Zager and Evans represent one of the best examples of a 60s one-hit wonder. “In The Year 2525,” the repetitive, crescendoing, folk exploration of a future dystopia where humans are indolent and dependent on machines, was such a gigantic hit in the year 1969 that people still recognize it as one of the better folk compositions of the 60s in the year 2012.
Let’s give the song some credit. It claimed the #1 spot on the U.S. Hot 100 for six weeks. That is a difficult feat. It sold over four million copies in a year. To say things were looking up for the folk duo in 1970 would be an understatement. So what happened? Why did the duo not have another big hit. The answer to this question is simple. How about we take a look at the history of Zager and Evans prior to answering it?
Denny Zager and Rick Evans met at Nebraska Wesleyan University and founded The Eccentrics with drummer Danny Schindler. When Schindler left for Vietnam in 1965, the Eccentrics just became Zager and Evans, and the duo added bassist Mark Dalton and drummer Dave Trupp. The 2525 warning followed soon after. The song was actually written in 1964, but it was first released by Truth Records in 1968. It received a good amount of local radio play and then RCA signed the band and the song blew up.
Now, realistically, the advancements in technology that Zager and Evans talk of in the verses of the song - which gradually rise in close-to 1,000 year segments - could probably come to fruition prior to 2525 (to a point of course). I find it funny that they mention test-tube babies (nice premonition guys) for the year 6565, but a pill that does everything by 3535. Actually, there is a flaw in the lyric, because if there is a pill that controls everything you do in 3535, then why would you need to pick your baby in 6565 – the pill would just do it for you, right? Okay, I’ll stop my over-analysis now.
My favorite lyric from the song is the final verse:
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
This final lyric suggests the circular nature of human existance. It’s creative and an excellent ending touch to the song.
Many people do not realize that Zager and Evans didn’t just record the apocalyptic classic and then stop making music. After the success of the song, the band released a follow-up single, “Mr. Turnkey,” a song about a rapist who nails his wrist to his prison cell because he is sorry for…wait, back up, what!?!
Yes, Zager and Evans followed up their cautionary tale of the future, with a slowed-down piece about a rapist. I don’t know why either. It also features one of the oddest descriptions of pulchritude in modern rock history, “she was lovelier than oil rights.” Take the melody, and it’s a beautiful song, but add the lyric, and it is disturbing (kind of Pink Floyd-esque with that). I have to think the release was a joke because if not, well, I just don’t know. The scary thing, though, is that the song is actually pretty good. Take a listen.
So why did the band not achieve any more success after “In The Year 2525?” Because of “Mr. Turnkey?” Well, I guess that it may have played a part. I think it is more because of how big of a hit “In The Year 2525″ was. It has difficult to follow up a first release that spends six weeks on the Hot 100 charts. But Zager and Evans should still be heralded for their release of one of the iconic songs of the late 60s, and a blatant song about a rapist.