April 30th, 2010
09:35 AM ET
Do you remember "In the Year 2525"? The ominous hit song about technology, by one-hit wonders Zager and Evans?
Jerry Weintraub - famed Hollywood promoter and producer, friend of performers and presidents - does. During an interview with CNN.com, he told an interesting story about its rise to No. 1 in the summer of '69.
His story begins at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Weintraub heard the song in a hallway. The guy playing it in his room was an A&R man for RCA Records and acquaintance of Weintraub's.
"I said, what is that record? It’s a smash. And he said it’s record made by two kids in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we’re trying to buy the record. … Everybody’s trying to buy it and nobody’s been able to buy it yet.
"I said, give me the two guys’ names, I’ll go to Lincoln, Nebraska, and I’ll give it to you – sell it to you. And he said, great."
So Weintraub headed off to Nebraska, where he was met at the Omaha airport by Denny Zager and Rick Evans. They'd recorded the song the year before and put it out on their own label, and as the three drove to Lincoln to meet the duo's lawyer, Zager and Evans stopped to drop off copies at local record stores.
"They were selling them out of the trunk of their car," recalled Weintraub.
In Lincoln, Weintraub met the duo's attorney. A farmers' lawyer, he had no expertise in dealing with the record business: on his desk, Weintraub recalled, were contracts from several big labels, all unsigned and waiting for a response.
"I said, what are you doing with all those contracts? He said, people call me and they tell me they want the record and I tell them to send the contract," Weintraub said. "I said, do you understand that these people think they have the record when you do that? Well, he didn’t understand that. He didn’t do it maliciously, he just didn’t understand what it was about."
Five hundred dollars later - "paid him in cash," said Weintraub - the promoter had a signed contract for representation and a portion of the publishing rights. "And then I brought that record back and I gave it to RCA, because that’s who had given me the name and everything, and the rest was history. That record was number one around the world – every place in the world."
Indeed, in the summer of 1969 the song was a phenomenon. Time magazine wrote a story about it, noting that "everybody connected with the [ensuing] album was confident that it would do just as well as '2525.' "
But everybody was wrong. The "2525" follow-up, "Mr. Turnkey," didn't even make Billboard's Hot 100. The duo never returned to the charts.
“They had an album that I got them a lot of money for – I forgot how much, a million something, maybe two million,” recalled Weintraub. “I [promoted] the album,” but the momentum was gone.
But the song hasn’t been forgotten: In 1998, Billboard named “In the Year 2525” the top one-hit wonder in Top 40 history. (And Dave Barry gave it a backhanded compliment, calling it "the hydrogen bomb of retaliation songs.")
Denny Zager is now a highly regarded guitar maker in Lincoln. Rick Evans also remains in the music business.
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