In light of the Russian Winter Olympics coming up and the odd ‘human rights’ controversy – here is a little history-trivia from way back in 1980 when Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics. Yes, 34 years ago. Time sure does fly!
First a small overview of the geopolitical backdrop of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The US and some other countries boycotted those Olympics in Moscow as a protest against the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in that same year. Quite ironic on a number of levels in light of various recent histories.
In the late 1970’s, two German-based pop-music groups released Russian-themed disco songs that shot up in the charts to #1. The timing of the release of their respective songs in 1978 and 1979 could suggest that they were capitalising on Western public interest in Russia because of the upcoming 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
The song “Moscow” by Genghis Khan became a one-hit-wonder for the group and it managed to hit #1 on the charts in the UK and Australia, among other countries.
Boney-M were more successful as a band and they also released a Russian-themed song, “Rasputin”, which was about the well known historical figure from pre-revolution Imperial Russia.
Both songs were major disco hits between 1978 and 1980.
The song “Moscow” by Genghis Khan – combined typical 1970’s disco sounds with Russian folk-rhythms and dance moves in the video clip. However it was banned in the USSR at the time as anti-communist, perhaps because it sounded as if it was mocking Moscow, although reading the lyrics it was more flattering than mocking with words such as “Moscow – City of mystery, so full of history, noble and old.” Regardless, it was deemed inappropriate at the time. These days the song is seen by some sentimentalists as a flattering tribute to Moscow.
The song “Rasputin” by Boney-M, was even a bigger hit than “Moscow”. However it too was not welcome in the USSR. Therefore Boney-M was barred from playing it during their 1978 concerts in Moscow. It wasn’t released on their USSR released records either. Maybe the lyrics in “Rasputin” recalled a history that the regime at the time did not want repeated to the Russian public.
As a side note of similar trivia regarding banned songs in that era, the song “Bangkok” by Murray Head released in 1984 was banned in Thailand as it was deemed offensive to the city of Bangkok since it described it in less than flattering terms and was considered as counter-productive for tourism. Little did they realise that it would make Bangkok more interesting to the youth-travelers rather than less.
In all the above cases, if any or all of the songs were mocking the song subjects, then it should be noted that at times mocking is a form of flattery.
These days there are far more serious controversies in the world than songs with questionable lyrics, but it’s clear that history does repeat itself. It’s just repackaged each time it’s repeated.
All songs mentioned above are available to view on youtube and to purchase on major song-download sites. Enjoy!