Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Bells of Saint Seeger

It's without question one of Pete Seeger's most commercially successful songs, and it occupied the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts at this time in 1965. To learn that it was written not in protest of the world's problems -- Pete's calling card -- but out of frustration for a publisher, well that's a new twist.

As the story goes, the publisher was complaining that he couldn't sell Pete's protest songs. Pete reacted angrily by whipping together "Turn, Turn, Turn" in no time flat after referencing the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes.

Now Pete is not a religious guy. Paging through the Bible he has discovered both the sublime and the ridiculous, prompting this comment to Paul Zollo in "Songwriters on Songwriting":

"I'm amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I call it the greatest book of folklore ever given. Not that there isn't a lot of wisdom in it. You can trace the history of people poetically."

It worked just fine for the Byrds (after being first sold to the Limeliters), giving them their second No. 1 song following "Mr. Tambourine Man."

More Pete from Zollo's book: "I liked the Byrds' record very much, incidentally. All those clanging, steel guitars - they sound like bells."

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