The Cold War in American and British Popular Music
Published by: Indiana University Press
What is the soundtrack for a nuclear war?
During the Cold War, over 500 songs were written about nuclear weapons, fear of the Soviet Union, civil defense, bomb shelters, McCarthyism, uranium mining, the space race, espionage, the Berlin Wall, and glasnost. This music uncovers aspects of these world-changing events that documentaries and history books cannot. In Atomic Tunes, Tim and Joanna Smolko explore everything from the serious to the comical, the morbid to the crude, showing the widespread concern among musicians coping with the effect of communism on American society and the threat of a nuclear conflict of global proportions.
Atomic Tunes presents a musical history of the Cold War, analyzing the songs that capture the fear of those who lived under the shadow of Stalin, Sputnik, mushroom clouds, and missiles.
Introduction: Cold War History in Music and Lyrics
1. Folk: From Paul Robeson to Bob Dylan
2. Folk: Women's Voices
3. Country: The Conservative Stance
4. Novelty and Comedy Songs: The Cold War as a Big Joke
5. Early Rock and Other Styles: Rocking the Bomb
6. Mainstream Rock: Bowie, U2, Sting, Billy Joel, and Springsteen
7. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal: The Electric Guitar as the Bomb
8. Punk Rock: Three Chords and the Apocalypse
9. Electronic and New Wave: The Cold War in a Synthesizer
10. Wind of Change: The Fall of the Wall and the End of the Cold War
Bibliography, Discography, Videography
Atomic Tunes is unparalleled as a sweeping inquiry into popular music's response to the Cold War and the arms race. Tim and Joanna Smolko deftly combine social and political history with musical analysis, stressing that the words and music mattered as artists and listeners tried to make sense of an anxious and confusing time in world history.~Steve Waksman
In Atomic Tunes, Tim and Joanna Smolko have written a long-overdue analysis of Cold War popular music which combines insightful analysis of individual songs and popular musical genres expertly embedded within their political and historical contexts. Their discussions of women's voices, of novelty songs, country and gospel music and other categories are balanced in a way that accommodates many different perspectives, both left wing and right. If you lived through the Cold War or approach it from a historical and musicological perspective, the Smolkos, along with the songs they explore, provide what they call a 'visceral sense of what it was like to live through the Cold War.' A very important work.~Russell Reising
Richly detailed and meticulously researched, Atomic Tunes provides an invaluable contribution to our understanding of Anglo-American popular music in the Cold War era. The book's sweeping survey of songs, ranging from country and comedy to punk and heavy metal, captures all the vivid anxiety, paranoia, fear, fantasy, and dark humor of this vital period of global history, and makes for an endlessly fascinating read.~Theo Cateforis
In this immaculately researched book, Tim and Joanna Smolko examine how Cold War anxieties shaped songs by an incredibly diverse range of musicians—from earnest folkies and jokey rock 'n' rollers, to long-haired metalheads and political punks. The book's scope and thematic range is impressive, and even the biggest fan of this music will discover new insights—and tunes!—through the authors' in-depth discussions of the musical and social significance of these songs. In addressing a major gap in the burgeoning literature on Cold War-era music-making, Atomic Tunes should be essential reading for historians, musicologists, and fans alike.~Nicholas Tochka
Tim and Joanna Smolko's book is a welcome and well-researched study on the role that the Cold War played in American and British popular music. The Smolkos take on topics such as communism and the Red Scare, civil defense, and nuclear fear in a study that places popular and folk music at the center of its contemporary social history in a way no other book has done before. They consider society, politics, race, and place are at the core for understanding the composition and performance of Cold War popular music, from satire to serious. Their book probes the essential questions we likely didn't know we had about the role of music in one of the most fraught eras in world history.~Reba Wissner