Hearing one of these tracks (Nena, since you ask) at, of all places, a friend’s wedding reception, got me thinking about songs about nuclear war or nuclear weapons – and not to mention that the past week saw the 65th anniversary of the only two uses of such weapons in anger (over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of course).
Needless to say, there are actually quite a few songs I could have chosen from, although perhaps a little obviously this is also something of an eighties-biased list.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
You know, it’s really odd when you look a little closer into some pop songs and you realise just how dark the lyrics are. Basically a “what if…” song about the possibility of an accidental nuclear war triggered by the release of the titular balloons, it sounds rather outlandish now, but in the mid-80s that kind of misunderstanding did indeed bring the world close to nuclear war – the Able Archer exercise in 1983 (of which there was an extraordinary documentary about it on TV a few years ago). Still, without listening too closely, this remains an awesome 80s new-wave pop song.
/2 Minutes to Midnight
Not one of my favourite ‘Maiden songs, I have to admit, but I’ll admit it still stands as one of the singles from their extraordinary purple patch in the early 80s. It covers similar ground to Nena’s pop smash, oddly enough, but this time referring to the Doomsday Clock and the point in 1953 when it reached the titular point, the closest the world has ever come, reputedly, to the end. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you much about the song itself, do I?
/It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Cold War paranoia was used in all kinds of songs, and in true R.E.M. style, they were a little more oblique in their take on it – the stream of consciousness lyrics more than anything referring to a deep dissatisfaction with the political landscape of the time, the view apparently being taken that the leaders of the time will more likely take us into mutually assured destruction that finding a better and safer solution. And, again, it serves to make the end of the world sound like fantastic fun.
/Welcome To The Pleasuredome
And here’s another – a little earlier, but still a monster hit, this time pouring scorn on the lunacy of the posturing of both sides both lyrically and visually. The video, in particular, is brilliant – skewering the posturing by re-creating it as a wrestling match between President Reagan and USSR leader Konstantin Chernenko, with the rest of the world’s leaders goading them on while surrounding the ring. As political satire goes, there are probably few music videos that can top this. It’s also a fantastic song, too, that’s been covered more than a few times since.
Remarkably, there are few songs I can think of by industrial bands from the 80s that cover the nuclear threat, and of all the bands I thought might have done, it took FLA until about 2007 before a song overtly about it surfaced, as an obscure EP track. The good thing is, it’s a fantastic track, harking back to the punishingly heavy FLA of the mid-90s. It has also updated its worldview a little from other tracks in this list, too, appears to be referring to the brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula in recent years.
Talking of the far east, it’s back to the (early) eighties again, this time for another synthpop classic that was critical of the US atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. The song is named after the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb, and is once again a deceptively upbeat-sounding song for such a dark subject, but then, would it have been a hit if it hadn’t been?
/The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
/Greetings From Timbuk 3
I think I may ban any more eighties new-wave and pop from Tuesday Tens for a few weeks after this week – I think I’ve heard enough for a while. So anyway, why this? Well, it appears to be a kid who grows up, graduates, and his bright new future sees him developing the bomb. Hence the shades, obviously. (I’d totally forgotten the name of the band for this song, too, before researching for this, and it still doesn’t really ring any bells. Obviously the song does!)
Not all protest music needs lyrics, though. As WinterkÃ¤lte proved with this brutal industrial-noise assault. Perhaps this is the sound that we’d hear from certain political quarters in the US if the decision was made to go nuclear-free, or maybe this is the sound of the horror and chaos of the aftermath of a nuclear attack? Either way, this is a coruscating, furious attack on the senses.
Hands Productions labelmates S.K.E.T. made an astounding album recently entirely about the aftermath of a nuclear-related weapon – Depleted Uranium. I’ve covered the album in depth before – it was my runner-up album of the year for 2009 – but suffice to say that this is more interested with the use of such weapons and in particular their aftereffects, both physically, mentally and also politically.
/Akira: Original Soundtrack
Not all of them have to be about real life, of course, and thanks to a couple of friends for suggesting this one, as I recall. The opening score to the legendary manga adaptation that deals with the post-nuclear war landscape of Neo-Tokyo, the bleak, elegant score fits perfectly with the mood of the film. One of devastation, but with a shred of hope. Now, time to find a copy of AKIRA on DVD… (Note: the version on Spotify is a re-recorded and edited version – the Youtube link is more how I remember it).