NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hi There! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, a weekly podcast that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and I’m getting close to retiring the computer that helped me start this whole adventure.
Hey, don’t forget to check out the website, How Good It Is Dot Com, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and of course the Facebook page, which can be found over at Facebook dot com, slash, How Good It Is Pod.
I haven’t mentioned podcast Republic a great deal in some time, so I think it’s time that I righted that wrong. Podcast Republic Is an app that allows you to download and listen to podcasts. I’ve been using it since before I had a podcast. And recently, I discovered that there are more Reviews for this show on Podcast Republic than on any other podcast platform, so certainly I’m visible there. Podcast Republic has some great features that you won’t find anywhere else. And if you do find them somewhere else, it’s because Podcast Republic got there first and the other guys are all, “Why didn’t we think of that?”. You can find a link to Podcast Republic on the How Good It Is website, or look for it in the Google Play store.
Ooh, have I got a cool trivia question for ye today. Have a listen to this; it’s the bridge from Ringo Starr’s cover of “You’re Sixteen”:
[YOU’RE SIXTEEN clip]
Now, here’s the question. Who’s playing the kazoo on this track?
I’ll have the answer for you near the end of the program.
Some people listening to this were around in the Summer of 1969, and remember what a wild year it was overall. And, of course, some people weren’t born yet so they can’t really wrap their heads around all the events that took place that year, and how it affected the nation as a whole. Let me paint a picture for you with regard to, specifically, the summer of 1969. I was a small child and I have some memory of ALL these things despite being only six years old:
On July 18, 1969 Senator Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a one-lane bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, which resulted in the death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.
Earlier in the speech, he said he’d pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. Then on July 20…
[APOLLO 11 clip]
… human beings walked on the moon for the first time. And then:
[HELTER SKELTER clip]
Just a couple of weeks later, on August 9 and 10, Charles Manson and his so-called “family” killed seven people including a pregnant movie star and a teenage boy.
The weekend of August 15th through the 18th, half a million people got together on a farm in upstate New York for the Woodstock Festival.
And during this entire time, the Number One song in America was this:
“In The Year 2525” is probably The first thing many people point to When they think of the phrase “One-hit wonder”. And they’re not totally wrong about that. Denny Zager and Rick Evans were students at Nebraska Wesleyan University when they met in 1962. They wrote “In the Year 2525” in 1964–more accurately, Rick Evans wrote it–but it didn’t get recorded until four years later.
[IN THE YEAR 2525]
The song was recorded in a single take, in a studio in Odessa Texas, with the assistance of the Odessa Symphony providing that mariachi-like horn and the tense string section. The song was released on a small label called Truth Records, and it was a local hit in Nebraska, especially in Omaha and Lincoln. And that would be the end of the story, except that the local airplay did catch the attention of RCA Records, which offered them a contract. The record was re-released on RCA in the late spring of 1969 and it went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 12, and it stayed there for the rest of the summer, six weeks altogether in the top slot.
So what was it about the song that captured the public’s imagination? Was it the confluence of the future themes and the moon shot? Maybe. And maybe it’s the uncertainty about the future that the song carries.
Remember, this was only a few months after the release of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella and Planet of the Apes. None of these films had especially positive messages, or explicitly positive messages anyway. The other possibility is that people thought it was some kind of a joke, given that the lyrics are a little bit silly, with lines like “Your legs got nothing to do, some machine’s doin’ that for you.” There’s also suggestions of the Second Coming and general depletion of the Earth’s resources. Ultimately it becomes a kind of Rorshach Test for the listener. Are these guys seriously paranoid or are they goofing with us? It’s in the ear of the beholder.
But here’s the thing: there’s really nothing in this track that suggests they’re goofing. They play it absolutely straight, and the song even has a subtitle that you probably don’t know about unless you look at the record label. The subtitle is “Exordium and Terminus”, which aren’t Latin, although they come from the Latin. But the words mean “Beginning and End”, which, along with the lyrics near the song’s ending, suggest that there’s a cycle going on here, what with God coming along and hitting the Reset button every ten thousand years or so. But you’ve also got the suggestion that He’s done here on Earth, and he’s starting over somewhere else, where the same storyline is going to take place. Plus, the song does two upward changes in key, making the song’s overall message even more strident. But for all that, there’s still a generally optimistic feeling to the whole thing, and so there’s both the awe of technology combined with the warning not to take it for granted.
And for Zager and Evans, this all led to…well, pretty much nothing. Despite the song’s success, their followup single, titled “Mister Turnkey,” didn’t chart anywhere–with good reason–and so far as I know, Zager and Evans is the only act to have a song that topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic but not have another song chart in Billboard or in the UK. They did have a third single titled “Listen to the People” which reached Number 100 on the Cashbox chart, and to be fair, “Mr. Turnkey” made it to Number 86…in Australia.
Nowadays, Denny Zager is still in Lincoln and he makes custom guitars. Rick Evans puttered around the music industry for awhile but has largely retired from public life. There are numerous reports that he did an online interview about the song in 2013 but unfortunately I’ve been unable to find it.
As far as the song itself, it’s been covered dozens of times and in several different languages. And I’ve got a couple of fun versions to share with you here. In the show Futurama, there’s a sequence where the characters are moving forward in time to find a period where a backwards time machine exists. Their exploits are described in the parody song, “In the Year 252525”:
And yes, I’ll link to that video clip at the website.
In the year 2000, a short-lived science fiction TV series called Cleopatra 2525 aired for 28 episodes. The basic plot of the series was that an exotic dancer named Cleo experiences complications during breast augmentation surgery and naturally is put into suspended animation. She wakes up 525 years in the future, and joins up with two other women who are fighting these armed fighting machines that control the surface of the Earth. Humanity has moved underground, and Cleo manages to impress everyone with her philosophical sayings, most of which derive from the pop culture of the 20th Century. It’s both cheesy and cheesecake, and it’s a whole lot of “girls kick butt” campy fun. And, of course, they re-did the song for the show’s theme:
You can find episodes of Cleopatra 2525 on YouTube, if you’re so inclined.
Finally, I guess it’s worth mentioning that this song put Zager and Evans at the very end list, alphabetically, when it comes to artists who have made it to Number One. They held that distinction for 36 years, until David Zowie’s song “House Every Weekend” made it to the top.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Once upon a time, back on Page Two, I asked you who was playing the kazoo on this track from Ringo Starr:
[YOU’RE SIXTEEN clip]
Well…it’s kind of a trick question, because the answer is really “nobody.” If you look at the liner notes on the album, there’s a kazoo credit for Paul McCartney, but the fact is, he wasn’t using a kazoo, he was just imitating one with his mouth. And by the way, if you check out the video from the song, Ringo’s love interest is played by Carrie Fisher, who was in fact 16 when the song was first recorded, but nearly 20 when she made the video.
And, that’s a full lid on another edition of How Good It Is. If you’re enjoying the show, please take the time to share it with someone, and maybe even leave a rating somewhere.
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Next time around, I’m going to do something just a little bit different, taking a closer look at the song “Iko Iko”.
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.