The Infinite Jukebox: The Scorpions’ ‘Wind of Change’

This is almost the perfect recording. A Hard Rock band, and a German one at that, singing in stilted English, a rock power ballad designed to have people in football stadiums holding cigarette lighters above their heads, a politely designed guitar solo modulated to demonstrate both your rock cred and your safety to sixty year old bosses, and awkwardly pitched lyrics intoning on a nebulous theme of change in the most obvious of fashions. No, seriously, it all adds up to something that might have been designed to my personal prejudices to be something I can loathe in my very guts.
So why does it give those guts a sucker-punch that sends my spirits soaring every time I hear it?
You could describe it as a bandwagon-hopper, or a soppy and sententious attempt to describe, in non-specific terms, the turning pages of history, and you’d be right. And you can claim that it caught the spirit of the times, the fragility of possibility in a time when no-one knew what the world would turn into, and were fearfully hopeful of a shift away from the decades of underlying fear.
You could charge that it chose to depict this moment by the reference to the biggest cliché of them all, and you could see and dream of the blowing away of clouds and darkness that had overhung our existence, by a hope-to-God irresistible wind, like smoke dispersed from factory chimneys.
And all these contradictions would be true descriptions of the very early 1990s, and somehow, for all its lowest common denominator crudity, ‘Wind of Change’ and The Scorpions summed up what so many of us tremulously hoped for and didn’t dare believe in in our hearts in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War.
It was thirty years ago, which means that at least two generations have grown up without the permanent shadow of the undeclared war between the World’s only two superpowers and the threat of Nuclear Destruction. Two generations who, for all the other fears and concerns of today, do not know and cannot know what it felt like late on a Sunday night to hear that Russia had invaded the Polish dockyards and to go to bed wondering if you would actually get to wake up or if a nuclear exchange would blow apart the world in your sleep.
And then there was 1989, from Tiananmen to Timisoara, as we said then, the year that went from Chinese Army destruction of student protesters seeking democracy to a dictator being destroyed in his place of power in an instant, by a crowd that booed him, and the focal point for that was the fall of the Berlin Wall, that fixture that, for men and women of my generation, was the physical symbol of the Iron Curtain across Europe.
And one day, just like that, it came down. The Immovable Object met the Irresistible Force and the Object moved. And with it went all the certainties of our times and we found ourselves in a world that we didn’t know how to understand but that, for a while, offered us something we had never quite been able to believe in: a future we didn’t expect.
The Scorpions wrote ‘Wind of Change’ off the back of a concert in Moscow the following year. That explains the Russian terms at the start of the song: I followed the Moskva down to Gorky Park. It was the time of Gorbachev, of glasnost and perestroika. Though part of me hates to concede it, because the band had nothing of the sensitivity of Sam Cooke, they too were sniffing the air, tuning in to the Change that was Gonna Come.
Which is why none of the cliches, the clunkiness, the childishly self-important lyrics matter worth a damn. Because for all of us who were there, who’d lived that life until that moment, who’d argued down the pub that nuclear war was inevitable because Man had never created a weapon he hadn’t used, this song sits truly in its time and rides the winds of hope, into a dawning sky that for the first time might be free of cloud. I listen and it is Tiananamen to Timisoara again, the man with the shopping bags stood in the path of tanks to the horror of Nicolae Ceaucescu’s face in that moment his subjects dared to boo, and I remember the disbelief that this was all happening.
And it fucking well does take me to the magic of the moment of that glory night, when it matters not a jot or tittle how you got here or who you came with. And with the knowledge and despair of what that future became, it becomes more important every year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.