Eve Of Destruction
“The lyrics, accompanied by sounds of bombs going off, were bitter, blunt, and devastatingly bleak about contemporary events, predicting that all manner of terrible developments — war in Vietnam, racial tensions, nuclear weapons — were propelling the United States (and ‘the whole crazy world’) toward the apocalypse.” (1)
James T. Patterson
“You’ve got a hit track here, Lou,” stated engineer Bones Howe. “The track is great, guys,” Lou Adler told the group gathered in the control room, “But this song? I don’t think so.” That was the consensus. Barry McGuire grunted his way through the song like a man in the middle of a particularly difficult shit. (2)
Philip Gary Schlein was born in 1945 in Queens, New York. He was the second child and only son of Jewish parents. With harsh winters and his father’s pharmacy struggling against post-war competition, his mother, sister and Philip drove to Los Angeles as his father closed down his business. After his father arrived on the West Coast, he discovered a man named Schlein would have trouble obtaining a liquor license. They became the Sloan family.
All members of the Sloans did their part to transition the family move. Philip sold newspapers and babysat as a second job. One client paid him for his babysitting duties not with cash but a ukulele. Philip was thrilled as he constantly plucked out rock and roll tunes he heard on the radio. His father, appreciating the tenacity of his son but not the high-pitched tones of the instrument, took his son to Wallichs Music City in Hollywood and bought him a Kay acoustic guitar.
The larger body and steel strings made playing difficult so the twelve-year old Philip took a bus to Wallichs for some help. He was stunned to find hundreds of teenage girls, worked in a frenzy standing outside the store. When a security guard noticed the guitar, Philip was ushered to the door. Figuring he was a musician, they let him in.
The kid made his way to a clerk and explained his problems with the guitar. The clerk did as he probably did many times previously—he gave Philip a Mel Bay Guitar Primer for the Early Beginner instruction book. Shuffling through the pages, he noticed the clerk’s silence as his eyes were transfixed on something awe inspiring behind him. When Philip turned, he faced Elvis Presley, the man who owned the hearts of all the teenage girls in front of the store as well as his own mother.
Presley took the guitar from Sloan and said, “I bet you’d like to learn how to play this, son.” Sloan gulped. “Yes sir, I would.” Elvis showed Sloan how to hold the guitar then stood behind him, moving his fingers with his own. He sang the opening of Love Me Tender and strummed with Sloan’s fingers. (3)
Looking back on the Elvis meeting, Sloan recalled years later what that meeting with Elvis meant to him. “I felt this incredible energy being transferred into me – an infusion of benevolence, love, and compassion. Elvis stared deeply into my eyes,” Sloan wrote in his 2014 biography. “He took me into a timeless place.” (3)
The King was in town under orders of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker decided Elvis needed a gold-plated guitar. Knowing it would be impractical as the guitar would be too heavy to play, Presley learned early not to challenge his manager.
Lesson over and an autograph for his sister in hand (how did Elvis know he had a sister?), Philip made his way home where he told the story and showed the signature to his family. They didn’t believe he met the king. “Anybody can sign Elvis’s name,” his sister (who called her brother Flip) said. “If you carry on making up stories, you’re going to wind up in a mental hospital.” (4) Indeed, no good deed shall go unpunished!
Inspired by Elvis and taught by Mel Bay, Sloan and his guitar were inseparable. Around 1959, the teenager was confident enough to jump a bus for an audition at Aladdin Records in Hollywood. Never mind the fact that Aladdin was an R&B label and he was the only white kid in line for auditions. Arriving at 10:00 and performing at 4:00, he stepped before label owners Leo and Eddie Mesner.
Once finished with his self-penned song, Sloan was packing to leave when a voice from behind the glass asked if he wrote songs. Not missing a beat, Philip responded that he most definitely could. The duo liked what they heard and sent him home with a contract.
Phil’s ride home on the bus was filled with excitement, as he believed he found his direction in his life. But his parents reaction harshed that buzz. Their plans for their only son included an UCLA education followed by medical school.
Eddie and Leo showed up at the house and convinced Philip’s parents that there was money involved and they promised to look over their son. The parents gave their blessing to the idea when they rationalized it would be better to let Philip try, fail and then change course toward a college degree.
