Music News

From Russia With Love

It just seems wrong to call Russian émigré Regina Spektor Russian, because her family fled the USSR during the freeing days of perestroika in 1989. This kind of makes her a Soviet-American, even if she might disagree. The point is, Spektor is a product of a collapsed communist empire that, aside from helping to fuel an international military buildup over 69 years, also gave the world (directly or indirectly) a lot of interesting moments in musical pop culture. Here are a few, including the aforementioned Soviet-American singer-songwriter.

"Back in the USSR," The Beatles
Penned by Paul McCartney, the ironic "Back in the USSR" is actually a parody of the Beach Boys' music, while the title is a play on the Chuck Berry song "Back in the USA." Did anybody really think that Ukraine girls knocked Paul out, that Moscow girls made him sing and shout, or that Georgian girls — girls from the country Georgia, dummy — were always on his mind?

It wasn’t so much the Vietnam War as the Cold War
From Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," along with pretty much all the other, you know, several hundred social protest songs that came out of the '60s and '70s, the Vietnam War figured front and center — but it was actually the broader effects of the Cold War, which Vietnam was a reaction to, that the songs were about. Even after Nixon withdrew U.S. troops, the Cold War continued for another 16 years, and so did the musical cries for a world not divided by the ideological wall thrown up by the Soviet Union.

"Surfin’ USSR," Ray Stevens
Stevens built a career around inanely stupid novelty songs. "Surfin' USSR" is, believe it or not, no different. When four Russian submariners crash on the California coast, rather than try to start war, they declare their very simple wish to have a beach party tonight. Parodying the Beach Boys like this would've been cute if it had been the '60s and not the late '80s.

Everything by Regina Spektor
Eastern European beauty Spektor has slowly blown up out of New York's East Village anti-folk scene by producing song after song that sounds like, in the most remarkable way, the culmination of 30 years of female singer-songwriters — each as quirky, colorful, and charming as a Wes Anderson movie. Check out the Soviet Kitsch album cover for a chuckle, but definitely toss the CD in, along with her latest, Begin to Hope — especially the beloved track "Fidelity" — to realize why we should all be grateful the Soviet Union's politics drove Spektor's family to our shores.

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Cole Haddon