There’s a time for every purpose, but sometimes a purpose gets proposed before its season. In some cases it’s just a matter of turning over old records without flip sides.
Such is the case of a Pete Seeger demo of the song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).” A one-sided vinyl acetate, which turn turn turns at 78 RPMs, of Seeger’s signature piece was discovered in a private collection,” according to Variety. The demo was recorded and pressed sometime around 1961. The rendition may be the earliest known recording of the song.
You can hear that version here:
“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” went on to get electrified by the 12-string guitar folk rock band The Byrds in 1965. Seeger was part of original folk music scene in the 1940s. He backed the legendary Woody Guthrie, writer of “This Land Is Your Land,” as a member of the Almanac Singers. He also played and sang with the folk quartet the Weavers, which he left in 1958.
You can listen to Seeger’s performance here:
Seeger turned to The Bible’s “Book of Ecclesiastes” in the Old Testament for the lyrics to “Turn! Turn! Turn!” He wrote the song in the late 1950s. According to interviews, Seeger says he wrote it in fifteen minutes because he was mad at his publisher. The first officially released rendition of the song was done by The Limeliters for their 1962 album Folk Matinee. They recorded it under the title “To Everything There Is a Season.” Seeger recorded a live version at New York City’s Bitter End, which was released on his The Bitter And The Sweet album.
Judy Collins recorded her version of the song for her 1963 album, Judy Collins #3. Collins inspired the song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash, a supergroup which included The Byrds rhythm guitarist and harmony singer David Crosby. But it was Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, who first put his fingers around the song as a session guitar and banjo player for Collins’ album.
McGuinn was a graduate of the Old Town School Of Folk Music in Chicago. He’d been a member of the Limeliters when they recorded their version, and was mentored by the folksinger Bob Gibson.
Backed by Burt Bacharach conducting a studio orchestra, Marlene Dietrich recorded a German translation of the song called “Für alles kommt die Zeit (Glaub’, Glaub)” in 1963. It was also recorded by Australian folk singer Gary Shearston for his 1964 album Songs of Our Time.
The Byrds’ version came out as America was becoming divided over the Vietnam War. The Byrds’ version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” hit No. 1 on the singles charts. Driven by McGuinn’s 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar, which he bought after seeing The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night, and with Crosby, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark adding harmonies, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was the Byrds’ final number one single.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.