What should I put on this mix tape, and whose work will remind me of Arthur Russell?
June 2, 2011 9:35 AM   Subscribe

A two-fer about eighties music - I'm looking for eighties songs about the cold war, Reagan, Thatcher, US foreign policy, etc. Also looking for music I'll enjoy if I like eighties cellist composer guy Arthur Russell.

I'm working on a mix tape of music with an eighties cold war feeling - especially left/alternative/punk/post-punk/experimental songs. So far, I'm including a song by Sisters of Mercy, both the Seven Seconds and the Nena versions of "99 Red Balloons", some Dead Kennedys (probably "Terminal Preppy" and "Kill the Poor"), Billy Bragg's "To Have and Have Not", plus some more obscure songs about the 1984 Miners' Strike, plus a few songs that just feel Cold War to me - Lene Lovich's "Let's Go To Your Place", for example.

(Not really looking for Peter Gabriel/U2 - level radio pop, even if big and important.)

What songs say "Cold War" to you? They need not be directly about nuclear war, Russia and so on - but they should strongly convey the mood of the Reagan/Thatcher eighties.

As part of this project, I've been listening to some Arthur Russell, whose work seems to capture the end of the seventies and the start of the AIDS epidemic. I really, really like Arthur Russell - the way his cello sort of squeaks and wanders, the way his voice is croaky or sometimes thready and his lyrics allusive and melancholy, the way even his dance tracks are sort of cerebral. Who else should I listen to?
posted by Frowner to Media & Arts (67 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Even though you said you weren't looking for big pop:
"Russians," Sting
"It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," R.E.M.

And you forgot:
"We've Got a Bigger Problem Now," The Dead Kennedys
posted by entropicamericana at 9:39 AM on June 2, 2011

The Ramones' "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" springs to mind...
posted by Crane Shot at 9:41 AM on June 2, 2011

Rocking in the Free World by Neil Young.
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:42 AM on June 2, 2011

"Two Tribes" Frankie Goes to Hollywood
"Land of Illusion" Genesis
posted by Billiken at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cold War: Conflict, "From Protest to Resistance."

Miner's Strike and general Thatcherism: Test Department's album The Unacceptable Face of Freedom, especially Statement and Fuckhead

Also, check out the Let Them Eat Jellybeans and P.E.A.C.E. compilation.
posted by googly at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2011

Not sure about the lyrics since I've not heard the song in a while, but the video for Genesis' Land of Confusion is about as politically 80s as they get. With puppets!
posted by uaudio at 9:44 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can't have a mix-tape about the cold war and NOT include 99 Red Balloons. You can even choose between German and English
posted by zizzle at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2011

The Fletcher Memorial Home by Pink Floyd
posted by The Deej at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2011

President Gas by the Psychedelic Furs
posted by Leontine at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gods of War by Def Leppard.

End of the Innocence by Don Henley.

(Sorry, I'm at work and can't do the YouTubes linkies.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:51 AM on June 2, 2011

As per the Arthur Russell type music, you may want to check out Walter Gibbons, This Heat, Ted Berry's Downtown Loft Music. I know there is a lot more stuff I could be recommending but I can't think of it right now (when it comes to me Ill be sure to post!).

Liquid Liquid, Konk, Lizzy Mercer Declousex and others of the no-wave dance scene could be up your alley as well....
posted by Dauus at 9:52 AM on June 2, 2011

Also, "Lives in the Balance" by Jackson Browne.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:52 AM on June 2, 2011

Prince's "Ronnie, Talk to Russia"
posted by ifjuly at 9:52 AM on June 2, 2011

19 by Paul Hardcastle, though about Vietnam, came out in the 80s and has that odd combination of war theme and dance pop that reminds me of that decade and the cold war mood.

And then there's President Reagan's Birthday Present by The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy (sorry it's a short sample - there are in fact lyrics).
posted by dywypi at 9:53 AM on June 2, 2011

REM: Ignoreland
posted by davebush at 9:59 AM on June 2, 2011

Ultravox's Dancing with Tears in My Eyes is a song about preparing for nuclear armageddon. The video drives it home.
posted by jessamyn at 10:00 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Minutemen - Courage
posted by dunkadunc at 10:02 AM on June 2, 2011

Oh: The Minutemen - If Reagan Played Disco
posted by dunkadunc at 10:03 AM on June 2, 2011

Sinead O'Connor's Black Boys on Mopeds would probably fit the bill.

