Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2016
By Kelly Lundeen
LUCK, WI—Four hours had passed in the Nukewatch office on April 21, 2016. I had been concerned with the scandals and disasters of nuclear weapons when I got a barrage of personal text messages. “I heard Prince passed on. Are you all okay?” Within an hour of the news of his death, I had five text messages in my inbox. I thought, “Why is the death of a pop star so important as to take me away from pondering the impending radioactive holocaust?”
The truth is I love Prince’s music and have been dancing to it since I was five, or maybe younger. But, why should I care? In the office the conversation shifted. “What did Prince have to say about nuclear weapons?” As a five-year-old, I was not cognizant that trying to keep up with my older sister—in musical trends and fascination with Prince—that I was also being exposed to the nuclear hysteria captured in the song “1999.”
“Everybody’s got a bomb / We could all die any day/ But before I’ll let that happen / I’ll dance my life away.”
It was all coming together. Prince had more to say about nuclear weapons than may be expected. Another more obviously political and lesser-known Prince song from 1981, “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” makes a rational appeal to then-President Reagan for diplomacy during the Cold War. In a circus-gospel-rock tune Prince advises:
“Ronnie, talk to Russia before it’s too late / Before they blow up the world… / Dontcha. / Don’t you blow up my world.”
So, came the idea of a list of songs about nuclear weapons and, as it turns out, Nukewatch is not the first to compile such a list. There are far too many songs to include here, but these are some of our favorites—the serious, the depressing and the light-hearted—with an emphasis on the light-hearted. See nukewatchinfo.org for song links!
The Serious “99 Red Balloons,” Nena, 1983
This great 1980s pop song actually had a serious theme more blatantly anti-war in the English version of the song (Nena is German) in which balloons flying over the Berlin Wall (separating the ally-controlled West Germany from the Soviet-controlled East Germany) are taken for missiles provoking a nuclear war.
“Antinuclear,” Miguel Ríos, 1983
A Spanish rock singer wrote a tribute to Norman Mayer called Antinuclear. Mayer was an anti-nuclear protestor who worked to promote a large-scale debate about nuclear disarmament. That was his demand when he threatened to blow up the Washington Monument in 1982. He was killed by police and later found to have no explosives whatsoever. Ríos sang:
“The world wouldn’t listen… [They] made him an anti-nuclear martyr.” (KL translation)
“No More Weapons,” Steel Pulse, 2004
A roots reggae band better known for their anti-racist music directs this message to the former US president:
“There’s no time to beat around the BUSH…We no want no weapons of mass destruction.”
“Point Hope,” Indigo Girls, 2005
This folk song highlights the nuclear war the US government has waged here at home against indigenous people at the Nevada nuclear test site.
“We sit and watch the bombs blow… Them governmen boys had something so damn secret they had to hide it in the desert sand.”
The Ominous “The Priests of the Golden Bull,” Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1992
Cree rock singer Buffy Sainte-Marie tells us who wins and who loses the nuclear war.
“Who brought the Bomb wrapped up in business cards / and stained with steak? / Reservations are the nuclear frontline; uranium poisoning kills / You say silver burns a hole in your pocket / and gold burns a hole in your soul / Well Uranium burns a hole in forever / it just gets out of control.”
“Breathing,” Kate Bush, 1980
This eerie ballad is sung from the perspective of a fetus considering the polluted and radioactive world it will be born into pleading, “Leave me something to breathe! We are all going to die without…breathing.”
The Light-Hearted “Party at Ground Zero,” Fishbone, 1985
Referring to the original meaning of Ground Zero as the site of a nuclear explosion, this ska song may well be played at the Last Party along with “1999.”
“Johnny, go get your gun, for the commies are in our hemisphere today / Ivan, go fly your MIG, for the Yankee imperialists have come to play.”
“Atomic Nightmare,” Talbot Brothers of Bermuda, 1987
While Prince’s reflection on imminent nuclear war was urging for cool heads and dancing, the Talbot Brothers of Bermuda have another response captured in this upbeat calypso tune:
“Oh, you’ll run, run, run like a son of a gun / I don’t know where I’m going to go, but I’m really going to run.”
“Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades,” Timbuk3, 1986
References to nuclear annihilation were lost when this pop hit became the theme song for the 1980s sitcom “Head of the Class.” Only in the music video do these references become clear as it shows the nuclear flash marking an end to humankind with the synical twist that sunglasses might serve as protection.
“I’m doing all right, getting good grades / The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”
“So Long Mom, I’m Off to Drop the Bomb,” Tom Lehrer, 1965
The sarcastic lyrics to this piano tune say it all:
“But though I may roam, / I’ll come back to my home, / Although it may be / A pile of debris. / Remember, mommy, / I’m off to get a commie, / So send me a salami, / And try to smile / somehow.”
Nuclear Sí, Aviador Dro, 1979
A post-apocalyptic world is described in this song from the Spanish electronic band Aviador Dro which translates to “Nuclear, Yes!”
“Nuclear, yes! / Of course / Nuclear, yes! / Why not? / I want to bathe in seas of radiation / With clouds of strontium, cobalt and plutonium / I want to have lead casings / And mutant children riding motorcycles.” (KL translation)
After the last song has played, the only difference between a light-hearted and an ominous song about nuclear weapons is the tune and the tone. At Nukewatch the depressing guides us, while the light-hearted keeps us going. Rock on!