How much of a threat are popular musicians to the established political order? To far right, anti-communist Christians in the 1960s, the Beatles, and especially John Lennon, were extremely dangerous. They were whipping the youth of America into a frenzy, turning them into a horde of hip-shaking, love-making, drug-taking hooligans. Even before John Lennon told British interviewer Maureen Cleave in March 1966 that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus,” they were considered to be a menace to society. Leading the charge was author, professor, minister, and founder of Summit Ministries David Noebel, who claimed in several publications that communists were using the Beatles and mass hypnotism to bring about a communist revolution in America. To Noebel, “Beatlemania” was a real affliction, a mental illness in need of diagnosis and cure. In Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles and Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, he wrote, “… communists have a master music plan for all age brackets of American youth. … the enemies of our Republic could actually use television and the Beatles … to place thousands upon thousands of our teenagers into a frenzied, hypnotic state and send them forth into the streets to riot and revolt. Let’s make sure four mop-headed anti-Christ beatniks don’t destroy our children’s emotional and mental stability and ultimately destroy our nation as Plato warned in his Republic.”
While most people did not think of any of the Beatles as cogs in the communist machine, the Federal Bureau of Investigation did. In the early 1970s, John Lennon was considered a threat to national security by the FBI because of his association with radical left-wing organizations and his ability to foment anti-war sentiments among the youth. Lennon came close to being deported by the United States Immigration Office several times in the early 1970s. Watch the excellent documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon to learn more. Were the Beatles and Lennon really that dangerous to America? Could they actually “destroy our nation?”
Noebel made a point to never refer to the Beatles as Communists or Reds. Nevertheless, he wrote voluminously about the communist threat he saw in their lyrics, their music, their album covers, their ability to cause hysteria among teens, their influence on Vietnam War protesters, their drug use, their agnosticism, and Lennon’s association with the radical Left. What did the Beatles themselves make of Noebel’s claim? During a press conference in 1966, a reporter asked them, “What do you think about the pamphlet calling you four communists?” Paul McCartney responded, “Us, communists? Why, we can’t be communists. We’re the world’s number one capitalists. Imagine us communists!”
Noebel replicated in his later books much of the research in his first work, the 1965 pamphlet Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles. His argument in the pamphlet can be summarized in this manner: Plato and Aristotle warned of the dangers of certain types of music and the power it can have over human emotions and reason. Russian scientists such as Ivan Pavlov, Alexander Luria, and Konstantin Ivanovich Platonov proved that human behavior can be controlled through music, brainwashing, nerve-jamming, and hypnotism. The American record labels Young People’s Records and Children’s Record Guild are nothing more than communist fronts that use music to propagate communist messages subliminally into children’s minds. These record labels are associated with left-wing folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who have communist ties. Just as these records can be used to hypnotize children into being communists, the Beatles’ music and folk music can be used to do the same to teenagers and young adults. Noebel ends the pamphlet by urging readers to throw all their Beatles’ records into the city dump since America is a capitalist, Christian nation and has no place for such an atheistic, communist, and immoral rock group.
David Noebel, now in his mid-80s, is a meticulous and fastidious scholar and writer, an apologist for Christianity against secular humanism. He is also King of the Footnote. His 1965 pamphlet, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, is just 15 pages long, yet it has no less than 168 footnotes! As a librarian, I am equally delighted and appalled at this. Marvel at the cover, the text, and the avalanche of footnotes by clicking on the link below:
Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles
While perusing this pamphlet, it may be easy to write off Noebel as a far right, anti-communist crackpot, and regard his books as nothing more than Cold War kitsch, but his writings are valuable because they capture the viewpoint of many fundamentalist Christians in the 1960s as they watched the counterculture gurgle from the underground, bubble up, and spill out onto Main Street America. While writers such as Berndt Ostendorf, Mark Sullivan, and the creators of the CONELRAD website have scrutinized Noebel’s writings well, we’d like to explore more deeply what he and others believed about rock music, particularly its rhythms, and how it could be used to brainwash young Americans and turn them into communists.
To understand how Noebel formulated his precise critique of the ills of the counterculture, we have to consider his close relationship with Billy James Hargis, a dynamic Christian fundamentalist, segregationist, anti-communist preacher and evangelist. Most of Noebel’s early books were published by Christian Crusade Publications and the American Christian College Press, two organizations that Hargis established. Hargis founded the Christian Crusade in the early 1950s to spread his beliefs and principles through radio, television, book publishing, magazines, audio recordings, lecture tours, conventions, leadership training, and youth organizations. At the height of his popularity in the late 1950s and 1960s, his sermons and lectures were broadcasted on over 500 radio stations and 250 television stations. One of his chief concerns was the influence of left-wing politics on American youth, especially the beatniks and hippies of the 1960s counterculture. He saw them as the target audience that communists would manipulate in order to infiltrate American society.
Hargis believed that the Kremlin had an official government department whose purpose was to spur on student protestors against the Vietnam War and foment a revolution. Hargis himself said of the Beatles, “the beatnik crowd, represented by the Beatles, is the communist crowd.” Thus in the minds of Noebel and Hargis, young Americans were under the spell of the Beatles, who were under the spell of communism. Lennon was leading them to Lenin.
Within the conservative Christian spectrum in the 1950s and 1960s, Hargis and Noebel were part of the “radical right” or “far right.” While most conservative Christian leaders at that time, such as author and intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., evangelist Billy Graham, Senator Barry Goldwater, and California Governor Ronald Reagan, regarded anti-communism as one among many conservative principles, Hargis and Noebel made it central. In addition, they merged anti-communism with their Christian fundamentalism and dispensationalism, giving it spiritual dimensions and apocalyptic significance. To them, communism was not only the catalyst for the decline they saw in the core conservative values of limited government, free market capitalism, family values, the rule of law, and American exceptionalism, it was a manifestation of ultimate evil. Like the anti-communist country songwriters we discuss in chapter three of Atomic Tunes, Hargis and Noebel believed that Satan was using communism to bring about not only the downfall of the United States, but the final tribulation and the end of the world.
