As the years pass, it’s interesting to note which songs survive and which disappear. Sometimes, huge songs are slowly phased out, relegated to dark corners and rarely heard from again; meanwhile, minor hits suddenly help to define their decade and you can hear them on the radio every week.
For example, “Eve Of Destruction” by Barry McGuire went to #1 in 1965. Oldies radio still played it with some regularity into the 80s. And then . . . poof! Gone. Every other song that hit the top of the charts that year remains on radio playlists today, except for that one. Granted, none of those songs are topical diatribes on how the government wages war using our young as pawns while intolerance and hatred rages both at home and abroad. (Well, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” shares those themes but it’s much less overt, and so damn catchy.)
Written by P.F. Sloan—whose other big hit was “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers—“Eve Of Destruction” played a major part in defining what the press dubbed “folk-rock.” (This musical movement, supposedly led by The Byrds and Bob Dylan, reached its peak in 1965. Dylan and The Byrds didn’t like the label at all, partly because they didn’t want to be pigeonholed, but also because acts like Sonny & Cher were included among the leading lights of the genre. Sonny & Cher were not good for one’s street cred.) “Eve Of Destruction” was the first pop song to explicitly deal with the escalating war in Vietnam—paving the way for hundreds of other outspoken protest songs—but also inspiring responses such as SSgt. Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad Of The Green Berets,” an ultra-patriotic, pro-military song which hit #1 for 5 weeks in early 1966. That song would be unthinkable a few years later. And unplayable. It never shows up on oldies radio, either.
Two Barrys. Two #1 songs within six months. Opposite sides of the 60s coin. Neither would have another major hit—only the one brief shining moment. In the 70s, one Barry became a born-again Christian while the other was jailed for shooting a man in the head and killing him. The 60s really laid a heavy trip on some people’s heads, man. Some survived the journey; some were never seen—or heard from—again.