Eve of Destruction was written by P. F. Sloan in 1964 and recorded by Barry McGuire the following year. McGuire’s rendition has become one of the best-known protest and anti-war songs of the 1960s. Though it does not directly reference Vietnam, Eve of Destruction refers to the “eastern world… exploding”. It also mentions several conflicts and struggles of the Cold War period.
Sloan’s lyrics emphasize a critical argument of the anti-Vietnam War lobby. That many young soldiers were not old enough to vote for the government that sought to draft them.
A protest song about political issues of the ’60s, many radio stations refused to play it because of its anti-government lyrics. There was an upside to this controversy, however, as it piqued interest in the song, sending it to #1 in the US.
McGuire’s vocal was recorded late at night as a rough take. His voice was raspy and tired, but the producer loved it and used that take. The producer Jay Lasker brought the song to Los Angeles radio station KFWB the morning it was finished, where it was played for the first time.
Lyrics contain several references to historical events:
- “You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’ ” refers to the fact that in the US at that time men were subject to the draft at age 18, while at that time the minimum voting age (except in four States) was still 21, before a Constitutional amendment changed it in July 1971.
- “And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’ ” refers to The War over Water.
- The song’s reference to Selma, Alabama pertains to where the Selma to Montgomery marches and “Bloody Sunday” had taken place in March 1965.
- “You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return it’s the same old place” refers to the June 1965 mission of Gemini 4, which lasted just for four days.
- “The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace” refers to the November 1963, John F. Kennedy assassination and his funeral, which featured muffled drumming as the casket was slowly taken to Arlington National Cemetery.