About to be a recording artist, Philip changed his name. His performing name was Flip Sloan, a nod to the nickname his sister planted on him. At the RCA studios in Hollywood, Flip, with three members of the Wrecking Crew, Earl Palmer on drums, Plas Johnson on bass and Mike Deasy on guitar, recorded two of his compositions, All I Want Is Loving and Little Girl In The Cabin. Billboard magazine highlighted the record as a Best Pick, but the songs couldn’t pick up any traction. To make matters worse, Aladdin Records was sold to Imperial Records in 1962.
The label’s sale didn’t stop Sloan. After school, he hustled his songs to different record labels in Hollywood hitting pay dirt with Arwin Records, a label owned by Martin Melcher, husband and manager of Doris Day. An audition brought another contract for two sides to be recorded. Again, Sloan, reverting back to a more muture sounding Phil, chose two more originals — She’s My Girl and If You Believe In Me. Again, backed by the master studio musicians, the songs earned another Best Pick from Billboard. Again, sadly, the record went nowhere.
Back to visiting record labels, Sloan came across one Steve Venet, brother of Capitol’s Nick Venet who was in the process of signing the Beach Boys. Steve arranged an audition with Screen Gems, the music publishing side of Columbia Pictures and the West Coast office of Aldon Music. In New York, Aldon featured songwriters, Goffin and King, Mann and Weil, and Barry and Greenwich—the best the Brill Building had to offer.
Venet played Sloan’s audition reel for Lou Adler, who at this time was manager of Aldon West. Adler was unimpressed and turned down Sloan. On the other side of the paper-thin walls was Al Nevins, the “Al” of Aldon, who was visiting from New York. Nevins had Adler sign Sloan to a ten-dollar a week songwriter contract and Venet to an A&R position.
After a spat with Adler, Venet was fired and Sloan, at 16, was hired as the head of A&R of Aldon Music. With no additional pay, Phil’s after-school job duties included writing songs and listening to demos that were sent by artists from around the country.
A short time later, Adler hired Steve Barri to work part time for the same $10 a week. A few years older than Sloan, Barri was married with a child. When Adler introduced them, he said, “You two fight it out and write together.” (5)
No fights ensued as the pair wrote songs on spec and others by request. When Jan and Dean’s Surf City hit #1 in the summer of 1963, songs praising the sport became profitable. When Jan’s backing vocal group quit, Phil and Steve were hired to fill the void. It was Sloan’s falsettos that were heard on the record, Drag City.
Sloan and Barri formed their own group, the Fantastic Baggys, who scored a top hit in Hawaii, Indonesia, Australia and other countries that were bordered by an ocean, titled Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin’. An LP with the same title followed as all songs were penned by the duo. Many were used by another surf group, Bruce and Terry, who charted in July of 1964 with Summer Means Fun and One Piece Topless Bathing Suit.
P.F. Sloan courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
A competition was held among the songwriters around Los Angeles to produce a theme song for The TAMI Show (‘Teen Age Music International’), which was filmed over two days (October 28 and 29, 1964) at the Santa Monica Civic Center. The show featured live performances by The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, The Barbarians, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Lesley Gore, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, and James Brown. (6) Sloan and Barri’s song, Here They Come From All Over The World was selected and performed by Jan and Dean at the top of the program…well, almost.
While all artists performed live on the show, Jan and Dean lip-synched their songs. For some reason, Jan didn’t want Dean singing falsetto live. With Jan singing lead, the backgrounds included Dean, Sloan and Barri with Sloan providing the falsetto. Bottom line? It was the first hit song written by the duo, Sloan and Barri.
Lou Adler became restless at Screen Gems and, with the help of partners/investors, created Dunhill Productions. Adler hired Sloan and Barri as songwriters for Dunhill Records. The first assignment was to write and produce a song for Canadian sensation, Terry Black. The song, Unless You Care barely dented the US chart but was #1 in Canada. Sloan and Adler were making things happen at Dunhill. Then there was the night in late 1964 that changed Sloan’s life.
