‘In the Year 2525’: The Gloomiest #1?

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Zager and Evans

It was, to be sure, one of the bleakest songs ever to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Zager and Evans’ “In the Year 2525” began by wondering if humankind would still exist in the year in question. Then, failing to venture a definitive answer, the singer-songwriters postulated that even if we do make it that far, it won’t matter much, because in future millennia something or other will surely do us in.

The Record World chart on August 2, 1969

The only charting single by Nebraskans Denny Zager and Rick Evans, “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”—its official title, and no, we don’t know what that parenthetical postscript means either—was actually written, by Evans, all the way back in 1964, recorded in 1968, released on the indie Truth Records and then, after receiving some airplay in Texas, re-released by RCA Victor in 1969. It entered the national chart at #95 on June 21, and jumped to #35 and #11 in the next week weeks. By July 12 it topped all other songs, including current hits by the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Stevie Wonder.

It remained at #1 as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and as Charles Manson’s crew performed their evil, and took its leave just as Woodstock wrapped up. It also topped the Record World chart for three weeks during the same period and, in August-September, was #1 in the U.K.

The original independent release of the hit

How Zager and Evans somehow found themselves with a smash hit that pondered a world where machines have so triumphed over humans that “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” is just one of those ’60s tales that has no real rhyme or reason to it.

Perhaps the world just needed a reality check, during that heady summer, that nothing is forever.

The ascendance of Zager and Evans was nothing unique. The pair had met at Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1962, where they became part of a band called the Eccentrics. Various other members came and went until the two found themselves working under their own names, backed by a few musician pals.

This ad for the single appeared in the July 12, 1969 issue of Record World

Evans’ chorus-free composition, unlike many starry-eyed, flower-power anthems of the day, didn’t bother redeeming its apocalyptic vision with a late-song uplifting resolution: By 5555, they sang, “Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides/Your legs got nothin’ to do/Some machine’s doin’ that for you,” and in another thousand years, test tube babies would be the norm.  Homo sapiens, having come to rely on pills and automation where once there was imagination and self-determination, would become increasingly marginalized.

Periodically, the tune changes key, and an orchestra gives the words an eerie tone. As “2525” waves goodbye, we’ve had it:

“Now it’s been 10,000 years
Man has cried a billion tears
For what he never knew
Now man’s reign is through”

Or have we?

“But through the eternal night
The twinkling of starlight
So very far away
Maybe it’s only yesterday”

And then it starts all over again, back to 2525. Are we getting another chance? You can decide for yourself; Z&E aren’t telling.

“In the Year 2525” was a far cry from the song that was perched at #3 during its first week on the chart, Oliver’s cover of Hair’s “Good Morning Starshine,” a song so bubble-gummy cheery that its chorus actually went, “Gliddy glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy la, la, la, lo, lo/Sabba sibby sabba, nooby abba nabba, le, le, lo, lo.”

Related: Where did the song rank among 1969’s biggest singles?

It was that kind of era.

Whatever magic “2525” possessed, it proved to be fleeting. Zager and Evans’ followup single, “Mr. Turnkey,” missed the Hot 100 altogether, and although there were other singles and a quickly released cash-in album that managed to climb to #30, they never again came close to repeating their first stroke of luck.

To this day, Zager and Evans remain the only artists to reach #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and never have another charting record on either side of the Atlantic.

Watch a video of “2525”

Rick Evans died in 2018. Denny Zager was born on Feb. 14, 1944.

Related: What were the other music highlights of 1969?

Jeff Tamarkin

12 Comments so far

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  1. Goodwolf
    #1 Goodwolf 17 February, 2019, 01:58

    A killer song very very depressing gloomy and straight to the point.You can also inlude another one Barry Mcguire Eve Of Destruction

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  2. YippiKiAyMoFo
    #2 YippiKiAyMoFo 13 July, 2019, 07:34

    I was six years old when the song came out. I remember sitting in the back seat of dad’s car listening as that song literally re-wired my brain. Especially the “now its been 10,000 years…” I think this song is why I became and have remained a Science Fiction fan. It still gives me goosebumps when I play it. All of their “prophecies” have already come to pas.

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    • bmb
      bmb 3 January, 2020, 01:11

      I was 9 when I heard this on the radio when it first came out. It certainly did make you think about the future. Automation, machines, etc., the future predicted doesn’t seem so unlikely. We already have test tube babies. Terminus and Exordium – Latin for the beginning of a discourse or composition and the end or final point. I guess the title sounded fancier in Latin – or not as bleak.) In 1969 in elementary school there were still air raid sirens up to 1971 and ducking under the desks. So even as a kid it looked like doomsday could be right around the corner. There was a lot of serious stuff going on then. Some people think it was all love and peace signs back then.

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  3. mike
    #3 mike 13 July, 2019, 07:52

    There was truly horrible crap on the AM radio. Most people would listen to anything. Thank god for underground fm.

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  4. GeofBrit
    #4 GeofBrit 6 January, 2020, 00:23

    I was 10 years old when 2525 hit and I liked it enough to actually buy the single with my hard earned allowence. I also drew a comic book from the lyrics for a school assignment that year.

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  5. Jim Southern
    #5 Jim Southern 7 April, 2020, 00:34

    I saw Zager & Evans in concert in 1970, and it was easily the worst I ever attended. I still can’t listen to “2525”.

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    • mickey
      mickey 13 July, 2020, 09:30

      Zager & Evans in concert. Oof! Theres a mouthful. Were they openers for ABBA? Makes my ears bleed just thinking about it.

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    • aet1985
      aet1985 6 February, 2021, 04:31

      I was curious what about seeing them in concert was the worst?

      Reply this comment
  6. Sweetleaf
    #6 Sweetleaf 24 September, 2020, 01:52

    Can someone help please? Who did the art work for the videos for ” in the year 2525″? Are the drawings in a gallery? Are you able to purchase them?

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  7. Batchman
    #7 Batchman 12 July, 2023, 18:25

    I remember that the first “Planet of the Apes” movie had just come out the year before and was very popular. (At this late date do we need to worry about spoilers?) The final scene especially put us in mind of a dystopian future for Earth, and “In the Year 2525” played on the same theme.

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  8. Barry Mac
    #8 Barry Mac 13 July, 2023, 07:53

    I found it pleasingly haunting when I was a kid. It didn’t age well. I’ve done an oldies radio show for years now, and I won’t play this song. Or, at least, haven’t yet, after about 10 years.

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