Sunday, November 4, 2012

Zager and Evans - In the Year 2525

In 1969 David Bowie released his first big hit “Space Oddity” and he was then accused of ripping off Zager and Evans and their big hit “In the Year 2525.” The history of classic rock of course remembers Bowie for so much more than just “Space Oddity” and very few people even remember the once spoken comparison between Bowie and Zager and Evans, however at the time the comparison was not entirely unfounded. “Space Oddity” is a psychedelic science fiction rock song about a man going into outer space and not wanting to come home, while the earlier released Zager and Evans hit “In the Year 2525” was a tripped out science fiction rock song about the far off and far out future.

The moon landing happened in 1969 and this stirred everyone creatively. Both “Space Oddity” and “In the Year 2525” came out in 1969 and this may not be a coincidence. At the time they must have been thinking if we could land on the moon in present day what could we do in the future, or how about in fiction? Since dreams about tomorrow and fantastic science were on everyone’s’ mind it should be no surprise that musicians at the time were experiencing some degree of parallel thinking regarding the topic, and I highly doubt Bowie was ripping off Zager and Evans, grim science fiction in music would quickly become common in the seventies psychedelic music scene.

“In the Year 2525” is perhaps the first original grim science fiction song, I cannot think of one that predates it. It is simple story telling, countdown the years to Armageddon, briefly explaining the changes to humanity as they occur, unusual and horrifying changes. Every verse is special, as every verse tells the listener something new and uncomfortable about the potential future, also every verse is a step in the countdown to the end. Every lyric is valuable;

“In the year 2525
If man is still alive
If woman can survive
They may find

In the year 3535
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today

In the year 4545
You ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes
You won't find a thing to chew
Nobody's gonna look at you

In the year 5555
Your arms hangin' limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin' to do
Some machine's doin' that for you

In the year 6565
You won't need no husband, won't need no wife
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube

In the year 7510
If God's a-coming, He oughta make it by then
Maybe He'll look around Himself and say
"Guess it's time for the judgement day"

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He'll either say "I'm pleased where man has been"
Or tear it down, and start again

In the year 9595
I'm kinda wonderin' if man is gonna be alive
He's taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain't put back nothing

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”

I can only begin to guess at the variety of science fiction stories that have influence on the lyrics in this song. For example in the year 3535 using a drug to determine your personality was a major theme in L.P. Hartley’s “Facial Justice,” Henry Slesar’s “I Remember Oblivion” and John D. MacDonald’s “Trojan Horse Laugh” all stories involved using drugs for the purpose of manipulating people’s personalities in some way or another. Also in the year 5555 the idea that humans no longer do anything for themselves and rely on machines for everything was a common fear in darker science fiction and still prevalent today in movies like “The Matrix” and more light heartedly in “Wall-E.” Also in the year 6565 the dissolving of the family unit, an abandonment of romance, and the production of children in tubes, are all present themes in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

Zager and Evans ended up being a one hit wonder, I actually have no idea what any of their other songs are, but it is still an honour to be remembered at all, and “In the Year 2525” is such a fantastic song. “In the Year 2525” has so many levels to it, it is a retro rock song, it is a grim narrative about mankind’s future and the end of time, it is full of science fiction references and reoccurring themes within that genre, also and perhaps most importantly it is an effective, creative piece of art that thoroughly succeeds at being both entertaining and invoking.

Be invoked.

- Colin Kelly

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