Everybody who loves music hates some of it: annoying lyrics or lame-ass melodies, artists who are better at marketing themselves than performing their craft, opportunities that were missed and gambles that failed. We even hate songs by our favorite artists when they fail to live up to what we expect. And sometimes, we indulge our dark side and hate stuff just because. World’s Worst Songs is about one man’s songs worth hating.
We begin with a song that has its heart in the right place. Children of the Cold War lived each day with the threat of flaming nuclear death. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, we thought, but someday, the odds are good that the United States and/or the Soviet Union will vaporize millions, either by calculation or by accident. As the Cold War kids grew up and had kids of their own, the horror of such a war came vividly home.
During the Reagan years, we started hearing how the government believed nuclear war was winnable, which didn’t help anyone sleep better at night. Even after Reagan started negotiating with the Soviets, we still worried that somebody would push the button before the deal got done.
That’s the historical context for the first solo album by Sting, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, and its fourth single, “Russians”: his commentary on the nuclear standoff, and a big old faceplant into the pantheon of the World’s Worst Songs.
The lyric of “Russians” contains some painful rhymes: “America” with “hysteria” (which he makes even worse by pronouncing “hysteria” as “hysteeria” instead of “hystairia”) and “We share the same biology / Regardless of ideology.” While the earnestness of his plea is heartfelt—“I hope the Russians love their children too”—the whole thing is a little too glib. Of course the Russians love their children. Trouble is, that doesn’t affect the standoff one damn bit.
The lugubrious, minor-key melody of “Russians” is based on a theme by the Russian composer Prokofiev. I can’t decide whether that’s a clever move to highlight the song’s subject matter or a pretentious smack upside the listener’s head. It fits the dark musings of the lyrics, but the end result, gloomy and enervating, is not something I want to hear on the radio every three hours. Nevertheless, the song managed to make #16 on the Hot 100 in March 1986.
The video looks great, though.
Here’s a final word about the World’s Worst Songs: with any one of them, I could be completely wrong. If there’s a case to be made that “Russians” (or any other song you might read about here) is better than I think it is, please chime in and make it.