Racism appears quite plainly in the writings of Noebel and Hargis. They believed that the Civil Rights Movement was being spurred on by communists, and that the influence of African American musicians on rock groups such as the Beatles was fueling a communist revolution. Thus, in his books, Noebel discredits the Beatles by discrediting African American music and the Civil Rights Movement in general. In Rhythm, Riots and Revolution and The Marxist Minstrels, Noebel quotes FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in saying that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is “the most notorious liar in the country.” Noebel then describes the Selma to Montgomery marches in March 1965 as incidences of Black debauchery, charges that King’s non-violent protests were just communist tactics to spur violence from White Americans, and warns that Lyndon Johnson’s Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which prohibited racial discrimination in voting) may result in a “Negro-Soviet America.” He concludes by saying “Thus Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. … could well be the key to Communist revolution in the United States.”
A vital element in the connection that Noebel and Hargis made between the Beatles and communism was the influence of African American music on early rock and roll. The massive popularity of Black musicians, especially those associated with the Motown record label, and of Black-influenced White musicians (Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones) showed that millions of young Americans were enamored by Black music in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the songs they covered, the Beatles openly expressed that they were huge fans of Black American blues, R&B, rock, gospel, and soul. Paul McCartney said at a Beatles’ press conference in Tokyo in 1966, “We like mainly colored American groups. Those are the groups that we like best.” They were given a tour of Harlem by Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes (“Be My Baby”) on the day before their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The popular African American magazine Jet put the Beatles on the cover of the July 1, 1965 issue with Motown star Mary Wells (“My Guy”). The tagline was “What the Beatles Learned from Negroes.” In addition, the Beatles refused to play to a segregated audience. In the early 1960s, young music fans made mainstream what was once called “race music” a decade earlier, and this was disturbing to many older White Americans who suspected it was a communist plot to ensnare young Americans.
Noebel saw the Beatles’ use of rhythm (“the big beat”), heavily influenced by African and African American music, as the key to the mental warfare that the communists were waging. Having no background in musical analysis, Noebel rests his argument on the opinions of Howard Hanson, well-known American composer and long-time director of the Eastman School of Music, and Alice English Monsarrat, of whom little is known. Hanson and Monsarrat found fault with the pervasive presence of the “big beat” in popular music, its synchronicity with the human heartbeat, and its “broken meter.” In his article from 1944, Hanson characterizes “rhythmic chants of primitive peoples,” “rag-time,” “violent boogie-woogie,” and modern “jam session[s]” as potentially dangerous because their “rhythmic irregularity,” “off-balance” accents, and “concentrated doses of rhythm” may produce mass hysteria. In contrast, Hanson praises rhythms in which the “subdivisions of the metric units are regular” and contain accents that “remain strictly in conformity with the basic pattern.” In her article from 1961, Alice English Monsarrat praises music with a “normal easy meter.” In contrast, rock music has a “broken meter” which, she concludes, is “helping to fill our mental hospitals with broken wrecks of humanity.” Thus according to Hanson, Monsarrat, and Noebel, the rhythms in the music of the great classical composers and Tin Pan Alley songwriters are “regular,” “in conformity,” “normal,” and “easy,” while the rhythms in Black music are “irregular,” “off-balance,” and “broken.”
The “broken meter” that Monsarrat criticizes, and which Noebel includes in three of his books, is rendered not in staff notation but with numbers. Monsarrat shows two horizontal rows of the numbers one to four twice, representing the beats of two measures of 4/4 meter. On the bottom row of numbers, she underlines the beats one and three. On the top row of numbers, she adds the “&” sign after beats one and two and underlines them to emphasize the upbeats of one and two, as demonstrated below.
1 & 2 & 3 4 1 & 2 & 3 4
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
As indicated by the underlines, the rhythm consists of notes on the downbeat of one, the upbeats of one and two, and the downbeat of three. Monsarrat does not seem to be depicting a specific riff or song here, but is trying to convey the general idea of syncopation, the placement of a beat where one is not expected or the lack of a beat where one is expected. Considered more broadly, syncopation is a symbol of disruption and upheaval, a representation in music of the rejection of the established order. For Monsarrat, a degree of syncopation is acceptable in music, but to base entire songs on these rhythms, or to gradually increase their tempo, or to play them loudly can produce an “almost hysterical effect.” She warns that “… just as a single highball [a mixed drink] may be relatively harmless, but too many will intoxicate, so should broken rhythm and meters be used, as the masters did, with discretion.” Monsarrat’s illustration bears a resemblance to the syncopated rhythms in Bo Diddley songs such as “Bo Diddley” (1955), “I’m a Man” (1955), and “Who Do You Love?” (1957). Perhaps these are the types of songs Monsarrat was objecting to, since they have syncopated rhythms throughout and were very influential on White American and British rock groups. The Beatles themselves indulged in the “big beat” and “broken meter” quite often. An obvious example would be “She’s a Woman,” which starts off with strident guitar chords that appear to be on the downbeat (1 and 3). But once the rest of the band kicks in, the chords are actually on the upbeat (2 and 4), turning the rhythm on its head. For more on this subject, Walter Everett has written of the influence of African American music on the early Beatles.
