The melody is from an old Scottish folk ballad (supernatural variety) called "The Silkie." It was on the first album by Joan Baez, and say what you will about Joanie, when I was a kid, her achingly pure soprano knocked me out, and this particular track was a revelation. For some reason a junior high school teacher of mine played it for my class one day, and I went bonkers.
I mean, I really went nuts. I actually spent hours trying to write a piano fantasia based on it, which I ultimately did; my old friend and musical colleague Allan Weissman informs me he can still play it from memory.
Anyway, cut to 1966 and The Byrds Fifth Dimension album. I'm listening to it for the first time, and suddenly this song -- with the same tune as the Baez thingie but with absolutely brilliant lyrics about a 7 year old who was fried at Hiroshima (gorgeously sung by Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, I should add) -- comes on. And I totally lose it. Where the hell did that come from?
So I look it up, and -- short version -- the lyrics are an anti-nuke poem by a guy named Nâzım Hikmet, a Turkish-Polish political writer and general activist artist guy, who was famous for his problems with the regime in his home country. The lyrics were apparently notorious in his day -- in a good way -- and folk genius Pete Seeger was savvy enough to graft them onto the melody of "The Silkie." And The Byrds were inspired to cover it, magnificently.
It still reduces me to tears, and many years later, I was moved to record a version of it myself -- with what success I leave you to decide.
Makes me weep still, despite my mediocre vocal.
Have a great weekend, everybody!!!