‘Now It’s Been Ten Thousand Years . . .’

The question I wrestled with overnight is one that has crossed my mind a number of times over the past few years as my obsession with pop music of the 1960s and ’70s became an obsession with writing about said music: Why do I like Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”?

It was, of course, a hugely popular record during the summer of 1969, spending twelve weeks in the Top 40, six of those weeks at No. 1. (It was also, of course, widely derided and remains, I think, one of the true “love it or hate it” records in Top 40 history.) I don’t know what other folks heard in the song, but I can make a few guesses at what the sixteen-year-old whiteray – a nascent Top 40 fan at the time – heard when it came across the airwaves from KDWB and WJON.

First of all, it’s a science fiction song. It’s a clunky and not particularly well-written science fiction song, yes, but I was reading a lot of science fiction at the time, and much of the science fiction I was reading was clunky and not particularly well-written. I was clearing the shelves, so to speak, of the lesser authors and making my way toward the giants of the genre: Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury (whose work often crossed the border into fantasy) and more. And here was this song coming from the radio that spoke to me about my current reading.

Not only did the record speak to me with its lyrics, but it did so musically as well, with the descending bass pattern that I’ve always found intriguing. In addition, twice during the song, writer Richard Evans changes key a half-step up in a manner that I these days call a “slam modulation”: just end one verse in A minor and – with the horns and bass announcing the change in this case – start the next verse in A# minor (more likely Evans called it B-flat minor). It’s an unsubtle way to change keys, but it does get the listener’s attention and gives the record forward momentum. So the record grabbed me both lyrically and aurally.

And then: One of the things I’ve written about frequently during the thousand or so posts for this blog is the indelible impressions made by the first music we care about. The late summer of 1969, as I’ve said many times, was when I fully embraced Top 40 music. And what record was sitting at No. 1 for the last three weeks of July and the first three weeks of August of 1969, dominating the airwaves just about the time when I tuned my old RCA radio to Top 40 for the first time? “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”

So what happens when one finds a clunky science fiction tale backed by a chord pattern and key changes that are musically interesting, and said record is coming out of summertime speakers maybe ten or more times a day? Add to that the fact that “In The Year 2525” would also have been one of the records I heard frequently on my radio that summer as I huddled in the traphouse during my four-day stint working at the state trapshoot. So it’s no wonder the record insinuated itself into my marrow. (And yet, I recognized its flaws enough that the record wasn’t so deep in that marrow to have made the list I compiled last year of my 228 favorite records.)

As I mentioned yesterday, I was a little startled to find a number of covers of the song. But after some consideration, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me. I posted the Ted Heath cover yesterday, and at least a couple of the other covers of “In The Year 2525” are by similar outfits: instrumental orchestras that made their bucks converting pop hits into easy listening music. Two additional examples of that trend were the covers released by two Frenchmen: Raymond Lefèvre, whose cover of “In The Year 2525” showed up on the 1972 LP Oh Happy Day, and Franck Pourcel, who included a cover of the tune on 1970’s Paraphonic. There’s not much to differentiate those three versions, but I tend to like Heath’s a bit more. (There are a few other gems on Heath’s posthumous album The Big One, like a trippy take on the Beatles’ “Get Back.”)

A couple of other covers of the tune caught my ear: Country singer Nat Stuckey included an cover of the tune on his 1969 album New Country Roads, and it seemed an odd choice, but then, the album is packed with seemingly odd choices:  Rod Stewart’s “Cut Across Shorty” (recorded before Rod by Eddie Cochran, as reader Larry mentions in a note below), Herb Alpert’s hit, “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “Hound Dog,” “The Letter” are just the most notable. And Brit pop-rockers Whichwhat – about whom I know nothing else – covered the song as well in 1969.

