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.