In their articles, Hanson and Monsarrat do not explicitly associate communism and the threat of revolution with these types of rhythms found in Black music. Noebel does. He takes this line of thought to the extreme, writing that rock music is based on the “big beat” which has its roots in “…the heart of Africa, where it was used to incite warriors to such a frenzy that by nightfall neighbors were cooked in carnage pots! The music is a designed reversion to savagery!” He writes, “…today’s African beat ‘music’ [is] churning destruction throughout the length and breadth of England and America.” While Noebel does not make such appallingly racist comments in his later books, his earlier ones from the 1960s and early 1970s show the common stereotypes that White supremacists had about music. Classical music and Tin Pan Alley songs are virtuous and edifying, but blues, jazz, ragtime, R&B, and rock music, all based on syncopated jungle rhythms, are dangerous and destructive. Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave note that African American music was often called “jungle music” by White supremacists, writing “the real purpose of using that term [“jungle music”] was to connect rock with the jungle, or black Africa, and to imply that rock and roll had to be scorned because it was the music of blacks, who were ‘savages.’” According to Noebel, just as syncopation upsets the calm of rhythmic order, so the Civil Rights Movement, the communists, and the Beatles are upsetting the calm of White American social order.
Even without Noebel’s racism, his analysis of the Beatles’ lyrics and music is quite off the mark. When specific lyrics are mentioned in his books, the supposed communist content is merely suggested, rather than shown. A portion of the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Piggies,” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Working Class Hero” appear in The Marxist Minstrels, but Noebel does not prove that these songs have communistic messages or that they are being used by communists to brainwash Americans. For every Beatles’ song that Noebel pegs as pro-communist and anti-capitalist, another can be pegged as pro-capitalist and anti-communist. For example, he criticizes George Harrison's “Piggies” because of its anti-capitalist stance, yet ignores Harrison’s “Taxman” which inveighs against high taxes, a common anti-communist sentiment. Noebel portrays John Lennon as a dangerous revolutionary in songs like “Working Class Hero,” but does not consider “Revolution 1” and “Revolution” which question the objectives of political revolutionaries in general and criticize Mao Zedong in particular.
Regarding his musical analysis, Noebel writes in such suggestive, imprecise terms about the Beatles’ music that an unsuspecting reader would think that all of their songs have the same “savage” jungle beat, the same hypnotic tempo, the same immoral lyrics about drugs, sex, and revolution, and the same frenzy-inducing effect. He writes, “The music isn’t ‘art-form’ at all, but a very destructive process.” While their songs may all sound alike to someone predisposed to dislike them, the overwhelming majority of people around the world, Christian and non-Christian alike, place them among the most innovative and creative songwriters and musicians in the 20th century. Their songs show an astonishing variety of lyrical subject matter, musical forms, instrumentation, vocal harmonies, rhythms, tempos, moods, and approaches to studio recording.
So what are we to make of David Noebel’s writings? Was he justified in raising concerns about how the American youth of the 1960s could be manipulated into communism by popular entertainers? Indeed, he was justified. Music can be used to manipulate the mind. At many early Beatles’ concerts, police had trouble controlling the mayhem and hundreds of teenagers were injured. Drug abuse was a major problem in the counterculture. The Soviets did have spies in the U.S. government and in the entertainment industry. Mao Zedong and Stalin were tyrants on par with Hitler. The communist systems in China, the Soviet Union, and the other Eastern Bloc countries made life unbearably miserable for their citizens. Yet Noebel ventures so far into the realm of ridiculousness with his assertions that his books have become among the most well-known examples of Cold War kitsch. The creators of the CONELRAD website write,
“The CONELRAD archives contain hundreds of civil defense and anti-Communist books, pamphlets and assorted Cold War ephemera. Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles is by far the strangest title we own or have even seen. In fact, it is so outlandish that we hold little hope of ever finding anything weirder…which is kind of a drag.”
If Noebel would have devoted a fraction of his attention to the Beatles’ actual songs as he did to Russian psychiatric methods, wide-ranging communist conspiracies, and White supremacist racial theories, he would have found no justification to view their music as a tool for communistic brainwashing. Noebel devotes an inordinate amount of space in his books to quotations from psychologists, newspaper and magazine articles, and right-wing Christian writers creating a welter of applause for his position aimed to drown out any rational consideration of another point of view. Americanism, Christianity, anti-communism, Whiteness, and “good music” are grouped together and contrasted against foreignness, atheism, communism, Blackness, and “bad music.” Noebel writes with such disdain of the Beatles and John Lennon that one gets the impression that he sees no value whatsoever in their music. It is all evil. While Lennon had plenty of negative qualities (alcohol and heroin abuse, terrible treatment of his first wife Cynthia, neglect of his first son Julian, abandonment of Yoko during his two year “lost weekend”), to ignore his noble and admirable qualities and paint such a grossly unbalanced portrait of him is simply dishonest and deceptive, turning Noebel’s scholarship into vacuous propaganda. Noebel is certainly entitled to his opinion, and is courageous in taking on one of the most respected rock bands in the world, but his lack of objectivity makes his writing a rant rather than a rational argument.
What impact did Noebel’s books have? While he certainly sold tens of thousands of copies of his books to fundamentalist Christians in the South, he did not convince the majority of Christians or the public at large that the Beatles were a communist threat. What about the uproar over John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” comment in 1966? Did Noebel’s first two books, which came out in 1965 and 1966, play any role in that incident?
