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The Nuclear Threat and Anti-war songs of the 80s


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Living under the nuclear threat was a justifiable concern to most people in the 80's, and it is no real surprise that it featured in many popular songs of the 80's. While some focused solely on the nuclear stand-off between the USSR and the US, others took simpler approaches to sing generic anti-war songs

The Nuclear Threat
  • Two Tribes, Frankie Goes To Hollywood
  • Screaming Jets, Johnny Warman
  • 1999, Prince
  • Apocalypso, Mental As Anything
  • 99 Luft Ballons, Nena lyrics
  • Red Sails in the Sunset, Midnight Oil
  • Minutes to Midnight, Midnight Oil
  • Sweet Bird Of Truth, The The
  • Russians, Sting
  • Underneath The Radar, Underworld
  • London Calling, The Clash
  • Life On Your Own, The Human League
  • Der Kommisar, After The Fire/Falco
  • Planet Earth, Duran Duran
  • Living Through Another Cuba, XTC
  • Love Missile F1-11, Sigue Sigue Sputnik
  • Dancing With Tears in my Eyes, Ultravox
  • Enola Gay, OMD
  • Red Skies at Night, The Fixx
Anti-war songs
  • 19, Paul Hardcastle
  • Army Dreamers, Kate Bush
  • Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
  • Games Without Frontiers, Peter Gabriele
  • I was only 19, Red Gum
  • It's a Mistake, Men at Work
  • It's The End Of The World As We Know It, REM
  • Killing an Arab, The Cure*
  • Oliver's Army, Elvis Costello
  • Orange Crush, REM
  • Ship of Fools, World Party
  • Shipbuilding, Elvis Costello
  • Stop The Cavalry, Jona Lewie
  • The Walls Came Down, The Call
  • The War Song, Culture Club
  • Why Can't We Live Together, Sade
*There are no doubts that Killing an Arab was inspired by the book 'The Stranger' by Camus. However, the song needs to be considered on its own merits. When separated from the book, the lyrics take on very anti-war themes. The song was released in early 1979, which this site considers to be part of the 80s.

In addition to being the central message in many hit songs, smaller messages appeared as passing references in other music.
  • The Reflex, Duran Duran
  • Wild Wild West, The Escape Club
  • I like Chinese, Monty Python ('The World today seems absolutely crackers. Nuclear bombs could blow us all sky high.')
The Red Herrings
People were so obsessed about the atomic threat that songs with references to armageddon or those which used nuclear images were often taken to be about nuclear war - even when the lyrics showed otherwise: for example The Final Countdown by Europe where the lyrics show it is about space flight:

"We're heading for Venus and we stand tall....
With so many light years to go and things to be found"

Another is Blondie's Atomic which is a 'love' song. The only association is probably the metaphor of a sudden release of energy - Atomic is more accurately described as a song about seduction and orgasm (which would describe the lack of structured lyrics):

"Uh-ha, make me tonight"
"Tonight. Make it right"
"Oh ah ha, make it magnificent"
"Aah aaaah...atomic"
"Aah aaaah...atomic"
"Your hair is beautiful ... whoa whoa tonight"

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