The best pop songs of the 80s about the nuclear apocalypse
There was a good point in the analysis of the lyrics of the 1983 Polish rock song “Zamki na piasku” (Castles in the sand) published by the monthly Rock of Teraz At the beginning. The line was more or less this: You think terrorism is a modern phenomenon, but people in the 80s were as scared of it as we are. Think of the Palestinian nationalists or the IRA in Northern Ireland. In addition, they had another threat over their heads: the danger of nuclear annihilation.
I am aware that the North American attitude towards the nuclear arms race was the same as in Poland, but different. People on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean thought, “Our politicians are crazy! “but they were thinking of different power intermediaries. Westerners were probably angrier than Orientals because their information was not filtered by censorship. Much of that legitimate anger and fear crept into the best pop and rock music of the time. Some of these more or less veiled protest songs are classics of the Anglo-Saxon world, others are perennial in my country. Two hits from 1979 are included as no serious consideration of this trope wouldn’t be complete without them.
Blondie, “Atomic” (1979)
There is no better way to start the party than with the band that ruled the Earth at that time. It was already their third number one in the UK. According to the group, this is just a dance workout with a striking title, but the post-apocalypse tones of the video seem to clash.
The key line: “Oh-oh, atomic” (not a lot of choice here)
The Shock, “The London Call” (1979)
The title song of this 1979 punk rock landmark was written as a parody of contemporary media and their exploitation of the human fear of death. Forty years have passed and nothing has changed for the better, as we know from experience and from another accusing British song: “Mass Destruction” by Faithless. The title comes from the BBC radio signal of WWII. Soâ¦ it sounds like Joe Strummer and co. experienced trauma similar to Roger Waters. Again: who hates Pink Floyd?
The key phrase: “A nuclear age, but I’m not afraid”
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, “Enola Gay” (1980)
Not many people in Poland know and like “If You Leave”, but “Enola Gay” is legendary for us (as well as “Maid of Orleans” and “Sailing on the Seven Seas”). Perhaps this is because hardly anyone in Poland knew what the lyrics meant. State-sanctioned newspapers are highly likely to mention OG Enola Gay in their non-proliferation articles, but they have mostly been ignored by our pop aficionados. A soothing yet dancing melody and Andy McCluskey’s dorky vest were enough for them to fall in love. Unsurprisingly, the song’s title became a model for the juvenile puns on these shores when it was remixed by German trance producer SASH! in 1998. I was in elementary school at the time and really didn’t know any better.
The key phrase: “This kiss you give, it will never be erased”
The Jam, “Going Underground” (1980)
Whether they saw them as punk, post-punk or mod revivals, the Brits of the early 80s loved The Jam. When they were about to break up, they were in a position where scoring number two on the singles charts was literally a bitter pill for them to swallow. They dressed well but there was a rage in their music that often rivaled The Clash. Enough rage to make this song debut (!) At the top at the national level, an extremely rare feat at the time.
The key phrase: “You want more money, of course, I don’t mind buying nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes”
Nik Kershaw, “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” (1983)
It’s not a very popular opinion, but I think Nik’s 1983-86 single was flawless. The guy was planting massive hooks even in songs with absurd titles like “Radio Musicola”. “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is one of the big three of his hits with “Wouldn’t It Be Good” and “The Riddle”. This # 2 smash in the UK (as a reissue, to be precise) ruthlessly pokes fun at the powers that be at the time. The title line itself is as powerful an advocacy as it gets. Really a pity that it was only a wonder in the United States.
The main line: “The index finger on the button, is it blue or is it red?” “
Alphaville, “Forever Young” (1984)
Speaking of one-hit-marvels (from an American point of view), this synth ballad has taken on a new lease of life thanks to Jay-Z’s sample and proms. Young people don’t seem to care that these Germans don’t seem to firmly believe that eternal life is an option in the atomic age. Their country was divided into two warring blocs, always in danger of becoming a nuclear battleground, so who can blame them?
80s German pop gave us a rare portrayal of nuclear horror from a Japanese perspective: Sandra’s âHiroshimaâ. This makes sense not only because the two countries were allies in WWII. The singer known internationally as the early voice of Enigma began her career with the German-language version of Alphaville’s biggest national hit, titledâ¦ “Big in Japan”. And I haven’t even mentioned “99 Luftballons” until now …
The key phrase: “Are you going to drop the bomb or not?” “
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Two Tribes” (1984)
The country’s most popular musical Liverpudlians since the Beatles (sorry, OMD!) Were occupied with humanity’s greatest obsessions on their first three singles. No points for guessing which – love, war, or sex – it was this one. This video is probably the one thing most people remember about Konstantin Chernenko. No one would guess at the time that the old man didn’t have much life left in him. FGTH singer Holly Johnson refreshed nuclear imagery as a solo artist in 1989.
The key phrase: “Do we live in a country where sex and horror are the new gods?” “
Ultravox, “Dance with Tears in Your Eyes” (1984)
It makes me sad that Poland didn’t have the chance to properly appreciate Ultravox’s biggest hit. When “Vienna” toured the world, my country was in the grip of martial law. The group peddled their mark of icy melancholy for a few more years, offering their take on nuclear panic along the way. Isn’t the title of this song a perfect metaphor for the New Romantic movement?
The key phrase: “The man on the wireless is still crying, it’s over, it’s over”
Tears For Fears, “Everyone Wants to Rule the World” (1985)
We can call it Chekhov’s synth pop gun. This duo wanted to go out of style and bring back The Jam so we should spend some time with them. This song is probably the biggest part of this tale, but âa room where the light won’t find youâ can still be interpreted as a fallout shelter, I guess. Moreover, all the sentiment expressed in the title hints at the extension of the story of the âTwo Tribesâ, as the adjectives ânuclearâ and âpoliticalâ both go well with âpowerâ.
The key phrase: “There’s a room where the light won’t find you holding your hand while the walls come tumbling down”
Morrissey, “Every day is like Sunday” (1988)
I have no doubt that Morrissey is a horrible person. I also have no doubt that the second single of his solo career is a masterpiece. Maybe it’s because I live in a spa village which also âclosesâ after the summer holidays. Maybe we should give thanks for those majestic strings in the middle eight. Or maybe because Moz was more focused on drawing the unglamorous England of that time than on analyzing his own woes. It’s strange to end this writing with the song that (sarcastically?) Begs for nuclear armageddon because this type of disaster is both dangerous and interesting. But it’s Steven Patrick Morrissey for you.
The key phrase: “In the seaside town they forgot to bomb”
The end of the Cold War didn’t completely bury apocalypto-pop (so to speak). The state of the environment has become a major concern for musicians as eminent as Michael Jackson or Jamiroquai. The atomic threat still stuck its ugly head from time to time. The Fall Out Boy group became a household name in the 2000s. “Jestem odpadem atomowym” (I am a fallout) was also a hit for Polish pub rock stars Elektryczne Gitary (Electric Guitars) in 1996. But as Green Day and many others proved it not too long ago, there is no reason to sing about nuclear weapons when conventional ones are dangerous enough …