The March 4, 1966 issue of the London newspaper Evening Standard featured an interview with John Lennon by British journalist Maureen Cleave. It was reprinted almost five months later in the July 29, 1966 issue of the American teen magazine Datebook. Lennon told Cleave, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Lennon was commenting on the decline of Christianity and the ascent of secularism in England at the time. It didn’t cause any furor in England because it was, for the most part, a true statement. But many Beatle fans in the American South, and some in the North, were outraged. Lennon’s comment was taken to mean that the Beatles were better or greater than Jesus, even after Lennon apologized and explained his meaning to reporters. As a result of the comment, over two dozen radio stations banned Beatles songs, thousands of people gathered their Beatles records and burned them in huge bonfires, the band received death threats, and Robert E. Scoggin, Grand Dragon of the South Carolina Ku Klux Klan, burned a large wooden cross with a Beatles record nailed to it.
Did Noebel’s books play any part in inciting this fierce negative reaction toward Lennon? Noebel’s books clearly state that since the Beatles have communist leanings, they have atheistic leanings, and vice versa. Communism and atheism go hand in hand. This type of labeling was made explicit during a small rally outside Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis when the Beatles played two concerts there on August 19, 1966. England's ITV News sent reporter Richard Lindley to cover the Beatles 1966 tour. At the Memphis concerts, Lindley’s camera shows one young male protestor marching and holding a sign saying “HELP KEEP Communist [i.e. Communists] Out of THE U.S.A.” The Ku Klux Klan was present and demonstrated outside the stadium. When a firecracker was thrown onto the stage during the second concert, the Beatles looked at one another for fear that one of them had been shot. Ten days after the Memphis concerts, the Beatles gave up on touring, playing their final show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. While Noebel’s books may have helped to incite these events, even without his books many Southerners would still have regarded popular entertainers comparing themselves to Jesus as being atheists, and therefore communists, and therefore offensive and unwelcome.
Like many rock album covers of the 1960s and 1970s, the front covers of Noebel’s books are as entertaining as their contents. On the cover of Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, the four lads from Liverpool are placed below a hammer and sickle symbol. A single human eye casts a menacing red beam. The Beatles, inside the lower beam, are drawn with no irises in their eyes as if they are hypnotized, or are hypnotizing the viewer. See here:
Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles
On the cover of The Marxist Minstrels, the hammer and sickle symbol is cleverly superimposed onto the treble clef on a musical staff. See here:
The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music
The best cover of all is of Fred Schwarz and Noebel’s You Can Still Trust the Communists … to be Communists. See here:
You Can Still Trust the Communists
Fred Schwarz, discussed in chapter two of Atomic Tunes in the section on Janet Greene, published his seminal anti-communist work You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists) in 1960. Noebel revised and added five chapters to it in 2010. The book cover parodies the album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring the faces of 43 people with connections to communism. All the usual suspects are there (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Castro) along with a few folk and rock musicians (Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger). On the large bass drum in the center (which on the Beatles’ album has “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”) is the hammer and sickle symbol surrounded by the words “Progressives, Socialists, Marxists, Fabianists, Collectivists, Statists.” The not-so-subtle message of the cover is that left-leaning popular entertainers and artists are in the same band as the communist dictators.
To wrap up this section on the Beatles and communism, we would like to briefly consider John Lennon’s place in Cold War politics and popular music. In the early years of their career, the Beatles were advised by their manager Brian Epstein not to express strong political opinions about the Vietnam War in songs or in interviews. After he died in August 1967, the group felt less restricted in their candor with reporters or choice of lyrical subject matter. The Beatles’ first explicit political statement in a song is “Revolution 1”/“Revolution” written by Lennon. The slow and bluesy “Revolution 1” on The Beatles (1968) was recorded first in late May and early June 1968. The loud, distortion-driven “Revolution,” recorded a week or so later, was the version that was released first, as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single in late August. The song voices a desire for revolution and societal change but questions whether it should be brought about by violent means, i.e. “destruction.” In “Revolution 1,” Lennon sings “count me out/in” showing his uncertainty about violent revolution. In “Revolution,” he sings “count me out,” taking a stance against violence. Ironically, “Revolution 1” sounds calm and peaceful, but the lyric “count me out/in” makes violent revolution a matter worthy of consideration. On the other hand, “Revolution” sounds revolutionary and violent because of its faster tempo, distorted guitars, Lennon’s initial scream, and frantic screaming of “alright!” at the end. Yet its lyrics, with “count me out,” denounce violent revolution. When asked by an interviewer what he meant by “count me out/in,” Lennon said, “It means I’m not sure. I really think that if it gets to destruction, you can count me out. But I’m not sure. I’m human and liable to change depending on the situation. I prefer non-violence.” Thus, the two versions of this song encapsulated Lennon’s opinions on war: he preferred non-violence and was against the Vietnam War whole-heartedly, but admitted there are times when war and violent revolution may be justifiable.
Lennon was by far the most politically active Beatle. After the band broke up, he and Yoko Ono poured all their energies into promoting peace and expressing their opinions on Cold War matters in more ways than any other popular musician. They wrote songs, voiced their viewpoints on posters and giant billboards, did numerous interviews with journalists, rock critics, and talk show hosts, created “happenings” such as the Amsterdam Hilton Bed-in for Peace, participated in protest marches, played in benefit concerts for various organizations, and commiserated with left-wing activists such as Rennie Davis, Angela Davis, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, and John Sinclair. The attention Lennon gave to the anti-war movement brought him to the attention of the FBI, who followed him and documented his actions. President Nixon and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover were afraid that Lennon might jeopardize Nixon’s bid for reelection in 1972. Lennon was even considered a threat to national security and was in danger of being deported several times in the early 1970s. Nixon did win the reelection but was forced to resign on August 9, 1974 after the Watergate scandal became public. On October 7, 1975, Judge Irving Kaufman overturned Lennon’s deportation order, allowing him to apply for permanent citizenship. History professor Jon Wiener writes, “The Lennon FBI files document an era when rock music seemed to have real political force, when youth culture, for perhaps the first time in American history, was mounting a serious challenge to the status quo in Washington, when President Nixon responded by mobilizing the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to silence the man from England who was singing ‘Give Peace a Chance.’”