It was a prolific night for sure. Five songs were written simultaneously. Eve Of Destruction, The Sins Of A Family, This Mornin’, Ain’t No Way I’m Gonna Change My Mind, and What’s Exactly The Matter With Me? — songs written on a night that Sloan believed came from divine intervention. “Eve Of Destruction came about from hearing a voice, perhaps an angel’s.” Sloan recalled. “The voice instructed me to spread five pieces of paper on my bed. I obeyed the voice. The voice told me that the first song would be called Eve Of Destruction, so I wrote the title at the top of the page. For the next few hours, the voice came and went as I was writing the lyric, as if this spirit—or whatever it was—stood over me like a teacher: ‘No, no … not think of all the hate there is in Red Russia … but Red China!’” (7)
Sloan states that he was told the future of the world to 2024. Russia would fall, communism would continue in China but not overtake the world. That’s pretty heady stuff for a 20-year old living with his parents.
The eastern world, it is explodin’
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’
But you tell me over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe we’re on the Eve Of Destruction. (8)
Once he had the lyrics set, he stopped by his parent’s bedroom to tell them about his evening. “Something wonderful has happened,” I told my mother, as I began reading her the first verse to Eve Of Destruction. “You’ll wake your father,” she whispered. “Read it to me tomorrow.” (9)
Undaunted, Sloan put melodies to his songs and sang them to himself on his drive to work. When he played them for Barri, Steve just threw up his hands. “I hate that kind of shit!” his partner told him. (10) Lou Adler had the same kind of reaction. The songs Adler believed, were unpublishable, a waste of time and chewed Sloan’s ass out for bringing them to him.
Barry McGuire held a series of odd jobs including commercial fisherman and journeyman pipe fitter. He also sang in a bar at nights after work. He formed a folk duo with Barry Kane called Barry And Barry. Performing at the Troubadour in Hollywood, the duo met the New Christy Minstrels. Mixing well with the large folk group in the spring of 1962, the duo was invited to join them.
In 1963, McGuire and founder of the New Christy Minstrels, Randy Sparks co-wrote the group’s biggest hit, Green, Green. McGuire had an itch to perform solo and scratched it by leaving the group. However, there wasn’t a great deal of demand for a singer who grunted, growled and groaned his way through a song. By 1965, McGuire hit the haunts in Hollywood where he hung out with friends who had gigs.
At Ciro’s, a nightclub in Hollywood, McGuire had a chance meeting with Lou Adler, who was looking for talent for Dunhill Records. Working on a hunch that record buyers would purchase a hit with that unmistakable sound, Adler offered McGuire a deal for one more grab at the brass ring.
When the two met at the Dunhill office a few days later, wisdom by light of day showed Adler that McGuire was a good songwriter just not a prolific one. “Phil Sloan is down the hall,” Adler told McGuire. “He’s got some songs that I don’t get but maybe you’d like to hear some of them.” (11)
McGuire dropped in the office of Sloan and Barri and introduced himself. Sloan was flattered that the singer of Green, Green was there to listen to his work. The kid played The Sins Of A Family for McGuire. “I like it, Phil, but it’s not what I’m looking for.” (11) He had the same response to Eve Of Destruction. One by one, the kid played his repertoire. Each time, he received the same brush-off.
However, Barry’s face lit up with a grin when he heard, What’s Exactly The Matter With Me? “That’s what I’m looking for, man!” he exclaimed. “That’s the song!” They walked down to Adler’s office. “I found the song, Lou.” Adler asked, “Yeah? Great. Which one?” “What’s Exactly The Matter With Me?”’ replied the excited McGuire. “Never heard of it,” sniffed Adler. “I played it for you,” Sloan said. “You did?” an annoyed Adler asked. “Look, Lou, this is the song I want to do,” Barry said. ‘What do I have to do?” “Welcome to Dunhill Records,” Lou told Barry, very pleased. (12)
On July 15, 1965, a recording session was set up at Western Studio 3 with Wrecking Crew members Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knetchel on bass and Sloan on guitar and harmonica. Adler was in the booth with engineers Chuck Britz and Bone Howe. Writing partner Steve Barri walked in and out of the studio expressing his displeasure at the songs to be recorded.
Hoping to record four songs at this 3-hour session, they started with a few takes of What’s Exactly The Matter With Me? They took a short break and had some fried chicken delivered. Then it was on to The Sins Of A Family followed by Ain’t No Way I’m Gonna Change My Mind. There were three songs in the can and twenty minutes remaining on the session. Adler, like any other producer, wasn’t one to waste any studio time. The final song chosen was Eve Of Destruction.
