"Eve of Destruction" is a protest song written by P.F. Sloan in 1965. Several artists have recorded it, but the best-known recording was by Barry McGuire. This recording was made between July 12 and July 15, 1965 and released by Dunhill Records. The accompanying musicians were top-tier LA session men: P.F. Sloan on guitar, Hal Blaine (of Phil Spector's "Wrecking Crew") on drums, and Larry Knechtel on bass. 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 DJ, who began playing it. The song was an instant hit and as a result the more polished vocal track that was at first envisioned was never recorded.
The song had initially been presented to The Byrds as a Dylanesque potential single, but they rejected it. The Turtles, another LA group who often recorded The Byrds' discarded or rejected material, recorded a version instead. Their version was issued as an album track shortly before McGuire's version was cut. It eventually hit number 100 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.
The song is a grave warning of imminent apocalypse, and considered by some to be the epitome of a protest song. It expressed the frustrations and fears of young people in the age of the Cold War, Vietnam, the nuclear arms race, and the civil rights movement.
The American media helped popularize the song by using it as an example of everything that was wrong with the youth of that time. The song also drew flak from conservatives. On the conservative right, a group called The Spokesmen released an answer record entitled "The Dawn of Correction". A few months later, Green Beret medic Sgt. 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. The Temptations' song "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" mentions the song title.
In the late 1970s, Los Angeles punk band The Dickies recorded a cover of "Eve of Destruction". New Wave group Red Rockers covered the song in their 1984 album Schizoprenic Circus. Johnny Thunders also frequently covered the song in concert, while veteran Canadian punk outfit D.O.A. also covered the song on their 2004 album Live Free Or Die. The song has also been covered by Australian band Screaming Jets on their 1997 album World Gone Crazy. Left-wing Christian punk band Crashdog also covered it on their album Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus. Post-Industrial psychedelic rock outfit Psychic TV released "Eve Ov Destruction" as a limited edition single in the early 90's.
The song was briefly featured on 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 also 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 rights 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. 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).
Though he's now known primarily as a singer of contemporary Christian songs, Barry McGuire has continued to sing "Eve Of Destruction" in recent years, often updating the lyrics to reference such events as the Columbine High School massacre.
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.
On the 12th of March, 2008, Barry 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.
McGuire also mentioned that "Eve of Destruction" was recorded in one take on a Thursday morning (from words scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper), and he got a call from the record company at 7:00 the following Monday morning, telling him to turn on the radio - his song was playing. The recording includes an "ahhh" where McGuire couldn't read the words.