The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #120: Turn, Turn, Turn by Pete Seeger (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #120: Turn, Turn, Turn by Pete Seeger.

“Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger is one of the most popular and recognizable songs of the 1960s. It is one of the songs most responsible for launching the Folk-Rock Movement. For many people, “Turn, Turn, Turn” is a song made famous by The Byrds but, in reality, The Byrds were actually the third or fourth band/artist to cover this song that was written by Pete Seeger. So, as we go forward in our post, I will talk about Pete Seeger (who is one of the legendary figures in the world of Folk music and who wrote many songs that you will know), I will talk about the song, itself and, finally, I will end with a short bit about The Byrds and others who covered this classic song, as well. Here we go……

Pete Seeger was a political activist, as well as, being a prolific songwriter. In fact, for most of his career, he used songwriting as a tool to popularize his politic beliefs and further his causes. His career began prior to the Second World War, when he gained experience helping American farmers to organize during the Dust Bowl years. Many of his songs back then took on a labour-oriented theme which, in turn, led to anti-war songs when those in power were debating joining the war or practising isolationist policies. Eventually, Seeger joined the Communist Party of America which, during the 1950s, saw him become officially blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunts known as the “UnAmerican Activities Committee”. But, throughout his long career as a rabble rouser against the Establishment and for the underdog, Seeger wrote many Folks songs that rank as being among the best of that genre such as, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “We Shall Overcome” and the labour rally classic, “Solidarity Forever”.

“Turn, Turn, Turn” was written in the early 1960s. It was written by Seeger in response to a challenge from his agent to create something “more marketable”. The song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” is, as many of you may know, taken directly from the Bible. It is based upon the teaching of King Solomon, as found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. I am not a Biblical scholar so, if any of you know more about this than I, feel free to correct what I am about to say and/or to add on to it. The Book of Ecclesiastes is known as one of the Books of the Bible that deal with Wisdom and Reflection. In this case, it is King Solomon reflecting on the lessons he has learned in his life. The essence of his musings is that Life is filled with a myriad of moments; both good and bad, stressful and easy, heartbreaking and love-filled and so, it is important to live life to the fullest under God because, regardless of one’s station in Life, Death awaits us all. In Pete Seeger’s capable hands, “Turn, Turn, Turn” came to be a song used as a rallying cry against the Vietnam War and that the idea of War being necessary because of political beliefs was wrong.

The final twist to this story lay in how the song was covered by other artists. Pete Seeger released this song under his own name first. It really didn’t have that much of an impact on the charts but, many other artists recognized the potential of the song and the beauty of the lyrics. The first to have success with it, after Seeger, was Judy Collins. Her version stayed faithful to Seeger’s, in terms of performance style. They even collaborated on the song in duet form. The Judy Collins version of “Turn, Turn, Turn” did well. However, the next group to ask for permission to cover the song is the one that most of us know and love and that was The Byrds.

The Byrds were one of the most influential groups of the 1960s. Along with Bob Dylan, The Byrds helped usher in the age of the electric guitar. Lead guitarist, Roger McGuinn, used a twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar, which helped give The Byrds much of their distinctive sound. Pete Seeger states that The Byrds version of his song is now the de-facto version and that, even he sings the song “their way” because it is the best way. For Seeger to say that is really something because it was he, as much as anyone else, who lead the opposition to Bob Dylan, when Dylan “went electric”, claiming that no one could properly hear the lyrics anymore because of the loudness of the guitars. But somehow, McGuinn’s Rickenbacker guitar soothed Seeger’s temper and helped pave the way for other stellar classic songs such as “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which helped define the sound of an entire decade.

There is beautiful language in the Bible. “Turn, Turn, Turn” is proof of that. It is, also, proof that we, as Humans, have made a living out of taking the words in the Bible and using them to support our own beliefs about the world around us. In the case of this song, those beliefs turned out to be about peacefulness which, if one must publicize one’s beliefs then, creating songs about Peace is a good way to go.

So, without further delay, here is “Turn, Turn, Turn” written by Pete Seeger and performed by Judy Collins and by The Byrds. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Pete Seeger, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, as covered by Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, as covered by The Byrds, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Byrds, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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