A Song A Day in May: 80s Nuclear War Anxiety

The Music I listened to and loved in the 80s had an influence on me, it’s undeniable. Along with the books I read, the television shows and movies I watched, the people I met, they all helped shape create the foundation of who I am today. Would I be me today if I hadn’t seen “The Day After” at a young age and had a near-obsession level of paranoia over my skin getting peeled off in a nuclear blast? Who’s to say? Did the artists of the music I listen to and their speaking out on political and social matters shape me? Absolutely.

I stumbled across Stereogum‘s list of 80s songs about nuclear war and it was nostalgia on full volume for me. Their list included songs I may not have realized at the time were as political as they were, but now with adult eyes and 30+ years of hindsight, I am grateful that they are. I hope you enjoy some of them as much as I do.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – “Enola Gay” (1980)
There are a lot of songs on this list that sound infectious and poppy while conveying some very dark subject matter. In “Enola Gay,” that contrast is pretty severe. Every part of this song, especially the main synth line that anchors it, is a danceable earworm, but all of that is a propulsive delivery mechanism for a meditation on nuclear war via historical context. Actually rooted more so in Andy McCluskey’s obsession with WWII-era aircraft than by the desire to make a political statement, “Enola Gay” is named for the plane that carried the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The song is filled with allusions otherwise, the line “Is mother proud of little boy today?” referencing both the literal bomb Little Boy and the fact that the pilot had named his plane “Enola Gay” after his mother, and the recurring “It’s 8:15″ denoting the time the bomb was dropped. “Enola Gay” kicked off OMD’s excellent sophomore album Organisation with a somewhat unintentional mission statement and prologue — from a literal reference to the atomic bomb onwards, the rest of the album was dominated by the sort of barren, gray atmospherics we associate with Cold War Europe.

SOURCE: Stereogum 80s Songs About Nuclear Anxiety

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One comment

  1. As I am older than you I can transfer the fear of a nuclear war to the 1950s. My father took me to see “On the Beach”. It left a strong impression on me as the fear of the USSR dropping atomic bombs on us was very real. My father even bought me a book on learning Russian as it might help when we were invaded. The thought of the family taking lethal tablets before the radiation arrives still fills me with dread. That was before the ‘60s where we all sang about peace and love.


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