How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Listen to Cold War Recordings


A few weeks ago I picked up a collection of music called “Atomic Platters”, which contains 4 CDs packed with tracks from the height of the Cold War. Primarily from the 1950s (though ranging from the 40s to the 60s), these tracks are often explicit reactions to the threats of nuclear devastation.

Having grown up in the final, fatalistic stages of the Cold War (the 70s and 80s, for those just realizing how old I am), these songs and PSAs gave me nostalgia dissonance. On the one hand, I identify strongly with the persistent threat of atomic annihilation. Hell, popular media made it seem inevitable.

But all of these tracks were recorded (and most forgotten) long before my birth. The references, the musical styles — so much is unfamiliar to me. The one track that feels like part of my youth is “We Will All Go Together (When We Go)” by the great Tom Lehrer. My friends and I “discovered” the wry songster in high school, so his music is as integral to my makeup as that of Dead Kennedys, Oingo Boingo, or the many British Invasion bands my brother introduced me to.

As I listened to the set, driving to and from work, I noticed trends in themes, messages, and references. Being unable to simply enjoy anything, I decided to do a breakdown of all of this data. Being a lazy bastard, I did it from memory.

Here then is my woefully unscientific analysis of my impression of a bunch of audio tracks packaged by others using undisclosed methodologies. As they say on the psychic ads, “for entertainment purposes only.”

(There is a vague connection between order and occurrence. The higher an entry is, the more often I recall it coming up. So, “Religion” was the most frequent topic, with “You’d better pray” popping up more often than “God’s Nuclear Wrath”. In my recollection, at least…)

  1. Religion
    1. You’d better pray
      1. For your soul, because we’re all going to die
      2. For God to prevent nuclear holocaust
    2. God’s nuclear wrath
      1. Will be visited on the Communists
        1. In Russia
        2. On Stalin/Brezhnev
        3. Everywhere
      2. Will kill us all
        1. Judgement Day
        2. Flood of fire
      3. C. Atheism = Communism
  2. Romance
    1. Metaphors
      1. You are a bomb
      2. Our love is a bomb
      3. She is a bomb
      4. I am a bomb
      5. Love spins like a satellite
    2. We’ll die together
    3. I love you even though you’re radioactive/mutated
    4. I was duped by a sexy communist
    5. I’m sending you to Russia
  3. Humor
    1. Gallows
      1. We’re all going to die
    2. Communism
      1. Communists enjoy our freedoms while visiting
      2. Communists kill each other
      3. Stalin is a punk
    3. Uranium mining
      1. I/They haven’t found anything
  4. Sincere*
    1. Public Service Announcements
      1. Know the CONELRAD stations
      2. Stock food
      3. Prepare/locate shelter
    2. U!S!A!
      1. Communists don’t know our freedoms
      2. Communists seek to destroy
      3. We must defend our way of life
      4. Protesting helps the Communists
    3. Public figures
      1. Pro
        1. Senator McCarthy
        2. President Eisenhower
        3. General MacArthur
        4. Francis Gary Powers (U2 pilot shot down over Russia)
      2. Con
        1. Joseph Stalin
        2. Nikita Khrushchev
        3. Leonid Brezhnev
        4. Senator McCarthy
        5. President Truman
        6. President Kennedy
  5. Outliers
    1. Dancing
      1. Dance names with Cold War references
        1. Uranium
        2. Atomic, Atom Bomb, A-Bomb, etc.
        3. Sputnik
      2. Behind the Iron Curtain
      3. While the bombs fall
    2. War
      1. Korea must be crushed
      2. Washington needs to be invaded
    3. Equality
      1. We need equal rights to unite against communists
    4. Love Thine Enemy
      1. Calm down, Russia. We used to be friends.
    5. Instructional Song
      1. Duck and Cover

*The majority of the religious songs are sincere, but since religion is the predominant theme they were given their own top-level category. The Sincere category represents everything else once the religious songs are pulled out.

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