Lennon’s anti-war songs and activities in the early 1970s are far too extensive to be recounted here. The biographies of Jon Wiener and Philip Norman, and the documentaries The U.S. vs. John Lennon and LennoNYC have detailed their significance in depth. In short, Lennon was courted by the radical Left, and briefly stood with them, but ultimately chose to protest non-violently in his own way with Yoko. To some like David Noebel, the FBI, and Richard Nixon, he was a serious threat in need of deportation. To some he was great musician, songwriter, humanitarian, and promoter of peace. To some he was just crazy Beatle John.
 Noebel’s books about this subject are Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles (Tulsa, Okla.: Christian Crusade Publications, 1965); Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution: An Analysis of the Communist Use of Music, the Communist Master Music Plan (Tulsa, Okla.: Christian Crusade Publications, 1966); The Beatles: A Study in Drugs, Sex and Revolution (Tulsa, Okla.: Christian Crusade Publications, 1969); The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music (Tulsa, Okla.: American Christian College Press, 1974); The Legacy of John Lennon: Charming or Harming a Generation? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982). Noebel also released a spoken word album in 1968 titled David Noebel Speaks on “The Marxist Minstrels”: The Communist Subversion of American Folk Music which is basically an advertisement for his 1966 book Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution. While the album focuses on the communist elements that Noebel finds in folk music, the back cover shows a “hypnotized” girl clutching the Beatles 1963 V-Jay album Introducing…The Beatles.
 Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, 14.
 Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 91.
 Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, 15.
 The U.S. vs. John Lennon, written and directed by David Leaf & John Scheinfeld. Lionsgate 20911, 2006, DVD.
 In response to an article about himself and his beliefs in the February 15, 1965 issue of Newsweek titled “Beware, The Red Beatles,” Noebel wrote a letter to the editor published in the March 8 issue saying, “I have yet to call the Beatles ‘Red’.” See “Beware, the Red Beatles,” Newsweek (February 15, 1965): 89A and “Noebel and the Beatles,” Newsweek (March 8, 1965): 6.
 The Beatles: Words without Music, compiled by Rick Friedman (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1968), ; Beatles in their Own Words, compiled by Miles, edited by Pearce Marchbank (London: Omnibus, 1978), 62; “Beatles Photos & Quotes Database: 1966” webpage on the The Beatles Ultimate Experience website. http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db66.html
 Berndt Ostendorf, “Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution: Political Paranoia, Cultural Fundamentalism, and African-American Music,” in Enemy Images in American History, ed. Ragnhild Fiebig-von Hase and Ursula Lehmkuhl (Providence: Berghahn Books, 1997), 159-179; Mark Sullivan, “‘More Popular than Jesus’: The Beatles and the Religious Far Right,” Popular Music 6, no. 3, Beatles Issue (October 1987): 313-326; “Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles,” CONELRAD website created by Ken Sitz, Bill Geerhart, and Curtis Samson. http://conelrad.com/books/spine.php?id=354_0_1_0_C.
 John Harold Redekop, The American Far Right: A Case Study of Billy James Hargis and Christian Crusade (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1968), 21.
 Billy James Hargis, “Evangelist Billy James Hargis on Tom Snyder show.” Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show, 1978, 24:00-25:46. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5n7nm4lWXE.
 Billy James Hargis, from a radio broadcast on September 25, 1964, quoted in David Noebel’s Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles (Tulsa, Okla.: Christian Crusade Publications, 1965), 12.
 Billy James Hargis, “Evangelist Billy James Hargis on Tom Snyder show.” Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show, 1978, 10:36-11:35. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5n7nm4lWXE.
 Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 181; The Marxist Minstrels, 176. See also “People of the Week,” U.S. News & World Report 58, no. 15 (April 12, 1965): 20 and “The FBI and Civil Rights – J. Edgar Hoover Speaks Out,” U.S. News & World Report 57, no. 22 (November 30, 1964): 56.
 Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 182-184, The Marxist Minstrels, 176-178.
 Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 183-184.
 Some of the many songs by African American songwriters the Beatles covered are “Roll over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music” by Chuck Berry, “Anna (Go to Him)” by Arthur Alexander, “Long Tall Sally” by Enotris Johnson, Robert Blackwell, Richard Penniman (Little Richard), and “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson.
 Paul McCartney, from “Beatles Press Conference: Tokyo, Japan 6/30/1966” webpage on the The Beatles Ultimate Experience website. http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1966.0630.beatles.html.
 Ronnie Spector, from The Beatles: Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years. Directed by Ron Howard. Capitol B0025751-09, 2016, 2 DVD set (DVD 2: A Deeper Dive: Ronnie Spector and the Beatles, 2:20-3:00).
 “What the Beatles Learned From Negroes,” Jet (July 1, 1965): 60-62.
 Berndt Ostendorf refers to her as “a distinguished British music teacher” in his article “Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution,” 170.
 Howard Hanson, “Some Objective Studies of Rhythm in Music,” The American Journal of Psychiatry 101, no. 3 (November 1944): 364-369. Hanson’s opinions about African American music are puzzling since he premiered and promoted William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony” (1931) which incorporates blues and jazz elements.
 Hanson, “Some Objective Studies of Rhythm in Music”: 365. Quoted in Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 117, The Marxist Minstrels, 63.
 Alice English Monsarrat, “Music: Soothing, Sedative or Savage?” American Mercury 93, no.
451 (September 1961): 47. Quoted in Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, 23 FN 97, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 117, The Marxist Minstrels, 63.