Adler despised the song but acquiesced to the desire of McGuire. Unfortunately, the notebook paper with the lyrics was under the chicken dinners and was covered in grease. With no time to copy the pages, McGuire rolled with it thinking this was a rough vocal that could be redone at a future date. He struggled to read the grease-stained lyrics and ad-libbed his way to a line he could read clearly.
P.F. Sloan and Barry McGuire.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
McGuire recalled the recording session. “I smoothed all the wrinkles and we wrote the chords down on a piece of brown paper that somebody got some chicken in or something, and we folded little creases and hung them on the music stands and went through it twice. They were playing and I’m reading the words off this wrinkly paper. I’m singing, ‘Well, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’, that part that goes, ‘Ahhhhhh, you can’t twist the truth,’ and the reason I’m singing ‘Ahhhhhh’ is because I lost my place on the page. People said, ‘Man, you really sounded frustrated when you were singing.’ Well, I was. I couldn't see the words. I wanted to re-record the vocal track, and Lou said, ‘We're out of time. We'll come back next week and do the vocal track.’” (13)
A little over three and a half minutes later, all parties gathered in the control room for the playback. First, Blaine and Knetchel spoke, diplomatically quoting their favorite lines while agreeing they never heard such a song. Howe believed the song was a hit but Adler still had his reservations. Barri remained distant taking his cues from Adler. All agreed it was a great song. No one could figure how Dunhill could ever release it. But they did…as the B-Side to What’s Exactly The Matter With Me?
What happened next depends on the source. Fred Bronson, in his book The Billboard Book Of Number One Hits states, “Jay Lasker, a Dunhill VP had a tape of the song delivered to a promotion man at Los Angeles radio station KFWB. Two hours later, Adler was driving to the office when he heard Eve on the radio. Adler was angry, as he didn’t know the song was finished. It wasn’t. KFWB was playing the rough mix.” (14)
Barry McGuire remembered a similar story. “It turns out that a photographer and record promoter by the name of Ernie Farrell visited Lou Adler’s office on July 16th to see if Lou had any records to promote, and he picked up a couple of 45s off of Adler’s desk without Lou’s knowledge. That afternoon, Farrell was scheduled to take photos at a birthday party at the home of the program director at KFWB. Farrell was taking pictures, went to get some flashbulbs out of the trunk of his car, and he saw the 45s there. He played the 45s for the kids at the party, and they really didn’t respond to any of them until Farrell played Eve of Destruction. They demanded that he play it repeatedly. The kids took it into their father and asked him to listen to it. He phoned KFWB and said, ‘I’ve got next week’s pick to hit.’
The folks at Dunhill rushed the one take of Eve back into the studio to get it ready for immediate release, but Barry wasn’t around that weekend, so they mixed it, pressed it and shipped it out by that following Monday, July 19th (although the official release date is July 21st). So Barry never got a chance to re-record the vocals.” (13)
Sloan painted a different picture in his biography. “The record was met with stony silence at first, and it seemed destined to disappear from view. Then, one late night out in the hinterlands of Wisconsin, outside the purview of mainstream radio, a DJ flipped the record over and played Eve Of Destruction on a lark. Almost immediately, the phone lines started lighting up with callers asking the DJ to play it again. He played the song over and over again.” (15)
The narrative realigns as other small markets picked up the song, followed by larger markets as broadcast word of mouth spread. Then, the unexpected happened that pushed the song up the charts. The song was banned in Boston, then New York and then Chicago. Even the BBC banned it. Teenagers tasting the forbidden fruit bought the record by the thousands. The song, officially released in late July, debuted on the Billboard chart on August 21st, reached the #1 spot on September 25th. (16) (17) But there was a price to pay.
