Even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’/But you tell me over and over and over again my friend/You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction
Even in an era of protest songs, Eve of Destruction was surprisingly blunt for a song that would become so popular. Sure it was immortalized by Barry McGuire, and originally written for The Byrds, but The Turtles turned in the original, superior version. McGuire’s interpretation is oversung and over-steady. His husky vocals come off more like playacting than actual indignation and his take features several unnecessary detours, including harmonica breaks and extra verses. By contrast, The Turtles’ version is both streamlined and delightfully ramshackle. It begins and ends simply with a military cadence, but between those bookends are a wealth of emotions. At turns angry, innocent and pleading desperately, the song has an authentic feel of disenchanted youth that McGuire can’t capture, especially when the whole group joins in for the chorus. Lines like “You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’” gain an extra level of urgency. In addition to being more convincing, it’s also more tuneful. The Turtles managed to take a deadly serious protest song and package it into a radio-friendly folk rock format. It had more pop sensibility than folk heroes like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, but was more bleak and direct in its politics than songs by groups like The Weavers or The Byrds. It ended up being the rare thing that is best of both worlds, standing assuredly with other folk classics of the era.