I was writing up a track for a future White Label Wednesday piece (it’s set to run May 27) when I had a strange thought. Well, two strange thoughts, actually. (Expect some snarky one-liner from a Popdose editor to follow that last sentence.) [Get over yourself! -Ed.] The first thought was about how obsessed musicians were with nuclear war during the ’80s. From album titles (the Vapors’ New Clear Days) to lyrical one-liners (“You’re about as easy as a nuclear war,” “If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together”), the topic was always close at hand. The kids today surely roll their eyes at these songs, since they’ve spent most of their lives in the post-Cold War world, but it was a very real threat at the time. It was the Gen X version of terrorism, only you were allowed to be pro-peace without being labeled unpatriotic.
The other thought was about how many of those nuclear war songs were tunes that you could dance to. Seems inappropriate to dance on the proverbial graves of millions, but then again, what better way to get an important “message” across to the public than by putting it to a drum machine? And thus, this week’s Mix Six was born: nuclear war songs with a beat. Wait, do you hear something, like an air raid siren…?
“Two Tribes,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood (download)
“The air attack warning sounds like…” Yikes. Remember, this song was released the year after “The Day After,” so the idea of nuclear holocaust was still very real, and no one had made it seem as imminent, and yet as cartoonish, as Frankie did in this song and its accompanying video. And, as an added bonus, I give you my personal favorite of the six million mixes commissioned for “Two Tribes,” the eight-minute Carnage mix. Don’t be alarmed.
“Party at Ground Zero,” Fishbone (download)
“Speed Racer cloud has come, they not know what they’ve done / Sin has just won, Planet Earth is a crumb.” Now dance, motherfucker, dance.
“99 Luftballoons,” Nena (download)
“This is it, boys, this is war,” the English translation says, but really, is there anyone alive that prefers the English version to the German version? They’re pretty much identical, except the snare drum on the German version has balls, where the English version sounds like the drummer’s hitting the milk-filled snare in the “Centerfold” video. Plus, when Germans talk about war, it carries considerably more menace than, say, Rick Springfield singing about war (which he did, in 1985). My wife loves to play this game where she says “I love you” in German, but she opens her eyes wide and uses this guttural voice, and it scares the shit out of me every time.
“Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” Ultravox (download)
Time for a little nuclear melodrama. Severe minor-key sadness going on here (“It’s hard to believe that it’s my last time / The man on the wireless cries again / ‘It’s over, it’s over'”), which you would expect in a song about the end of the human race. But it makes the list because the label commissioned at least two remixes of the song, which I always found odd. I love the song, and I love 12″ mixes, but despite having the word ‘dancing’ in the title, this song does not make me want to dance. Sorry, Midge.
“Mothers Talk,” Tears for Fears (download)
Surprise surprise, Medsker’s talking about Tears for Fears again. The overlooked fourth single from the mega-selling Songs from the Big Chair, “Mothers Talk” is arguably Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s definition of lightening up. “Curt, I’m sick of singing about my feelings. Let’s cut loose, and do a song about war.” “Brilliant. I’ll get the bourbon.” Some have called Smith the Andrew Ridgeley of the group, but the bass line in the outro here proves otherwise.
“Def.Con.One,” Pop Will Eat Itself (download)
I realize that this one is a bit of a stretch – other than a reference to the Doomsday Clock and former Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the song is pretty light on nuke talk – but between the reference to Watchmen, the sampling of Beastie Boy MCA, and the liberal use of the keyboard riff from “Funkytown,” I think the song is a jam, even if there is very little original at its core. Remember, talent borrows, but genius steals. And suddenly I’m craving a Big Mac.