 Monsarrat, “Music: Soothing, Sedative or Savage?”: 47.
 Monsarrat, “Music: Soothing, Sedative or Savage?”: 48.
 Walter Everett, “Detroit and Memphis: The Soul of Revolver,” in ‘Every Sound There Is’: The Beatles’ Revolver and the Transformation of Rock and Roll, ed. Russell Reising (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2002), 25-57.
 Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 78, The Marxist Minstrels, 45.
 Noebel, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution, 77-78.
 For more on White distain for, and fear of, African American music see Sieglinde Lemke’s Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), Michael T. Bertrand’s Race, Rock, and Elvis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), and Roberta Freund Schwartz’s How Britain got the Blues: The Transmission and Reception of American Blues Style in the United Kingdom (Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007). See also Episode 2: “Good Rockin’ Tonight” of the 10 part documentary The History of Rock n’ Roll. Created and produced by Jeffrey Peisch. Time-Life Video & Television, Warner Home Video 34991, c1995, 2004, 5 DVD set.
 Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave, Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock ’n’ Roll (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1988), 42. Duke Ellington’s music during his Cotton Club days in the late 1920s was often referred to as “jungle music,” but this was not necessarily a derogatory term, as he used it himself and in composition titles such as “Jungle Blues” and “Jungle Nights in Harlem.”
 Noebel, The Marxist Minstrels, 66-67, 106-107, 99-100, 113.
 Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, 14.
 “Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles,” CONELRAD website created by Ken Sitz, Bill Geerhart, and Curtis Samson.
 John Lennon interviewed by Maureen Cleave in “How Does a Beatle Live? John Lennon Lives like This,” Evening Standard (March 4, 1966): 10.
 “Jesus - John Lennon Controversy (Part 4 of 4)” from Robert Lindley’s documentary on the Beatles 1966 tour for program “Reporting ‘66” on ITV News, 2:24-2:30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCsb3pR6tbw
 The Beatles Anthology documentary shows an interview with a KKK member outside the stadium discussing how they will “demonstrate with different ways and tactics to stop [the] performance.” The Beatles Anthology, series director and writer, Bob Smeaton, producer, Chips Chipperfield, director, Geoff Wonfor, [London]: Apple; [Los Angeles]: Capitol Records,
C9 7243 4 92975 9 3, 2003, 5 DVD set, episode 6: 14:09-14:57.
 The Beatles played one final live concert on the rooftop of the Apple building in London on January 30, 1969.
 Fred Schwarz, You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists) (Long Beach, Calif.: Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, 1960).
 Fred Schwarz and David A. Noebel, You Can Still Trust the Communists… to be Communists (Socialists and Progressives Too) 2nd rev. ed. (Manitou Springs, CO: Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, 2010).
 Ian Inglis, “Revolution,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, edited by Kenneth Womack (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 117.
 Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years, 1962-1970 (London: Hamlyn: EMI, 1988), 135-136.
 Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, 141-142, 152.
 John Lennon, from interview on January 14, 1969, included in Imagine: John Lennon. Deluxe Edition. Produced by David L. Wolper and Andrew Solt. Directed by Andrew Solt. Warner Bros. 72655, c1988, 2005, DVD, 45:15-45:43.
 Jon Wiener, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999), 1.
 Jon Wiener, Come Together: John Lennon in his Time (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991); Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life (New York: Ecco, 2008); The U.S. vs. John Lennon, written and directed by David Leaf & John Scheinfeld. Lionsgate 20911, 2006, DVD; LennoNYC, written and directed by Michael Epstein. A&E AAAE234950, 2010, DVD.
On December 21, 1970, in the White House’s Oval Office, the King of Rock n’ Roll Elvis Presley met the leader of the free world President Richard Nixon. Nixon didn’t invite him. Elvis invited himself. He wanted to offer his help to the President in combating the drug problem in America, warn him about the Beatles, and fight communism. He was also hoping to obtain a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) to become a “Federal Agent at Large.” Lest the reader think this is some crazy Elvis myth or hoax, the U.S. National Archives has devoted a website to that auspicious meeting.
To put this meeting in context, let us briefly recount some of the significant events that occurred in 1970 with the Vietnam War, war protestors, and rock musicians. During Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, he pledged to end the war as soon as possible, but did not offer any detailed plan. Understand that trying to end the Vietnam War was like … well … trying to end the Vietnam War. It was a political and military Gordian knot. A factor in Lyndon Johnson declining to run for reelection in 1968 was because he knew he failed the task. During Nixon’s first term, the war dragged on with no end in sight, and protest heightened. On May 4, 1970 four Ohio University students were killed, and nine were injured, when the Ohio National Guard opening fire during a campus protest. This event prompted widespread outrage among the American public, and inspired Neil Young to write “Ohio,” which was recorded by Crosby, Still, Nash & Young and released in June 1970. The song mentions, and condemns, Nixon by name. From 1964 to 1970 hundreds of songs against the Vietnam War had been written by rock musicians. Yet Elvis, the King of Rock n’ Roll, greatly admired Nixon and was clearly on board with his policies. Elvis’s mind space was in a much different place from his rock peers. He was actually part of the “silent majority,” which most rock musicians despised.
The meeting between the King and President begins on December 20, when Elvis and his friend Jerry Schilling were on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Elvis scribbled a six-page letter to Nixon (on American Airlines stationery) asking for a meeting. He begins by telling the President how much he admires him and then expresses his concern about “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], Black Panthers, etc.” He infers that these left-wing countercultural groups are under the spell of communists. As he says later in the letter, “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.” As Schilling recalls, “The pages weren’t pretty—Elvis’s penmanship was somewhere between a doctor’s and grade-schoolers’—but right away I was impressed with the tone of the writing. Elvis was being humble, respectful, and sincere, and was offering his services to the President to work as a kind of ambassador between the rock-and-roll subculture and the government.”
