Music has always been a phenomenally successful way to bridge political divides. At the height of the Cold War, western audiences continued to embrace Soviet performances of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, but it was also a two way street.
While Russian classical music as well as the songs of the Alexandrov Choir have always been popular in the west, many forget that the rock music originating from the English speaking world, also captured the hearts of young people throughout Russia.
Here are the five bands from the west that rocked the Soviet Union and continue to thrill Russian audiences to this day.
1. Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep are considered among the four founders of ‘hard rock’ and some would even say heavy metal. Along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep brought a heavy sound combined with compelling harmonies and neo-classical elements to audiences the world over.
Their music became tremendously popular in the Soviet Union even as the band fell on difficult times in the early 1980s.
By 1987, Uriah Heep were back in business with a revitalised line-up and they were ready to be embraced by a country that had never seen them live ever before.
They played 10 consecutive sold-out nights at Moscow’s Olympic Stadium in 1987. The band were on form and the audience loved it.
True to the Dickensian character for which they were named, the band were humble and enjoyed every moment. No egos were on stage nor back stage, just five rockers who loved the audience as much as the young audience loved them.
It was a milestone and IT ROCKED!
2. Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s deeply political lyrics challenged the western status quo for years. In spite of this, they became best selling artists throughout the world.
In 1989, on their first tour minus creative mastermind Roger Waters, Pink Floyd played their first ever show in Moscow.
This was significant not only because Pink Floyd were one of the biggest bands in the world, but because Pink Floyd’s state show was the most elaborate of any major touring band.
In the 1980s, Russians got to see just what the fuss was all about. Pink Floyd brought their entire show complete with lights, cameras and action to the heart of Moscow. They didn’t hold back and neither did the exuberant audience.
For decades, the video footage of Pink Floyd in the USSR was thought to have be lost, however a slightly blurred but still decent version has very recently surfaced and is posted below.
Not to be outdone by his former band-mates, Roger Waters came to Russia with a vengence in 2011 (after bringing a less elaborate tour to Russia in 2002) and even had a local school children participate in his epic production of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.
In America, UB40 are best remembered for their cover of the Neil Diamond song ‘Red, Red Wine’, but in Britain the band were noted for their scathing political reggae-rock songs which raged against the neo-liberal economics of Margaret Thatcher who was no friend of Russia.
In Moscow in 1986, UB40 bridged a gap and spread their unique, some would say socialist message to Soviet audiences who at times were more attentive than some western audiences to the heartfelt message the band conveyed.
4. Deep Purple
Deep Purple are simply one of the best hard rock bands by any standard. Their fusion of classical music, blues, rock n’ roll and even soul continues to captivate audiences throughout the world.
Russians took to Deep Purple early on, but it was in fact only after the end of the USSR that Purple first came to Russia.
In 1996, Deep Purple were welcomed to Russia where they played show-stopping sets to audiences that included future Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev was a life long Deep Purple fan and it was at his insistence that Deep Purple were invited to play the first ever rock show INSIDE the Kremlin in the year 2008.
The band spoke of their joy and honour to play at such an occasion.
Although they weren’t the first hard rock band to play Russia, they were the first to rock the Kremlin.
How many others countries can say that one of the best bands in history played in the seat of political power???
Deep Purple founder Ritchie Blackmore is also a regular in post-Soviet Russia. Here you can see him in an exclusive interview with RT talking music, philosophy and more.
In 1991, the world-famous hard rock/heavy metal festival Monsters of Rock came to Tushino Airfield in Moscow to play in front of over a million people. In addition to AC/DC’s headlining performance the large festival also featured American rockers Metallica, Black Crows and Pantera.
Maintaining order with such a large audience would be difficult under the best of conditions and as it was, 1991 was one of the most turbulent years in Russian history. The concert took place shortly before the end of the Soviet Union.
What better way to chill things out than inviting AC/DC? Maybe not the best decision, but the band rocked and in spite of difficulty in controlling the massive audience, most people did have a great time…certainly a memorable one.
Asia were one of the staples on MTV in the 1980s. The prog-rockers turned arena-rockers were unstoppable during much of the decade of Gorbachev and Reagan.
In 1990, the super-group which featured former members of King Crimson, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer came to Moscow in a unique performance that captures an enthusiastic audience inter-spliced with scenes of Moscow life in the late Soviet era.
If only lame western politicians were as cool as the rock bands…then again, that’s why rock has always been about rebellion!