The first 30 minutes or so of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Welcome To The Pleasure Dome" would also be a rich trove, I think.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:04 AM on June 2, 2011

Not 80's, but definitely put Josh Ritter's wonderful The Temptation of Adam on there.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:07 AM on June 2, 2011

US foreign policy:
Bruce Cockburn's Stealing Fire LP
The Clash - "Washington Bullets"
posted by hydrophonic at 10:08 AM on June 2, 2011

Hammer to Fall by Queen.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:09 AM on June 2, 2011

This one is mildly cold-war in lyrics but has the right feel, I think: David Bowie's "This is not America" from the soundtrack to the 1985 movie "The Falcon and the Snowman."

This is the wrong answer, but for a laugh: Elton John's "Nikita." The line goes something like, "a human heart captive in the snow..."

A good Thatcher one is Elvis Costello's "Tramp the Dirt Down."
posted by xo at 10:11 AM on June 2, 2011

Oh! Oh, someone mentioned Bruce Cockburn's Stealing Fire, which reminded me in particular of his songs "Lovers In A Dangerous Time" and "Wondering Where The Lions Are". Which are more hopeful responses to the Cold War, but you may want to lighten the mood here and there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on June 2, 2011

Shattered Faith - I Love America
DOA - Fucked Up Ronnie
The Clash - Charlie Don't Surf, Straight To Hell
Crass - Contaminational Power, Systematic Death
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:19 AM on June 2, 2011

The Sound--New Dark Age, Missiles

Fad Gadget--Fireside Favourite, The Sheep Look Up

Nomeansno--More ICBMs
posted by Vervain at 10:19 AM on June 2, 2011

Also From XTC:

Generals and Majors
Making Plans for Nigel
I Remember the Sun

Martin Newell -

Wicked Witch
posted by mollweide at 10:20 AM on June 2, 2011

Bowie's When the Wind Blows from the film of the same name. First Youtube vid I found for the title search was this clip from the movie and it made me very, very sad again.
posted by merocet at 10:24 AM on June 2, 2011

Stand Down, Margaret - The English Beat
posted by Leontine at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2011

Party At Ground Zero - Fishbone
Margaret On The Guillotine - Morrissey
Lawyers In Love - Jackson Browne

This might be too big pop for you, but Prince's 1999 definitely comes to mind.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:30 AM on June 2, 2011

Reagan Youth - Reagan Youth
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:32 AM on June 2, 2011

oh, and the Goldfinger version of 99 Red Balloons is WAY superior to that 7 Seconds version.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:34 AM on June 2, 2011

Joy Division, Ice Age
Young Marble Giants, Final Day
Leonard Cohen, First We Take Manhattan
Gang of Four, 5.45
The Cure, One Hundred Years
posted by cirripede at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2011

The Specials - Maggie's Farm
posted by reverend cuttle at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2011

Regarding the cold-war mixtape question -

Almost all of the early Chumbawamba catalog would fit the bill. (Including a lot of their stuff through the mid 90s, if you're not too particular about recording dates and occasional mention of more recent events - a fair bit of it feels very 80s.)

Also, anything by Scritti Politti, though especially the Songs to Remember album, assuming you like your politics obfuscated and your punk syrupy. (I don't think I'd be capable of making an 80s mixtape that doesn't include either "Lions After Slumber" or "The Sweetest Girl.")

And of course there's Talking Heads, which is obvious and a bit early. But, it's certainly among the best things that existed during the decade and, if not overtly political, it's at least grounded in a world that extends beyond teenage romance. (Several things from More Songs about Cities and Food or Fear or Music could work.)
posted by eotvos at 10:59 AM on June 2, 2011

Was (Not Was). "tell me that I'm dreaming" has a big sample of Reagan in it. The Specials "Ghost town" is anti Thatcher. Russel did some work on sleeping bag records. Dinasour L "GO BANG!" (love that track) "Jah Wobble and the invaders of the heart"? may fit's the aesthetic a bit.

I wish there were more like Arthur Russel.
posted by jade east at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love the world by New Model Army fits your criteria.
posted by umbú at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2011

My favorite song about Thatcher is Momus's Sex for the Disabled.
posted by perhapses at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2011

Response by poster: These are all so great! Even the songs I've heard before are ones I hadn't considered.

