As a child of the sixties, I grew up under the shadow of the nuclear arms race. Russia was our arch enemy and some folks in our area had built underground bomb shelters in their backyards. We often had unannounced practice drills in elementary school, hiding under our desks in simulation of a response to an air raid attack.
This was no joke, there was a Cold War going on and our fathers—many having served in World War Two—knew all too well the heartache and destruction a malevolent enemy can create.
As the sixties evolved into the 70s, 80s and 90s, the Cold War ended but the fear of nuclear annihilation never went away as rogue terrorists groups were sprouting up all over the world. Regional conflicts and ethnic cleansing were constantly in the news and ever present was the threat of chemical warfare, dirty bombs and/or random acts of terrorism at anytime or place imaginable.
The three songs below all deal with the possbility of a nuclear holocaust and the ultimate futility and absurdity in mutually assured mass destruction (MAD).
All three are great tunes on their own but once again, if listened to as a trilogy, they are more interesting in both musical and lyrical comparision.
Written around the time of the Kennedy assassination, this powerful song from the 60s sadly still has poignant meaning today. Although the refrain "we're on the eve of destruction" always conjured up images of a nuclear holocaust, the lyric lists a wide spectrum of issues...
The Civil Rights movement, the endless and senseless killings in war, ignorance and prejudice in our own backyard, political ineptitude, etc. are tragically still tearing our country (and world) apart today.
Raspily sung by Barry McGuire, the song was written by 19-year-old PF Sloan, who was a staff songwriter at McGuire's label at the time and went on to form The Grass Roots. PF Sloan also wrote "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers.
In the 1980s, the Fixx led the charge of political funk pop. Although "New Wave" always had an air of pretentiously dressed English "half (assed) pseudo-musicians" -- The Fixx had an uncanny sense of great arrangements with infectious grooves. The distinctive heavily-chorused-laden electric guitar dominated their sound and the lyrics were always thought-provoking.
Stand or Fall was released in 80s and it's rotation on MTV was a stark but brilliant contrast to the fodder of glam and hair bands so prevalent at the time.
During the Cold War there was always the underlying fear of nuclear holocaust. Stand or Fall was an incredibly "balls to the wall" song about it’s better to "die on your feet" than "live on your knees" if the ultimate horror ever happens. Right from the first verse the terror and hopelessness of a nuclear confrontation is vividly spelled out:
Crying parents tell their children
If you survive don't do as we did
A son exclaims there'll be nothing to do to
Her daughter says she'll be dead with you...
The refrain "Stand or fall... state your peace tonight" in context of the song, sounds like a last-stand defiant war cry and leaves an indelible image of brave souls dying amid overwhelming destruction and chaos.
I choose to part company with the heavy extroverted "we are all gonna die " approach and take a left turn to end unexpectedly with this strangely subtle and intropsective song.
Although the song opens with a beautiful ballad-like quality, partway through the song, the lyric "the sun is in the east, even though the day is done" should trip up the listener because the sun always sets in the west! The line refers to the glowing fireball of a nuclear explosion. The meaning of "Two Suns In The Sunset" becomes tragically clear.
But the restrained (some could say resigned...) mood continues and the question arises "...could be the human race is run?" brilliantly suggests the end of the world is near at hand.
In the next section, panic sets in... evoking the guttural fear one faces when you are out of control and facing death:
Like the moment when your brakes lock
And you slide toward the big truck
And stretch the frozen moments with your fear
And you'll never hear their voices
And you'll never see their faces
But the final "take-away parable"—if you will—is the last stanza:
Finally I understand the feelings of the few
ashes and diamonds foe and friend
we were all equal in the end.
A masterpicee of morality on the fultiity of war - why kill each other if in reality we are merely all equal in the end?
Of special interest: The musicians on this track include Andy Newmark on drums and the late great Michael Kamen on piano. Wikipedia