The song rubbed raw the wounds of the Vietnam War. Those who supported the war weren’t afraid to foster their political agenda on the 20-year old songwriter who now referred to himself as P.F. Sloan. Others thought of him as a messiah as well as their voice to end the war. Sloan recalled the mixed messages. “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. 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 writer’s 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 either of us was considered unpatriotic. 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.” (18)
By the middle of September, a folk group called The Spokesmen recorded an answer song titled The Dawn Of Correction. The Spokesmen were actually John Madara and David White, a Philadelphia songwriting team whose hits include At The Hop and You Don't Own Me and Philadelphia DJ Ray Gilmore. Madara recalled the answer record. “We wrote the song on a Wednesday, recorded it the following Monday, and it was released by the end of the week. We did not have an artist at the time to record it, so we did it ourselves. We did take a positive stand with our lyrics and tried to answer Barry McGuire's statements in his lyrics. When we wrote the song, we were never for the war, we were just for America, and we felt that The Eve of Destruction was a slap against America. Because of the anti-war sentiment, The Dawn of Correction was obviously taken the wrong way." (19) Dawn peaked over the horizon of the top 40 in September of 1965.
Barry Sadler, a staff sergeant in the Marines, took a different tact and presented the service bathed in the light of a fighting man for an American elite force. His song, The Ballad Of The Green Berets, released in February of 1966, marched up the chart and planted the flag at #1 on March 5th, holding its ground for five weeks. (17)
For Dunhill Records, they were in their own conundrum. Adler and Lasker feared that if people bought the record, the backlash could ruin the label. They believed they had to clean up this mess and rake in piles of money before a lynch mob with pitchforks and torches broke down the doors.
Nothing lasts very long in rock and roll. It’s always the case of What have you done for me lately? In the case of McGuire, who handed Dunhill its first #1 record, his career with Dunhill flamed out after just two more chart entries. McGuire became a born-again Christian in 1971 and thanks God that the reaction to Eve of Destruction kept him from further fame and fortune. He believes it would have killed him. “It’s just as well I didn’t get another hit tune,” he says. “I would have gone the way of Jim Morrison, Hendrix, or Joplin. I wouldn’t have survived. I came up with some great tunes after Eve, and none of them happened, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. But I’m sure glad nothing did, because I would have been history by now.” (13)
Lou Adler added more talent to his Dunhill roster. He produced hits for The Mamas & The Papas as well as The Grass Roots on the label and a number of “live” albums for Johnny Rivers on Imperial. He sold Dunhill to ABC Records in 1967, helped produce The Monterey International Pop Festival and started a new label Ode Records, which featured Carole King’s Tapestry in 1971.
P.F. Sloan continued to write songs with Steve Barri. Their combined talents produced Where Were You When I Needed You for The Grass Roots, Secret Agent Man for Johnny Rivers, A Must To Avoid for Herman’s Hermits and You Baby for The Turtles.
He left Dunhill after its sale and embarked on a solo career. Nothing happened and by 1969, Sloan left the music business. Bouts with drugs and alcohol were by choice. Hypoglycemia and catatonia weren’t. The latter caused him to forget a major portion of his life. He maintained a sense of humor about it. “There was a blessing, I suppose. I slept through the entire cocaine and disco haze that enveloped Los Angeles during the 70s. I don’t remember a single moment of any of that.” (20)
Sloan died on November 15, 2015 at his home in Los Angeles. He had pancreatic cancer for several months and his death was attributed to that disease. (21)
Barry McGuire performed Eve Of Destruction live on Hullabalo on September 20, 1965.
1) Patterson, James T., The Eve Of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America, 2012.
2) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean: Music And Mayhem In 1960s Los Angeles, 2017, Page 198.
3) Sloan, P.F., What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music, 2014.
4) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean: Music And Mayhem In 1960s Los Angeles, 2017, Page 86-87.
5) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 779-780).
6) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1115-1117).
7) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1316-1321).
8) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1329-1342).
9) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1571-1573).
10) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1575-1576).
11) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean: Music And Mayhem In 1960s Los Angeles, 2017, Page 197.
12) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1728-1735)
13) barrymcguire.com, Eve Of Destruction, Link.
14) Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book Of Number One Hits, 1985, Page 183.
15) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 1773-1776).
16) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 460.
17) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Hot 100 Charts The Sixties.
18) Sloan, P.F., In His Own Words: The Story Behind The Songs. February 19, 1999. Link.
19) Kotal, Kent, Forgotten Hits blog, January 15, 2010. Link.
20) Sloan, P.F.. What's Exactly The Matter With Me?: Memoirs Of A Life In Music (Kindle Locations 5135-5136)21)
21) Wikipedia, P.F. Sloan, Link.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
© 2018 Jerry Reuss