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Turn! Turn! Turn! — The Byrds’ 1965 hit used lyrics that dated back more than 2,000 years —
Nick Keppler OCTOBER 30, 2018

The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” has been used in films and TV shows to evoke collective memories of the 1960s — starting in 1970, when Homer, one of the first coming-of-age films about a Vietnam war soldier, featured the song on its soundtrack. Since then, the unmistakable chord progression and chorus have ceaselessly popped up in 1960s period pieces: More American Graffiti, Heart Like a Wheel, Forrest Gump, TV’s The Wonder Years (in three episodes) and Ken Burns’s documentary series The Vietnam War.

The song reached number one in the US in December 1965. That year, American ground troops arrived in Vietnam, men on campuses burned their draft cards, black civil rights activists withstood fire hoses and police dogs, and President Lyndon Johnson promoted his “great society” reforms. A chorus of shaggy-haired young men pressed the nation to “turn, turn, turn” and accept that change is inevitable, history is a cycle, strife is temporary, and to everything there is a season.

The song also carries the sonic imprints of the era: Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn once called the chord structure “Beatley” and said they borrowed the drum beat from Phil Spector. But the song itself was concocted by the leader of American folk music’s old guard using lyrics that dated back more than 2,000 years.

Pete Seeger composed “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in 1959 in response to a letter from his publisher. “Pete,” it read, “can’t you write another song like ‘Goodnight, Irene'? I can’t sell or promote these protest songs.” ("Goodnight, Irene” was actually written/adapted by Lead Belly, but Seeger had popularised it with The Weavers.) The response from the rabble-rousing troubadour was predictably defiant. “You better find another songwriter,” Seeger wrote. “This is the only kind of song I know how to write.”

He turned to his pocket notebook, where he jotted down pieces of text for recycling. He found parts of the Bible he had copied, “verses by a bearded fellow with sandals, a tough-minded fellow called Ecclesiastes”, Seeger recalled.

Specifically, it was Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, from one of the “wisdom books” of the Old Testament, collections of truths and sayings. The words attributed “a season” to a series of opposing actions: “A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap; a time to kill, a time to heal,” etc. Seeger took the text almost verbatim. He added the “turn, turn, turn” to build a chorus and tacked on his own hopeful concluding line for cold war audiences: “A time of peace; I swear it’s not too late.”
'60s  Beatles  biblical  folk  hits  music  protest_movements  songs  sonic  soundtracks 
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