The next morning at 6:30 am, Elvis and Schilling pulled up in a limousine to the Northwest Gate of the White House. They gave the guards the letter, who in turn gave it to Nixon’s Special Assistant Dwight Chapin and Nixon’s Deputy Counsel Egil “Bud” Krogh. Krogh happened to be a big fan of Elvis. Krogh and Chapin made the meeting happen. They convinced Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman that Nixon would benefit from meeting Elvis. Krogh eagerly drew up an agenda with talking points for the President. He was present for the entire meeting and took notes of what was said. At 11:45, Elvis arrived at the White House with a present for Nixon, a World War II Colt .45 pistol with seven silver bullets in a commemorative wooden case. Naturally, the gun was held by the Secret Service and later given to the President. At 12:30 pm, six hours after giving his scribbled letter to the guards at the White House gate, Elvis walked into the Oval Office. As Susan M. Doll writes, “Presley’s success and fame were of such proportions that he had access to the President of the United States on extremely short notice.”
Nixon warmly greeted Elvis, who was dressed in a black suede suit, unbuttoned white shirt, purple velvet cloak, gold-plated belt, and amber-tinted sunglasses. Elvis showed Nixon pictures of his wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie. Elvis asked if Jerry Schilling and bodyguard Sonny West could come into the Oval Office. In they came. Nixon gave them tie clasps with the Presidential Seal and brooches for their wives. Photographs of the proceedings were taken by White House photographer Ollie Atkins. His snaps of Nixon and Elvis shaking hands in the Oval Office are among the most requested photographs in the National Archives. The meeting ended with Presley giving the President, who was definitely not a hugger … … a big hug. Of this, Krogh comically wrote, “President hugging was not … a common occurrence in the Oval Office.” Later that day, Elvis got his narcotics badge.
During the meeting, when Elvis was stressing how he could help with the war on drugs, he started talking about the Beatles, brainwashing, and communism. As Krogh wrote in his notes from the meeting, “Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme. The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise. The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people. … [Elvis] also mentioned that he is studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture for over ten years. He mentioned that he knew a lot about this and was accepted by the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his drug drive. The President indicated again his concern that Presley retain his credibility.”
Krogh later wrote in his book, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, “I didn’t have a clue what Elvis was referring to. … From the look of surprise on the President’s face when Elvis said this, I was convinced the President didn’t know what he was talking about either. Maybe there was an element of jealousy in Presley’s comment as by the time of the meeting with the President, the Beatles were the hottest rock group in the world and had eclipsed Elvis in popularity for some younger fans.”
Elvis had met the Beatles face to face just once, on the evening of August 27, 1965 in his mansion in Los Angeles. The meeting was described by most of those present as somewhat stilted and underwhelming at the beginning, then looser as the night went on. Elvis did like many of the Beatles’ songs, and covered five of them, “Yesterday,” “Lady Madonna,” “Hey Jude,” “Get Back,” and “Something.” When Elvis met Nixon on December 21, 1970, the Beatles had already broken up months before in April, when Paul McCartney publicly announced that he left the group.
Elvis was right about the Beatles’ use of drugs, and that drug addiction was a problem among American youth. He was also right about the Beatles’ stance against the Vietnam War. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were on the vanguard of the protest movement. But where did Elvis get his notion that the Beatles were anti-American, and were being used by communists to brainwash young Americans? Nixon found this incredulous, as did Krogh, who wrote, “I could see the President was having a hard time, as was I, in following the linkage between Communist brainwashing and the drug culture.”
It is possible that Presley got his ideas from David Noebel’s books, especially the pamphlet Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles. Noebel was an author, professor, minister, and founder of Summit Ministries who claimed in several books that communists were using the Beatles, other popular musicians, and mass hypnotism to bring about a communist revolution in America. We devote a whole article to Noebel’s books in the next article to be released. Perhaps Elvis got his ideas from a book that Noebel himself references numerous times, Edward Hunter’s Brain-washing in Red China. Most likely, Elvis got his ideas from three books by J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit, A Study of Communism, and J. Edgar Hoover on Communism.
Hoover was the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from its inception in 1935 until his death in 1972. Elvis was a big fan of Hoover, calling him the “greatest living American.” On December 31, ten days after he met President Nixon, Elvis and his entourage went to the FBI building with the intention of meeting Hoover. Elvis showed the officials there the badge he got from President Nixon and told them that he had read the three books by Hoover mentioned previously. And as he did with Nixon, he brought up the Beatles. M.A. Jones, chief of research at the FBI crime records division, wrote in a memo dated January 4, 1971 to Assistant FBI Director Thomas E. Bishop that Elvis, “is of the opinion that the Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with the young people by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music…” After a tour of the FBI headquarters, Elvis left the building without getting to meet Hoover. On the day of Elvis’s visit, Jones wrote in a memo, “Presley’s sincerity and good intentions notwithstanding he is certainly not the type of individual whom the Director [J. Edgar Hoover] would wish to meet. It is noted at the present time he is wearing his hair down to his shoulders and indulges in the wearing of all sorts of exotic dress.” Thus, the President was willing to meet Elvis but the FBI chief was not.
