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.
Nena – “99 Luftballons” (1983)
Here it is: When it comes to nuclear war songs, Nena’s “99 Luftballons” is one of the most iconic, one that sums up the whole era perfectly. Though the German and English versions of the songs slightly differ lyrically, the basic gist is: Some harmless balloons get released, get mistaken for something hostile, and eventually nuclear war breaks out. It’s the kind of narrative common throughout Cold War fiction, something stupid and accidental — you know, like a tweet, in today’s parlance — setting off the end of everything. Musically, “99 Luftballons” switches between like three different immortal grooves, which paired with the German might’ve obscured the dire nature of its narrative. But as a song and a story, it lives on as one of the best and most succinct examples of ’80s Cold War anxiety in pop music.