Hey, remember the Russians? Before they had a gajillion oil dollars and all those supermodels, they wanted to kill us all. But it wasn't all creeping dread and mutually assured destruction.
Until the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War was a common subject in popular culture. Besides KGB trenchcoats on the runways of New York and Paris and movies like Red Dawn and The Day After, the struggle between East and West was a surprisingly popular subject among alternative groups of the day.
5. Thompson Twins, "The Gap" (1984)
Was Ist Das?: Decades before Bollywood went mainstream (but decades after the Beatles got into Ravi Shankar), this Australian trio used subcontinental tones to spin a yarn about "two different colors on the map."
Key Lyric: "Can you smell the perfume of a hundred thousand years?/ Dare you look into the eyes that hide a hundred million tears?"
Verdict: Foreign espionage is confusing -- let's just hit the disco!
4. Camouflage, "The Great Commandment" (1987)
Was Ist Das?: A keyboard and drum machine are the only thing standing between this brave German band and Big Brother's boot on their neck.
Key Lyric: "The needies believe you, they treat you like survivors of a disaster/ Reeducation for the infants, who demanded for an innocent instance"
Verdict: This song makes no sense whatsoever -- much like the international arms race. But the video is hysterical.
3. Murray Head, "One Night in Bangkok" (1984)
Was Ist Das?: "A show with everything but Yul Brynner," sung from the point of view of an American chess master about to defend his championship against a Russian. With music by Tim Rice (The Lion King) and ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, "Bangkok" comes from Chess, one of the last West End/Broadway-style musicals to spawn a pop hit.
Key Lyric: "You'll find a God in every golden cloister/ And if you're lucky then the God's a she"
Verdict: Way more exciting than the plot of Hangover 2.
2. Red Flag, "Russian Radio" (1989)
Was Ist Das?: Synth duo is either paying tribute to Voice of America-style broadcasts or mooning over a distant sweetheart. It's difficult to tell.
Key Lyric: "I hear a voice, from ten thousand miles away I have no choice, our love was meant to stay."
Verdict: Borderline insufferable. Good remixable basic track, though.
1. CCCP, "American-Soviets" (1986)
Was Ist Das?: This dance-club staple, a landmark in the development of electronic body music (EBM), starts with a mock conversation between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev before the German trio led by Rasputin Stoy(!) wonders why the two world leaders can't just play chess instead.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Key Lyric: "The nuclear war will forever be banned/ It's only their kings which they have to defend."
Verdict: This song has outlasted the Soviet Union itself, has been remixed six ways from Sunday and shows no signs of slowing down.