Bands and Balalaikas

If there was ever a song to represent the euphoric hope which existed near the end of the Soviet Union and Cold War, “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions from the album Crazy World would be that song. Written shortly after and based upon a music festival where the Scorpions performed in Moscow, Russia, “Wind of Change” is a power ballad expressing the experiences of connection and societal shifts occurring at the time.

The central theme present throughout “Wind of Change” is that changing circumstances and situations over time will inevitably result in larger societal changes, as the dreams and expectations of individuals shift inexorably. These changes, although sometimes drastic and wide-ranging, will generally tend towards being beneficial to those populations by allowing greater interpersonal connection. The song seems to deepen the experience of optimism and hope which permeated throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War, taken from an outsider’s perspective. Although the audience for the song seems to be music audiences from the West, and especially English-speaking audiences, the song’s more primary purpose seems to be in communicating its themes of change and experiences of hope to populations in the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the first verse of the song, the Scorpions use symbolism of the “wind of change” and vivid imagery to convey the sense of how societal changes have made their way through every aspect of life in Moscow and which are visible to even outside observers. The speaker sings,

I follow the Moskva

Down to Gorky Park

Listening to the wind of change

An August summer night

Soldiers passing by

Listening to the wind of change

The usage of “Moskva”, “Gorky Park”, and “Soldiers passing by” specifically create an image of a traveller going down the Moskva River through a controlled Moscow. This relatively calm setting is disrupted by an intermittent “Listening to the wind of change”, emphasizing how far that “wind of change” has seeped into the surrounding setting that it can not be ignored any longer. This idea is also reinforced by the usage of “wind” as the purveyor of change in the whole song – unless an individual lives underground or underwater, there is no way to escape the wind or what it brings. Therefore, everyone will take notice of changes occurring in the fundamental relationships of society, from visitors to soldiers.

The song directly addresses the audience with two rhetorical questions in the second verse to emphasize how the situation that the speaker and audience find each other in is entirely novel, and was essentially unthinkable until recently. This seems to parallel the dynamics between the West and East near the end of the Cold War, especially as the nations began to form more open and frequent connections. The speaker sings in the second verse,

The world is closing in

And did you ever think?

That we could be so close?

Like brothers

The two rhetorical questions quite literally emphasize how the societal changes occurring were inconceivable until recently and the new connections that outsiders are making with the population of Moscow. They also serve a dual purpose in making clear the intended audience of populations behind the Iron Curtain, as well as making it even clearer that the speaker is generally based upon the Scorpions themselves. Another notable line within this verse is, “Like brothers”, which also emphasizes the connection made between the speaker and the audience to the extent that they seem like siblings.

Though not directly related to the language, one other thing I would like to point out about this verse is how Klaus Meine sings it. His inflections and pitch of the rhetorical questions are nearly identical to the corresponding matter-of-fact lines from the first verse, which might seem to somewhat imply that the current situation would have been simultaneously inconceivable in the past and inevitable.

The ideas present in the second and third verses are tied fairly close together, with personification used to emphasize the idea that it would be inconceivable to stay stuck or beholden to the memories of the past, the inverse of the idea emphasized in the second verse. The speaker sings,

Walking down the street

And distant memories

Are buried in the past forever

Here, the lines “distant memories” being “buried in the past” emphasize how even though the current connections being made seemed inconceivable before, the memories of the past are now being stripped of their influence for better or worse. With changes in society come changes in how the past is viewed and interpreted and sometimes even remembered. Another notable device in the verse is the diction used for the words to describe the memories, being “distant”, “buried”, and “forever”, further emphasizing the large gulf between the past and present even if it was not necessarily too long ago.

“Wind of Change” by the Scorpions is simply powerful and powerfully simple. Through careful multilayered usage of symbolism, metaphor, and diction, the song conveys the indescribable atmosphere of joy and hope present near the end of the Cold War with large structural societal changes imminent. It emphasizes the seeming inconceivability and inevitability of such shifts and the interpersonal connections formed as a result. It has touched generations and will continue to connect with people in the future as a power ballad of hope, optimism, and change.

2 thoughts on “Bands and Balalaikas

  1. Cory Y

    A few other notes about “Wind of Change” that may be interesting to some:
    There’s a really well-produced podcast about the conspiracy that the song was written by the CIA, also titled “Wind of Change”. If you’re interested, give the first episode a listen. However, if the blog post above is anything to go by, it seems unlikely.
    Scorpions is a German band, but they sing English songs.
    The guitar solo is really cool. Maybe I need to listen to more guitar solos, but this one’s triumphant, explosive, and awesome. The ending where the harmony springs off of the melody to build up tension, ultimately being resolved by the return of the chorus is incredible.

    Like

  2. Cory Y

    The other big question about “Wind of Change” is whether its themes and experiences correspond with the present day. That is, if the optimism and hope present within the song actually translate to what happened in reality. Good arguments could be made for both sides, but I think the most important idea which “Wind of Change” does not explicitly deal with is the idea that change is a continuous and driven process which does not continue or sustain itself without the efforts of people driving it. The description of a “wind of change” seems to imply the inevitability of change (which, depending on if you’re a determinist or not, may actually ring true to you), but change is often a process which does not occur without concerted effort from those who want to enact it. The arc of the moral universe only bends when it is compelled to do so.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s