(I do like Scritti Politti, although mostly Early rather than Songs To Remember.)
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2011

U2, "Seconds":

"And they're doing the atomic bomb
Do they know where the dance comes from
Yes they're doing the atomic bomb
They want you to sing along
Say goodbye, say goodbye
Say goodbye"
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:52 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eighties by Killing Joke

Life in a Northern Town by The Dream Academy (Wikipedia says it's a song about Nick Drake but it seems thematically closer to Ghost Town)
posted by vespabelle at 12:02 PM on June 2, 2011

I don't know that there is anyone else like Arthur Russell. Part of that may be because he made such a wide range of music, but his unique voice and melodic sense come through whether he's doing disco or country-folk. I would be interested to hear what people might recommend, though, but I've never found anything I'd consider similar. (Instead, I've just chased down all the A.R. recordings that I could possibly find, and there are apparently still more tapes containing unreleased material.)
posted by statolith at 12:04 PM on June 2, 2011

Tangentially related but this list of 80s songs might be good inspiration.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:08 PM on June 2, 2011

Recently I've been obsessed with Bow Wow Wow whose deep cuts are delightful Afropunk albeit a little punker than Arthur Russell.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:51 PM on June 2, 2011

Maybe it's implied by the question, but Arthur Russell did two mixes of 5 minutes by Bonzo Goes to Washington (Jerry Harrison and Bootsy Collins). It's on the Sleeping Bag sessions.
posted by mike_bling at 12:57 PM on June 2, 2011







posted by Herodios at 1:34 PM on June 2, 2011

Also Shipbuilding by either Elvis Costello or Robert Wyatt.
posted by Herodios at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jame Blood Ulmer did some work in the 1980s that might fit the bill, notably on Are You Glad To Be In America? (1980) and America, Do You Remember The Love? (1987)
posted by Herodios at 1:45 PM on June 2, 2011

On Jethro Tull's "A" album(1980) there's "Flyingdale Flyer" and "Protect and Survive". On the Under Wraps album (1982) there's "Radio Free Moscow", "Nobody's Car", and "General Crossing" I don't think Ian Anderson much cared for Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbechev.
posted by Gungho at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2011

Depeche Mode - People Are People
posted by knile at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2011

I've always enjoyed the 80s compilation album Life in the European Theater. It was released in 1982 to raise awareness about the dangers of Nuclear Power. Not all the tracks are from the 80s, but it has that political je ne sais quoi you seem to be seeking.

The Clash - London Calling
The Jam - Little Boy Soldiers
The Beat – I Am Your Flag
The Specials – Man At C & A
XTC – Living Through Another Cuba
Peter Gabriel – I Don't Remember
The Doors – Peace Frog
Madness – Grey Day
Bad Manners – Psychedelic Eric
The Stranglers – Nuclear Device
Undertones, The – It's Going To Happen
Echo & The Bunnymen – All That Jazz
Au Pairs – Diet
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:00 PM on June 2, 2011

LAX, "Ronnie's Song", a manic yet strangely mournful tune.
posted by adipocere at 5:04 PM on June 2, 2011

Are you familiar with The The? Would pair well with The Clash, I think.

Thatcherite England's decline: "Heartland"

"This is the land where nothing changes
The land of red buses and blue blooded babies
This is the place where pensioners are raped
And the hearts are being cut from the welfare state"

War: "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)"

"It's war, she cried
It's war, she cried
This is war
Drop your possessions all you simple folk
You'll fight them on the beaches in your underclothes
You'll thank the good Lord for raising the Union Jack
You'll watch the ships sail out of harbour
And the bodies come floating back
Watch the ships sail out of harbour
And the bodies come floating back"

More war: "Sweet Bird of Truth"

"Six o'clock in the morning and I'm the last person in this plane still awake
Y'know I can almost smell the blood washing against the shores of this land that can't forget it's past
Oh the wind that carries this plane is the wind of change, heaven sent and hell bent
Over the mountain tops we go, just like all the other GI Joe's, adios
This is your captain calling (With an urgent warning), we're above the gulf of Arabia (Our altitude is falling)
And I can't hold her up (There's no time for thinking), all hands on deck (This bird is sinking)"
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:27 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh my God, how could I have forgotten The Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir covering "Sweet Home Alabama"? Technically a 1994 concert, but I think it speaks volumes of how music can bring together people of vastly different backgrounds. And, y'know, because of the looks on some of these guys' faces, yes, these guys who knew the Cold War in a very personal sense and who are now jamming their asses off to good old deviant American rock 'n' roll.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:33 PM on June 2, 2011

underrated cold-war zeitgeist video:

Men At Work: It's a Mistake
posted by ovvl at 8:30 PM on June 2, 2011

A few from an Aussie/Kiwi perspective:

Midnight Oil: US Forces
Blam Blam Blam: No Depression in New Zealand
Herbs: French Letter
Shona Laing: Soviet Snow

For an end of the Cold War track, nothing tops the Fatima Mansions: Blues for Ceaucescu
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:23 AM on June 3, 2011

Steel Pulse - Earth Crisis
posted by EiderDuck at 4:26 AM on June 3, 2011

Reaganomix and Wars In Space by Beefeater.
posted by eddydamascene at 12:25 AM on June 4, 2011

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