If it’s late 1987, and you’re in an alternative club or “danceteria,” odds are you’re hearing “American-Soviets” before last call. You might even hear it twice. This song was positively ubiquitous, sandwiched in between some combination of “Bizarre Love Triangle” (or “True Faith,” or both), “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” “Situation,” “Strangelove” and “Join in the Chant.” The song itself is about an imaginary chess competition between Presidential superpowers Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, like “Wargames” put to music. It’s actually strange to hear the lyric “Why did the Russians invade Afghanistan” today, and think about the fact that we backed the Afghan freedom fighters in that conflict…and one of them was Osama bin Laden. Huh.
As for the band itself, I will confess to knowing nothing about C.C.C.P. before putting this piece together. AllMusic tells me they’re German, which makes perfect sense in retrospect – listen to the way the female commentator overemphasizes the ‘R’ in ‘USSR,’ and you know that is not her regular accent – not to mention the aggressive keyboard sounds they used as the main hook. And talk about a hook; it’s just one note, but hot damn, is it an unforgettable note. Unk. Unk unk, unkunk, unk unk, unkunk. That, followed with the sixteenth-note back-and-forth sampling between the snare drum and a handclap, and it didn’t really matter what the rest of the song sounded like. Even more incredible is the fact that while this part of the song is going down, there is no drum track. That would never happen today. “Turn the drums back on! They’ll walk off the floor!” Not if your song is awesome, they won’t.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this song’s success was that it was on a total no-name label (Oak Lawn Records, take a bow), which means that they didn’t have the cash to print off a ton of promotional 12″ singles and flood the DJ groups the way the major labels did. DJs had to buy this one. But first, they had to hear it, so the success of “American-Soviets” is one of those great word-of-mouth stories. One DJ plays it in a club, and every other DJ runs to the booth and asks, “Who is this?” And they tell two friends, and so on. How about that: a label scores a hit by letting the music do the talking. Again, that would never happen today.
Be forewarned, I did not rip the version of “American-Soviets” that I’m posting. There is nothing wrong with it, but there are a couple strange, stuttering bits that do not exist in the original 12″ mix of the song. Time to start saving my pennies for a USB turntable. Oh, and holy cow, there’s a video for the song. Never seen this before. Rock that mullet, Rasputin Stoy!