Are You Ready for That Great Atomic Power? Songs That Go Nuclear

This past week marks the 64th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S., on August 6 and 9, respectively, bringing an end to World War II. The subsequent decades have brought us a Cold War, explosive proliferation, and largely fruitless attempts to eliminate the threat presented by nuclear weapons. And while we no longer live with the spectre of nuclear annihilation constantly hovering over us like we did in the '70s and '80s, the danger remains.

But good things have come from mankind's Atomic Age. Nuclear submarines, for example, as well as those "giant bug" movies from the 1950s, Godzilla and the potential for beneficial mutations. Our race to mutually assured destruction has also generated plenty of great music, which helps take the edge off of worrying about things like fallout and radiation burns.

Sun Ra, "Nuclear War": It's unlikely anybody was still on the fence regarding war after Edwin Starr succinctly informed us that it was (in the broad sense) good for "absolutely nothing." Just in case, the former Herman Blount is here to clarify: nuclear war is a motherfucker.

Van Halen, "Atomic Punk": Buried among the better-known tracks from Van Halen's 1977 debut is this little nugget, which - if lyrics like "I am a victim of the science age" and "I am a ruler of these netherworlds" are to be believed - is either about a Road Warrior-like post-apocalyptic warrior or some nerd exploring the steam tunnels beneath Rice University.

Ryan Adams, "Nuclear": One of the better cuts off Demolition isn't about war at all, of course, but instead showcases Adams' love of metaphor, romance gone bad and - as we see in the clip above - dark sunglasses.

Blondie, "Atomic": If you were a musical act back in the 1970s, you could pretty much just pepper your songs with vaguely sci-fi non sequiturs and maintain that edginess many claimed you'd lost when you glammed up your formerly trashy NYC image. Blondie, who play the arena theater a week from Sunday, could have named this song "Cyborg" or "Supernova" or "Jarvik Heart" and not changed the meaning one iota.

Peter Tosh, "No Nuclear War": Catchy as this song is - Tosh was awarded a Grammy for the album - it doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know. Maybe if it had been released during the Eisenhower Administration, lines like "Can't take another Holocaust" might have rattled some cages, and at the very least, a 6'5" Rasta would've raised some eyebrows. As it happens, most of us had already seen The Day After by the time the song was released.

George Clinton, "Atomic Dog": Recognizable to even BYU frat boys thanks to excessive sampling (Ice Cube uses it in no less than seven separate tracks), the song is notable not only for the ubiquitious "bow wow wow yippee yo yippee yay" but because the mostly improvised lyrics have nothing to do with nuclear power.

And little to do with dogs, in all honesty.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar