The Musicians Who Scared the Soviet Union in the '80s

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In 1985, leaders of the Komsomol, the youth arm of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, released a list of 38 bands that were considered threatening to good communist kids of the time. The Komsomol was made up of 14- to 24-year-olds, and by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, membership was essentially mandatory for students. Its membership peaked at 40 million members.

The bands on the Komsomol’s hit list were banned from being played at discos or over the radio for various infractions, including “punk” and “myth of the Soviet military threat.”

“The following is an approximate list of foreign music groups and artists whose repertoires contain ideologically harmful compositions,” the message that accompanies the list reads (as translated by Alexei Yurchak in his book, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More). “This information is recommended for the purpose of intensifying the control over the activities of discotheques.”

The Village People in London in 1980. So violent. Image Credit: Getty Images

The Village People

were considered a threat because of violence—but strangely not of homosexuality, as boogie rock band Canned Heat was. The Talking Heads were accused of perpetuating the “myth of the Soviet military threat,” while Pink Floyd’s 1983 album The Final Cut was singled out for “distortion of Soviet foreign policy” (specifically, the song “Get Your Filthy Hands off My Desert” for its alleged misrepresentation of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan—it features the lyric “Brezhnev took Afghanistan”). Judas Priest was called out for racism; Tina Turner for sex; Spanish singer Julio Iglesias for neofascism. While some singers were accused of eroticism (Donna Summer), others apparently sang about sex without being erotic?

See the full list of bands here or in Yurchak’s book.