MR. TURNKEY

Zager and Evans

RCA Victor 74-0246, 1969
Billboard: #106

So what happened after the year 2525? The only other chart item for Rick Evans and Denny Zager was this scary tale, written by Evans, set not in some indefinable global future, but in Wichita Falls in the summer of 1969. The story starts with a flashback to a bar, where our nonhero meets a girl, winds up forcing himself upon her, claiming "she led me on," and ends up on cell block #4, where we hear him calling to a member of the prison staff (the "turnkey" of the title) to let him know just how he's atoning for his crime. In terms of sheer perversity, this is right up there with Warren Zevon's "Excitable Boy", without any of Zevon's sly wit; however, its earnestness — you know there's no punch line to this story — makes "Mr. Turnkey" work as tragedy, the sort that plays a lot better now than it did then. Zager and Evans split in the year 1970, though I think it was probably more a response to the lack of success of this song rather than to the song itself. And Z&E are revered by fans of "one-hit wonders", who will not be impressed by the lowly chart placing of their second, um, hit.