This post is goes out to World of Wonder writer Trey Speegle in Upstate New York. Speegle is also an awesome artist, and his 69/19 Woodstock, Stonewall & The Moon Landing exhibit, which includes work by other far out creators, opens Saturday July 13 at his Gallery 52 in rustic Jeffersonville, NY. It’s gonna be outta sight. Turn on, tune in, drop out!
It is a bleak futuristic tale told in a very peculiar song, but then the Summer of 1969 was an unusual summer; you could feel it in the air. The Number One Song of spring had been with hippie anthem Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In from the musical Hair, as recorded by the super-cool The Fifth Dimension; Number One in September was the bubblegum hit Sugar, Sugar by The Archies, who weren’t even a real band; they were a cartoon. How’s that for trippy?
The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Temptations all had Number One hits in 1969, but a little ditty titled In The Year 2525 stayed at Number One for an astonishing six weeks in July and August, longer than any other song that year, earning the distinction of being the top record of the year 1969.
The song reflects the apprehension of the summer, but also the wonder of technology. It hit Number One just before the Apollo 11 moon landing, when on July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. On August 9 and 10, the Manson Family slaughtered eight people, including a pregnant movie star. August 15 -18, hundreds of thousands of people converged on a farm in Upstate New York for the Woodstock Festival, An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,tripping and dancing in the rain, giving my generation its defining moment.
It was really something live through the summer of 1969. The grooviest things were going on while society was disintegrating around us. The Vietnam War raged on; race riots set major cities on fire. Edward Kennedy, the man who was supposed to become the next president, plead guilty of leaving the scene of an automobile accident on Martha’s Vineyard and more or less killing a young woman. Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion of the world, was convicted of evading the draft and stripped of his title after refusing to join the military.
And while all of this was going on, the top song in the USA was a spooky folk-Sci-Fi song about the threat of toxic technology. It was probably karmically appropriate for a song this anxious to dominate the radio in such an anxiety-inducing summer.
In The Year 2525 was a one-hit-wonder from the Nebraska folk-rock duo of Denny Zager and Rick Evans, who imaginatively named their group Zager & Evans. Their second single, Mister Turnkey, failed to even chart. In 1971, they released their third and final album. Evans was their primary songwriter and he wrote this one.
Zager and Evans met at Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1962, and they played music together in different incarnations for the next decade. In The Year 2525 was written in 1964, but they didn’t record it until 1968. The single was released on a small label and became a hit on Lincoln and Omaha radio stations. That got them the attention of RCA, who signed them and released In The Year 2525, becoming a massive hit.
In The Year 2525 hit the bulls-eye of the public-imagination zeitgeist. I could never tell if the song reflected some strain of futuristic uncertainty, the way that 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet Of The Apes did earlier in the year, or whether people heard it as a joke. I know that my friends and I made fun of it, yet we always pumped up the volume on the car radio when it came on the air.
There is a goofiness to some of its prophesies:
In the year 4545 / Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes / You won’t find a thing to chew / Nobody’s gonna look at you. You won’t find a thing to chew…
Huh? I mean, it’s not Lennon/McCartney or Bob Dylan. Shirley Bassey did not do a cover version.
Time magazine speculated that the song was “composed by a computer at the Rand Corporation.” In The Year 2525 is subtitled Exordium & Terminus, which is a far-out way of saying “Beginning & End”.
The song took itself quite seriously in it’s description of what will become of humans as technology takes over. There’s no wink in the song. Zager & Evans sound serious to the point of absurdity. But there is still something about In The Year 2525: a concise history of thousands of years of future human development in just three musical minutes. It’s not a dirge, it’s up-tempo with propulsive guitar and mariachi horns and dramatic strings provided the Odessa, Texas Odessa Symphony. It ends with a note of contemplation, leaving the listener wondering whether there might be hope for humanity after all.
It may come across as a sublimely silly song, catastrophic climate change is so much more urgent now than in 1969:
He’s taken everything this old earth can give / And he ain’t put back nothing.
50 years later, the song seems too optimistic. Given scientist’s projections, it’s getting harder to imagine humanity surviving until 2025, let alone 9595. So, the song really does sum up Summer 1969 for me: a paranoid anthem that was ultimately more deludedly optimistic than we could have known at the time. It’s also a very annoying song.
David Bowie‘s Space Oddity, that haunting tale of Major Tom, was released in the UK that summer, but it didn’t become a chart topper in the USA until autumn.
In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find
In the year 3535
Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today
In the year 4545
You ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes
You won’t find a thing to chew
Nobody’s gonna look at you
In the year 5555
Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin’ to do
Some machine’s doin’ that for you
In the year 6565
You won’t need no husband, won’t need no wife
You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube
In the year 7510
If God’s a coming, He oughta make it by then
Maybe He’ll look around Himself and say
Guess it’s time for the judgment day
In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He’ll either say I’m pleased where man has been
Or tear it down, and start again
In the year 9595
I’m kinda wonderin’ if man is gonna be alive
He’s taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain’t put back nothing
Now it’s been ten thousand years
Man has cried a billion tears
For what, he never knew, now man’s reign is through
But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight
So very far away, maybe it’s only yesterday
In the year 2525, if man is still aliveEvans, 1964
If woman can survive, they may find…