The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #3, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

As we approach the end of our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, we encounter the crème de la crème of the band’s recordings. Last week we reviewed one of the Byrds’ two signature tunes, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and this week we’ll review the other.

“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” (3:49)
Adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes by Pete Seeger
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Columbia Records, December 6, 1965. Previously released as a single on October 1, 1965

Several months following the phenomenal success of their same-titled first single and album, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Byrds began making preparations for their next single and second LP. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, had previously arranged folk singer, Judy Collins’ third album, “Judy Collins 3” (March 1964), which included a lovely rendition of folk singer Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” an adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 composed in 1959 and meant to serve as a protest song against violence and military aggression.

“…a time for love, a time for hate,
a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

McGuinn’s wife, Dolores (later Ianthe), suggested to her husband that the Byrds record the tune as their next single. With the war in Vietnam ramping up, McGuinn felt the song was an appropriate choice. However, the band’s manager, Jim Dickson, adamantly opposed the tune, feeling it wasn’t cool for a rock ‘n’ roll band to sing “preachy” Bible verses. Thankfully, McGuinn, his bandmates, and producer, Terry Melcher, overruled Dickson.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” is such a joy to listen to, even fifty-seven years later. McGuinn gives a virtuoso performance on his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, using his banjo-style, multi-finger picking. David Crosby came up with the distinctive, off-beat opening (Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol.1, p. 202). Byrds biographer, Johnny Rogan, reports that despite the pro-peace theme of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” the recording sessions for the single and same-titled album were particularly fractious, with bickering and fistfights galore. It took the band 78 takes over 5 days in the studio before everyone was satisfied with the final version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” was released as a single on October 1, 1965 and reached #1 on the U.S. singles charts on November 30th. The song is still one of the Byrds’ two most recognizable and cherished tunes, along with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Any documentary about the tumultuous 1960s is bound to include “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in the soundtrack.

Folk singer, Pete Seeger, had been a card-carrying member of the American Communist Party. In adapting Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the atheist was rubbing American Christians’ (nominal and genuine) noses in their own good book in the cause for “peace.” Although he severed ties with the ACP in 1950, Seeger never forthrightly condemned the violent aggression of the Soviet Union. Many non-believers “leverage” the Bible for their own purposes, but they’re missing the Bible’s main point: man’s depravity and eternal judgement for sin and yet the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. I like to believe that “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was another marker on Roger McGuinn’s journey to accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. What most people “get” out of this song is its observations on the “cycles of life,” and the pining for an eventual era of peace, but text without context is pretext and the writer of Ecclesiastes brought it all together at the end of the book with its focus on God. There is no peace in this fallen world, as we’re currently seeing in Ukraine. However, Jesus Christ offers salvation and spiritual peace and one day He will rule the world in perfect peace.

The Lord works in strange ways. The Byrds meant for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” to be a protest song against the war in Vietnam, but the song also inspired many young people to open a Bible, perhaps for the first time. It had an influence on me.

It’s my distinct pleasure to present song #3 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

29 thoughts on “The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #3, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

  1. Great background you provided for this great song. Seeger sounds like a hypocrite, at least as presented above.

    “Turn, Turn, Turn” is a fantastic song; will be very curious to see the TWO! Songs that beat it out. 😏🤔😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, David! It was a joy writing about this great song. Yup, American communists of the 1940s and 50s like Seeger were in a pickle as more and more revelations about their beloved “Uncle Joe” Stalin and Soviet atrocities came to light.

      As great as “Turn! Turn! Turn!” is, and there’s no denying it’s a fantastic tune, a couple of other songs edge past it, if ever so slightly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh wait … I just remembered “Eight Miles High.” That’s one. I suppose I can search out other compilations of top Byrds’ songs, but I’ve enjoyed the weekly nature of your series and looking forward to Wednesday mornings.

        I’ll patiently wait for your entries!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hmm. “Eight Miles High”? A good guess, but I can’t say ya or nay. WordPress has sworn me to secrecy. 🤫

        Thanks for sticking with me throughout this long series!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” is such a joy to listen to, even fifty-seven years later.” Indeed! I also appreciate your narrative brother. There will be no peace in this world, calamity should sharpen our view of Christ’s coming.
    I pray we can recognize the season we’re in now, know the signs of the times, and be a light to those entangled in darkness.
    Turn, turn, and press on brother!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Lisa Beth! When we became believers, we were given a completely different perspective on this song. This world is no closer to peace than it was in 1965. Yes, we need to focus on being a light in this world. There is no peace outside of Jesus Christ.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Will read this after lunch; going back to your comment on my post: Wow JL vs LSH? That sounds like a good idea bringing the Justice League fans to be exposed or introduced to LSH!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: JSL & LSH
      Yeah, it’s a good concept joining up the two teams. I was curious if DC ever had the Legion join with the Teen Titans and discovered that was done in 2000.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Never heard the Judy Collins version of Turn, Turn, Turn till now. Thanks for mentioning it. Beautiful! And, what? It was written by an atheist? I had no idea. I always just thought of the Scripture verses to which it refers.

    Good to see your writing, brother Tom. I don’t get to read on WordPress much lately. Life’s been so busy. I keep thinking I’d like to put an update post on my blog sometime, in case anyone ever wants to read it, but then I don’t get time and the thought passes again.

    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to hear from you, Steeny! Yup, Judy Collins’ version is wonderful to listen to as well.

      Being an old guy with not a lot of ambition after working weekends, I enjoy sitting on the couch and blogging, but I can understand most people aren’t able to sit around half the day. But drop a post when you can!

      Thanks and blessings to you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Writing is my favorite wanna-do. But the gotta-do’s take priority until I run out of Steen and then I’m too tired to write.

        I’ll have to check out more music by Judy Collins. I am only vaguely familiar with her.

        See ya sooner or later, here or in heaven!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. RE: running out of steam
        I keep procrastinating when it comes to the “to do list” but some things just gotta get done.

        Yup, Judy Collins had such a great voice.

        I’ll see you around! Stop by more than once a year. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow a song that reference Vietnam, Bible verse and is a classic…that’s quite a history of a song! Crazy it took that many takes to get the final recording. Reading this makes me think of how many of our time overlap the 60/70s

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The song has been in so many movies and documentaries about the 60s that even younger people are familiar with it. We used to talk about how much upheaval there was in the 1960s but the 2020s are matching it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So crazy how the 2020s seems to be micro-moments of history. I felt 2020 was like the 60s in a year, with riot, race issues, etc. 2021 was like the 70s with rising inflation and the failure of Afghanistan like Vietnam. 2022 seems to be I don’t know, 80s Cold War mixed with 1939…

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Good comparisons. The last two years have been tumultuous to the max. Putin’s ratcheting up of the sabre rattling, including nuclear weapons, reminds me of the early-1960s.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ahh! I wasn’t expecting “Turn Turn” 😊so curious to see the next two in the countdown if this fantastic song made it to three.
    Thank you for the suspense Tom and for the interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Tom

    Thank you so much for this. It has made me cry listening to this again.

    Turn is an interesting word.

    ‘T’ is like the tree that Jesus hung upon. A ‘T’ tree.

    Urn is a container, ‘the fullness of God is in Christ.

    ‘For this people’s heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

    This is why I weep.

    Kind regards

    Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’sson

    Like

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