Zager and Evans: Lincoln’s Forgotten #1 Hit

By Nick Furgason

The summer of 1969 is one whose presence is still felt in our world today.

It was the end of a decade that had been plagued by conflict abroad in Vietnam and civil strife at home.

It was the summer the LGBTQA+ community took a stand to fight discrimination at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, igniting the gay liberation movement. The summer Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon. When Actress Sharon Tate and seven others were killed in Los Angeles by Charles Manson and his cult followers. And when the Woodstock festival celebrated peace and music with some of the world’s greatest artists. 

It was a year defined by the music of legends such as The Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones, and a victory lap from The Beatles.

But it was a lesser-known group out of Lincoln, Nebraska, that had the hit single of that historic summer.  From July 12 to August 16, the single “In the Year 2525” by Nebraskan group, Zager and Evans, claimed the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.

Denny Zager and Rick Evans met in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1962 during their time at Nebraska Wesleyan, where they became part of a band called the Eccentrics.

Written by Evans in 1964 and recorded four years later, “In the Year 2525” became a major regional hit on Lincoln and Omaha radio stations before RCA Records signed the duo and re-released the single. Zager and Evans are backed on their single by fellow Nebraskans Mark Dalton and Dave Trupp. 

Not only was “2525” a hit at home, but it also topped major international charts. It hit number one in Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. To this day, Zager and Evans is the only group to have a number-one single on both sides of the Atlantic but never have another chart single on Billboard or in the UK for the rest of their career.

The song remained at number one as humanity took their first steps on the Moon and ended its reign in the top spot as Woodstock came to a close. In fact, Zager and Evans were asked to perform at the legendary festival, but a car accident involving Evans forced them to cancel their appearance.

While they may have not made it onto the stage at Woodstock, they did receive other national recognition from a Time Magazine issue featuring the two on the cover with the caption “Even the Beatles would be jealous!”  Their time on the charts may have only lasted one brief summer, but it was a summer the world would never forget.

After disbanding in 1971, the duo went on to focus on a variety of other projects.  Evans continued performing the local scene for a while, frequenting Lincoln’s stages and roaming the country. Evans mostly stepped away from the public eye by the mid-1980s to live a quieter life. In 2018 Evans, unfortunately, died of natural causes at his home near Santa Fe. 

Zager took a different approach after the Zager and Evans fame faded. In 1972, Zager began teaching his son to play guitar. During this experience, he came up with a new method of teaching guitar to students that focused on playing by ear, rather than looking at notes on a page. The Zager Guitar method has taught thousands of students over the past decades how to play.

Not only has Zager perfected the teaching method, but he also mastered the art of building guitars. Zager Guitars are made right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, and are immensely popular in both the professional and amateur world.

Today, Zager is recognized as one of the premier guitar builders in the world.  In the year 2020, it is still amazing how a pair from Lincoln, Nebraska managed to captivate the world with their song in the middle of one of the most influential years in music history. While the Zager and Evans fame may have been short-lived, they left a lasting impact and hold the honor of being one of the greatest one-hit-wonders of all time.

When asked by Forbes Magazine in April 2020, whether Zager ever imagined “2525” becoming a hit, he responded “No one expects something like that… Who would have believed two farm boys from Nebraska would have the No. 1 hit in the world and have Time magazine saying the Beatles would be jealous! I couldn’t have dreamed it.”