There were a few oddities, too: The British group Visage is described by All-Music Guide as “[p]ioneers of the New Romantic movement,” and AMG tells the tale:

“Visage emerged in 1978 from the London club Billy’s, a neo-glam nightspot which stood in stark contrast to the prevailing punk mentality of the moment. Spearheading Billy’s ultra-chic clientele were Steve Strange, a former member of the punk band the Moors Murderers, as well as DJ Rusty Egan, onetime drummer with the Rich Kids; seeking to record music of their own to fit in with the club’s regular playlist (a steady diet of David Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Roxy Music), Strange and Egan were offered studio time by another Rich Kids alum, guitarist Midge Ure. In late 1978, this trio recorded a demo which yielded the first Visage single, an aptly futuristic cover of Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’.”

I found two other covers that caught my attention but I’m still not sure what to think of them. Laibach is a Slovenian group described by Wikipedia as an “avant-garde music group associated with industrial, martial, and neo-classical musical styles.” Laibach retitled the song simply “2525” and revised the lyrics to begin the count of years in 1994, which was when the group recorded the song. The Teutonic heaviness makes the track sound like parody, but – being neither a fan of the band nor Slovenian nor even European – I’m not at all certain what the target is.

Finally, among the covers I found, there’s a lengthy take on the Zager & Evans hit by the British band Fields of the Nephilim, another group I knew nothing about until AMG told me:

“Of all the bands involved in Britain’s goth rock movement of the 1980s, Fields of the Nephilim were the most believable. The group’s cryptic, occult-inspired songs were sung in a guttural roar by vocalist Carl McCoy. Live appearances were shrouded with dim light and smoke machines, while bandmembers stalked the stage in black desperado gear inspired by western dress. The group was also one of the longest lived of the original goth rock groups, finally breaking up in 1991 when McCoy left for another project.”

Here’ what Fields of the Nephilim did with Richard Evans’ song. From what I can tell, it was recorded during a 2006 reunion, and it’s interesting but ultimately not my deal (and I doubt that’s surprising).

I think for a cover version, I’ll stick to Ted Heath . . . or maybe Visage.

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7 Responses to “‘Now It’s Been Ten Thousand Years . . .’”

  1. Larry Grogan says:

    Great article about an interesting song. In fact I now want to get my hands on that Nat Stuckey album.
    One note, “Cut Across Shorty” was popularized by Eddie Cochran, released in 1960.

  2. Paco Malo says:

    Visage’s Euro-impotent version is just the sort of crap I heard during my 4 months in Europe in 1979. So let me add, in my humble opinion; I may just be reacting to what was so disheartening about Europe. The Continent itself had almost nothing to contribute except for Berlin recording studios with windows facing the Berlin wall. All there was were British bands and artists, and American blues-derived anything. No sound of the Continent worth discussing.

    But to the most important element here: “In the Year 2525” is embedded in my early years, top 40, mental data base. Thanks for bringing it to mind with this great essay.

    “Peace, Love, and Revolution”, — Lucinda Williams

    Paco

  3. whiteray says:

    @ Larry: Thanks for the tip about Cochran. I obviously didn’t know that.

    @ Paco Malo: The Visage track – and most of its Euro-brethren – are things I never heard much during those years. So, while I wouldn’t want a steady diet of the stuff, one or two now and then can get my attention, and that’s what happened here.

  4. porky says:

    From what little “proper musicology” I’ve done I believe “2525” is written in parallel structure, that is the melody essentially stays the same but modulates (changes key) for dramatic effect.

    “On Broadway” and “Sunny” (Bobby Hebb) are two songs in such structure that come to mind.

    “2525” also has a chord structure similar to “Walk Don’t Run,” Happy Together,” “Runaway” and “I’ll Be Back” (Beatles; they gave Del Shannon credit, verbally anyway w/ regards to “Runaway”). And “Sixteen Tons.” And probably others.

    50’s country giant Carl Smith (Carlene Carter’s pop) charted a version of “Cut Across Shorty” in ’60.

  5. Steve E. says:

    I was 11 when “2525” was a big hit, and I just loved it that summer. I liked the sweep through the thousands of years with mankind’s plight getting progressively worse. I didn’t really know what it all meant, but I liked it nonetheless. And how cool is the duo’s name — Zager and Evans?

  6. […] Last year, not long before Christmas my man Whiteray over at the fine Echoes In the Wind blog posted an article about a cover version of Zager and Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Term… […]

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