The Cold War had an impact on all aspects of culture, including popular music. Cold War people, issues and ideas were described, criticised and parodied in a wide variety of musical forms: from whimsical country and western songs in the 1950s, to folk-protest music of the Woodstock era and songs about the nuclear paranoia of the 1980s. This selection of Cold War music has been selected and compiled by Alpha History authors and contains lyrics and music hosted on Youtube:
Roy Acuff: ‘Advice to Joe’ (1951) Part 1
Country and western singer Roy Acuff warns Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, in the strongest terms, what will happen to him if he attacks the US.
Lulu Belle & Scotty: ‘I’m No Communist’ (1952) Part 1
An upbeat country tune that begins as a condemnation of communism then attacks US government spending, debt and taxes.
Ray Anderson: ‘Stalin Kicked the Bucket’ (1953) Part 1
Country singer Ray Anderson sings with unnerving exuberance and delight about the death of the Soviet leader.
The Kavaliers: ‘Get that Communist, Joe’ (1954) Part 1
A novelty song parodying the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy, urging him to ‘get that communist’.
Scott Peters: ‘Fallout Shelter’ (1961) Part 1
A novelty song explaining why Scott Peters was looking forward to life in his fallout shelter, once the bombs started falling.
Bob Dylan: ‘Masters of War (1963) Part 1
Probably Bob Dylan’s most hostile protest song, which takes aim at the military chiefs and weapons manufacturers who were fuelling the nuclear arms race.
Barry McGuire: ‘Eve of Destruction’ (1965) Part 1
One of the best known protest songs of its time, Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction provided an ominous warning about the hypocrisy of the Cold War.
Donovan: ‘Universal Soldier’ (1965) Part 1
Written by Canadian songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, Donovan’s hit song placed the responsibility for war at the feet of those who offered themselves for military service.
Janet Greene: ‘Poor Left-winger’ (1966) Part 1
A condemnation of communists and their sympathisers, from the ‘anti-Baez’, conservative American folk singer Janet Greene.
The Beatles: ‘Back in the USSR’ (1968) Part 1
Written and sung by Paul McCartney, this light-hearted and upbeat song attempted to humanise young people living behind the Iron Curtain.
Midnight Oil: ‘US Forces’ (1982) Part 1
The third single from Australian band Midnight Oil, US Forces criticises the interventions of the CIA and US military in foreign civilian governments.
U2: ‘New Year’s Day’ (1983) Part 1
From U2’s third studio album, New Year’s Day was inspired by Cold War divisions and the rising Solidarity movement in Poland.
Nena: ’99 Luftballoons’ (1983) Part 1
West German new wave band Nena’s 1983 hit single, written as a protest against Cold War militarism and the division of Germany.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood: ‘Two Tribes’ (1984) Part 1
A top 10 hit for British dance band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Two Tribes parodied the US and USSR both in its lyrics and its video clip, which depicted the Cold War as a wrestling match between Reagan and Chernenko.
Sting: ‘Russians’ (1985) Part 1
With its melody based on a theme by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, this Sting song from 1985 expresses his fears of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: ‘War’ (1986) Part 1
A top 10 hit in the mid-1980s, Springsteen’s cover of War was a response to the Reagan administration’s aggressive foreign policy in central America.
Billy Joel: ‘Leningrad’ (1989) Part 1
A 1989 ballad where Billy Joel compares his own Cold War upbringing with that of Viktor, a circus clown Joel met while touring the Soviet Union.
Billy Joel: ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ (1989) Part 1
Essentially a montage of people, events and issues from Joel’s birth in 1949, this song contains many reference points to the Cold War.
The Scorpions: ‘Wind of Change’ (1990) Part 1
One of the biggest selling songs of recent times, Wind of Change both described and celebrated the end of the Cold War in Europe.