“Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)“, often abbreviated to “Turn! Turn! Turn!“, is a song adapted entirely from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (with the exception of the last line) and put to music by Pete Seeger in 1959. Seeger waited until 1962 to record his own version of it, releasing the song on his The Bitter and the Sweet album on Columbia Records. 45% of the royalties for the song are donated to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, because, in Seeger’s own words, “[in addition to the music] I did write six words.” The song became an international hit in late 1965, when it was covered by The Byrds, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #26 on the UK Singles Chart. Thus, the song easily holds the record as the #1 song with the oldest lyrics.
The lyrics are taken almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1), though the sequence of the words was rearranged for the song. Ecclesiastes is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon.
The Biblical text posits there being a time and place for all things: laughter and sorrow, healing and killing, war and peace, and so on. The lines are open to myriad interpretations, but as a song they are commonly performed as a plea for world peace, with an emphasis on the closing line: “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” This line and the title phrase “Turn! Turn! Turn!” are the only parts of the lyric written by Seeger himself.
The song is notable for being one of a few instances in popular music in which a large portion of scripture is set to music, other examples being The Melodians‘ “Rivers of Babylon“, Sister Janet Mead‘s “The Lord’s Prayer“, and U2‘s “40“.