The Soundtrack to the Cold War


This post examines the soundtrack of the third part of Strange Days: Cold War Britain: Two Tribes (BBC, 2013).

It may be that Dominic had nothing to do with the soundtrack to Two Tribes.  It might well be that much of it was put together by a BBC soundtrack programme.   But the music should be important since it relates to two central themes of the series.  The first is that it was the permeation of western values, particularly through rock and pop music (along with the frustrated consumerism of the Eastern Bloc) that won the Cold War.  The second is that Cold War anxiety was a determinant of British culture at this time.  So one might expect this to be reflected in the soundtrack.

So, if my ears have this right, the soundtrack in the order it is heard (and missing out what I assume are commissioned or stock pieces used)

1.  Bryan Ferry – You go to my head (1975).  Under the assertion that the Cold War had been going on for a while.  Forgettable Ferry cover of 1930s American standard.

2.  Jan Hammer – Crockett’s Theme  (1984).  The title music.  Music from the Czech/US composer, also the theme to Miami Vice.  Not sure of its relevance here.

3.  Pink Floyd – Welcome to the Machine (1975).  Entry to Brent Cross.  This is really just atmosphere music.

4.  Blue Mink – Good Morning Freedom (1970).  Under Brent Cross.  So the idea here is that shopping = freedom (Orwell would have liked that), but this forgettable 1970s British pop song has no point.

5.  Jonathan Richman – Rockin’ Shopping Centre (c.1975) The music under shopping was our contribution to banishing communism.  The song actually carries the reverse of the meaning to Dominic’s commentary.  Jonathan Richman hates bland shopping centres, they will never get a date with interesting buildings from Paris.  In another song Jonathan tells of his preference for charity shops.

6. Unidentified music behind Soviet Union being a terrible place to go shopping.

7.  Paul McCartney –  Simply having a wonderful Christmas Time (1979).  Comparing British and Soviets at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan.

8.  Mr. Blue Sky – ELO (1977) .  Under Coe v. Ovett.   Why?

9.  A Forest – The Cure (1980)  Background to Olympic boycott.  Why?

10.  Elton John – Are You Ready for Love (1977).  Behind Hurd trying to get mileage out of the boycott.  Again, why?

11.  Roxy Music – Angel Eyes (1979) Behind the Coe-Ovett race.  Why?

12.  Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes. (1981)  Behind the rise of Mrs. T.  Quite stomach churning use of the American hit.

13.  Bernard Herrmann – Thank God For The Rain (1975).  Behind Mrs. T’s anti-communist 1976 speech.  This is really funny, it is from the film Taxi driver, and refers to Travis Bickle’s view of himself as the rain that will wash the scum from the streets.  Mrs. T as an anti-Communist Bickle?

14.  Jeff Wayne – Eve of the War (1978)  Under Mrs. Thatcher the c/w warrior.  Form War of the Worlds, geddit?

15.  Survivor – Eye of the Tiger (theme from Rocky III) (1982)  Behind Reagan horse riding with the Queen in 1982.  (Ironically, the song was commissioned when Stallone failed to gain the rights to use Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust as the film’s theme.)

16.  Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind (1980).  Music behind Mrs. T and Reagan.  Very odd, since this US song is Western themed where the bad guy wins (and, despite the common desire to depict Regan in the old West, he only occasional portrayed cowboys on film).

17.  Simple Minds – Waterfront (1984)  Behind the arrival of cruise missiles in the UK.  The song is about the decline of heavy industry in Glasgow.

18. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes (1984).  Discussion of the song.

19.  Pink Floyd – Terminal Frost (1987).  Behind Dominic quaking in his boots, aged 10, at the thought of nuclear annihilation.  Just atmosphere here.

20.  Pink Floyd – Good bye blue skies (1979).  Behind a 10 year only in 1983 having never been bombed.  From The Wall.  Fits in a way, about the blitz.

21.  U2 – Seconds (1983) About nuclear fears in the 1980s.  Now this does fit, it is about having seconds to say goodbye in the event of nuclear war.

22.   Echo and Bunnymen – the Back of Love (1982).  Just, it would appear, random.

23.  Tears for Fears – Everyone Wants to rule the world (1984/1985).  Under Perestroika.   Slightly mistimed.  The first period (1985-1987) was about changing planning, only in 1987 did free market reform become more important.

24. Roxette – The Look (1989).  Under Thatcher in Moscow in 1987, having, apparently “the look”.

25.  Genesis – Tonight, tonight, tonight (1986, live 1987) and 26. David Bowie – Heroes (1977, live 1987).  Concert for Berlin, 1987.

27. U2 – With or without you (1987). Under the Berlin Wall coming down.  A song about love and conflict, so why?

28.  George Michael – Freedom ’90.  (1990).  Superficially suitable for the Berlin Wall coming down, but it is GM’s coming out song.

29. Tears for Fears – Sowing the seeds of love (1987/1989).  Play out music.  Very odd to play out with this.  Written at the time of the 1987 general election, bemoaning Mrs. T’s success and the decline of radical left-wing music

So very much a missed opportunity there.  The point maybe that there are not as many songs about nuclear anxiety and the Cold War as Dominic’s hypothesis would suggest.  Sting’s Russians, The Fun Boy Three The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum), Morrissey’s Every Day is Like a Sunday (inspired by Neville Shute’s The Beach), Iron Maiden’s Two Minutes to Midnight and Kate Bush’s Breathing, B.A.D.’s E=mc2,. O.M.D.’s Enola Gay and Landscape’s Einstein A-go-go London Calling by the Clash, Duran Duran’s Planet Earth and Ask by the Smiths spring to mind amongst British songs that charted in the 1980s not used in the series.  These hardly overwhelmed the charts in the 1980s.


About Matthew Cooper

This blog is written by Matthew Cooper.
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3 Responses to The Soundtrack to the Cold War

  1. wrinkled weasel says:

    You are giving your age away, Matthew.

    My contribution is “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth.

    You take a mortal man,
    And put him in control
    Watch him become a god,
    Watch peoples heads a’roll

    Just like the Pied Piper
    Led rats through the streets
    We dance like marionettes,
    Swaying to the Symphony…
    Of Destruction

  2. wrinkled weasel says:

    Actually, this is a better video, and probably is the “official” one.

  3. James says:

    I was searching for what the tune near the beginning was, turns out it was Miami Vice. Thanks for the comprehensive track listing!

    Also, I mostly agree with your review of the third part of “Strange Days: Cold War Britain”, but I’m not convinced it matters that most of the music is simply good songs from the period rather than music specifically about the Cold War.

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