Behind the Song: Turn! Turn! Turn!

Pete Seeger wrote the 1950s hit, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)”.

The ByrdsMost of the lyrics are adapted word for word from Ecclesiastes 3, which begins “for everything there is a season.”   Seegar used the King James Version of the Bible when writing the song.  The Biblical text was written by King Solomon, but inspired by God.

He did rearrange the sequence of the words for his popular arrangement.

The song is notable for being one of the few that has a large sequence of Biblical text set to music.  The lyrics relate to the changing seasons of our lives, but good and bad.

The words turn, turn, turn are used throughout the song, amidst the verses from Ecclesiastes.

Also at the end of verse four, Seegar added the following words in closing, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

The song was originally released by The Limeliters as “To Everything There Is A Season” in 1962.  A month later Seeger released the song on his album, The Bitter and the Sweet.

In a 1988 interview with Paul Zollo, Seegar said “I got a letter from my publisher, and he says, ‘Pete, I can’t sell these protest songs you write.’ And I was angry. I sat down with a tape recorder and said, ‘I can’t write the kind of songs you want. You gotta go to somebody else. This is the only kind of song I know how to write.’

For Everything There Is A Season
For Everything There Is A Season

“I pulled out this slip of paper in my pocket and improvised a melody to it in fifteen minutes. And I sent it to him. And I got a letter from him the next week that said, ‘Wonderful! Just what I’m looking for.’ Within two months he’d sold it to the Limelighters and then to the Byrds. I liked the Byrds’ record very much, incidentally. All those clanging, steel guitars – they sound like bells.”

When Judy Collins released the song on her 1963 album, Judy Collins 3, the song was titled Turn! Turn! Turn! {to Everything There is a Season}.

The 1965 rendition of the song, by The Byrds, has become the most popular version of the song.  The group took five days and 78 takes to finish the hit song.

By late 1965, the song had become an international hit.

The song was released during the years of strife from the Vietnam War.  The call for peace struck a chord with the American people and the war, in the desire to see the war come to an end.

Seegar donates 45% of the royalties to the song to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

Turn! Turn! Turn! Has been recorded by numerous artists over the years including Dolly Parton, The Seekers, Amy Grant and Bruce Springsteen.

The song was featured in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump.