyric because of the time constraints and he was reading it for the first time off a piece of paper I had written the lyric on! Okay. McGuire's record is released but "Eve" is the B-side. Somewhere in the Great Midwest of America a DJ played the wrong side by mistake! So as you can see, when people had written that this song was some calculated idea on how to capitalize on the emerging folk scene, it's simply B.S. Honest to God that's what happened and how the song got played.
One last thing. The media frenzy over the song tore me up and seemed to tear the country apart. I was an enemy of the people to some and a hero to others, but I was still only 20 years old and nobody really was looking. 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! Examples: The media headlined the song as everything that is wrong with the youth culture. First, show the song is just a hack song to make money and therefore no reason to deal with its questions. Prove the 19-year old writer is a communist dupe. Attack the singer as a parrot for the writers word. The media claimed that the song would frighten little children. I had hoped thru this song to open a dialogue with Congress and the people. The media banned me from all national television shows. Oddly enough they didn't ban Barry. The United States felt under threat. So any positive press on me or Barry was considered un-patriotic. A great deal of madness, as I remember it! I told the press it was a love song. A love song to and for humanity, that's all. It ruined Barry's career as an artist and in a year I would be driven out of the music business too.
I have been asked why do I think the song touched a nerve? Answer: I don't know exactly. It released some major concerns for myself and maybe because it was coming from a genuine concern for the well-being of America and the world. I remember in 1965 the civil rights movement had begun, Vietnam was in the background, the cold war had heated up so drastically that we're just finding out today how close the world came to the brink of a nuclear war. This was in the air, fear and hypocrisy... the unthinkable could be happening. A total annihilation of all life on Earth. Really? "Well, looks like they really did it this time Martha! We better not plant those begonias this spring with all that nuclear fallout and all! Oh, now George don't be so pessimistic! Within a hundred years or so the Nuclear winter will be over and we can replant the corn crop!"
Two questions I have been asked over the years is how I liked the original McGuire record and what did I feel about the "Dawn of Correction" record? Answer: I liked it (the original McGuire record) a lot. I played the lead 6-string acoustic guitar, as well as the harp on the recording.The original session was a 4-song, 3-hour date. I didn't think of it as a pop song. It was a folk song put to a beat. Adding the dimension of a female choir in echo came as a suggestion from the label. That's when I had a hint that the label thought this might be a releasable record.
Now, my reaction to the cover song "Dawn of Correction" was, this is great! Maybe it's a dialogue happening: via the radio via musical recordings. I thought if they believe what they're saying, fine! If it's a label's get rich quick scheme that made me sad. But the record was really a "wave the flag and how dare you say anything bad about my country tis of thee..." kind of bullshit. I've written two more versions of "Eve Of Destruction". Barry McGuire recorded the second one in 1990. It was called "Eve Of Destruction (The Environment)" but it was laughed off. I wrote "Still on the Eve" in 1994. And I recorded it for a label in Japan. It didn't come thru me as the original had. It was more a labor. But I thought I'd give it a try. I guess living in Hollywood got to me. Everything here has a sequel, right?
Copyright: PF Sloan 1999.02.19
Secret Agent Man
A hit T.V. show from England by the name of Dangerman was coming to America the following year (1966). CBS asked a number of publishers probably to come up with a 15-second theme to replace the British theme song. I wrote the guitar lick and the first few lines. My writing partner Steve Barri helped here and there on the chorus. Went to the demo studios. And I thought that was that. No, it wasn't. Somebody thought I should do a full length instrumental of the song. So I did. Meanwhile the song was picked by CBS and Johhny Rivers recorded the quick 15-second song for the TV show. The Ventures, the genius guitar instrumental group, heard the demo and recorded and released the song way before Rivers even had a finished song. The Publishers asked me to finish the song, Rivers recorded it, not one of his favorite songs back then, but he's happier with it now. I was honored when Hank Williams Jr. recorded it, and blown away when Devo did it at a time when I really needed it. I really wish to thank all the artists who have recorded it, including Blues Traveler. It's a wonderful feeling to meet a younger person who knows and likes that song of mine. God Bless.
Copyright: PF Sloan 1999.02.19