As we mentioned earlier, it may strike many readers as strange that Elvis would be so eager to offer his help to President Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover to resist the influence of the counterculture. Rock music was clearly a countercultural phenomenon. Rock musicians positioned themselves against authority figures, against traditional attitudes, and against “the system.” In his early years, Elvis was regarded as a social degenerate and a rabble rouser by conservative Christians. Yet in his personal life he was a conservative. He loved to sing Christian gospel songs and was very patriotic to his country. Although most musicians in the counterculture revered him and counted him as among their greatest influences, he did not align himself with them. Content with, or perhaps trapped by, his fame, he contributed little to the musical culture of the 1960s. He played few concerts and spent almost the entire decade making over 25 films. As Charles L. Ponce de Leon writes, “By training and disposition, Elvis was an entertainer, not an artist. … To experiment in the manner of Dylan or the Beatles was simply not in his nature.”
Another reason why he never aligned himself with the counterculture was his service in the Army from 1958 to 1960. He had little patience for war protestors or draft dodgers. Before he wrote his letter to Nixon on board the American Airlines flight, Elvis and Schilling met several soldiers who were returning home from service in Vietnam. Elvis told Schilling to give one of the soldiers $500, all the money they had on them. Perhaps this meeting was part of the reason why Elvis was so eager to speak out against the war protesters to Nixon.
Another twist in this story is Elvis’s connection to drug use. He saw drug abuse as a major problem in America and wanted to do something about it. Cassandra Peterson, who achieved fame as horror movie hostess Elvira, Mistress of the Dark said, “He was so anti-drug when I met him [in 1969]. I mentioned to him that I smoked marijuana, and he was just appalled. He said, ‘Don’t ever do that again’.” Yet from his Army days in the late 1950s, and especially during the 1970s, Elvis abused numerous prescription drugs such as amphetamines, morphine, Quaaludes, and codeine, and became addicted. Presley’s wife Priscilla wrote in her memoir, Elvis and Me, “Elvis was an avid badge collector. He had detective, police, and sheriff badges from all over the nation and the narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him. In Elvis’s mind that badge would give him the right to carry any prescribed drug he had on his person. The badge would also give Elvis and his Memphis Mafia the right to carry arms. With the Federal Narcotics badge he could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”
Sadly, Elvis’s sentiment in his letter to Nixon, “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse…” was all too true. Elvis’s addiction to prescription drugs was a contributing factor to his early death in 1977 at the age of 42. Reflecting on meeting Elvis in 1965, Ringo Starr said, “The saddest part is now, years and years later, we found out that he tried to have us banished from America, ‘cause he was very big with the CIA and everything. That’s very sad to me, that he felt so threatened, that he thought, like a lot of people, that we were bad for the American youth.”
Elvis never did nab any war protestors, draft dodgers, drug lords, or commie rock musicians. Marty Lacker, a member of the Memphis Mafia, said that Elvis was completely sincere and serious about wanting to serve his country by rooting out communist sympathizers in the counterculture. “But,” as Lacker adds, “I really think he wanted to meet Hoover and get an FBI badge.”
 The meeting between Elvis and Nixon was dramatized in the 2016 film Nixon & Elvis written by Joey Sagal & Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, directed by Liza Johnson. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 47677, 2016, DVD.
 “When Nixon Met Elvis.” National Archives website, Nixon Presidential Materials. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/main.php
 Elvis Presley, “Transcript of Elvis Presley’s letter to President Nixon,” When Nixon Met Elvis, National Archives website, Nixon Presidential Materials. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/assets/get_transcript.php?doc=1.1; “Handwritten Letter from Presley to Nixon, Undated,” The Nixon-Presley Meeting, The National Security Archives website, The George Washington University. http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nsa/elvis/docs/doc1.pdf
 Jerry Schilling, with Chuck Crisafulli. Me and a Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley (New York: Gotham Books, 2006), 213-214.
 Egil “Bud” Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon (Bellevue, Wash.: Pejama Press, 1994), 12.
 Susan M. Doll, Understanding Elvis: Southern Roots vs. Star Image (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 174.
 Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, 37-38.
 Bud Krogh, “Memorandum for the President's File from Egil “Bud” Krogh, Re: Meeting with Elvis Presley, 21 December 1970.” National Archives website, Nixon Presidential Materials. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/assets/get_transcript.php?doc=3.1
 Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, 35.
 “The Beatles Meet Elvis Presley,” The Beatles Bible website. https://www.beatlesbible.com/1965/08/27/the-beatles-meet-elvis-presley/
 Ernst Jorgensen, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music: The Complete Recording Sessions (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998).
 Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, 36.
 David Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles (Tulsa, Okla.: Christian Crusade Publications, 1965).
 Edward Hunter, Brain-washing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men’s Minds (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951). Hunter wrote extensively about American POWs being brainwashed by communists during the Korean War, and he popularized the term “brainwashing.” His claims were later shown to be unfounded by a 1956 U.S. military investigation. See Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War. Pamphlet no. 30-101 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Army, 1956), 19, 27, 51.
 J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It (New York: Holt, 1958); A Study of Communism (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962); J. Edgar Hoover on Communism (New York: Random House, 1969).
 The FBI Files on Elvis Presley, ed. Thomas Fensch (Woodlands, Texas: New Century
Books, 2001), 144.
 The FBI Files on Elvis Presley, 145.
 The FBI Files on Elvis Presley, 43-44.
 Charles L. Ponce de Leon, Fortunate Son: The Life of Elvis Presley (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 156.
 Schilling and Crisafulli, Me and a Guy Named Elvis, 212-213.
 Cassandra Peterson, in Ruthe Stein’s, “Girls! Girls! Girls!: From Small-town Women to Movie Stars, Elvis Loved Often But Never True,” SF Gate (August 3, 1997). http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Girls-Girls-Girls-From-small-town-women-to-2814423.php
 Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, with Sandra Harmon, Elvis and Me (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1985), 287.
 Ringo Starr in The Beatles Anthology, series director and writer, Bob Smeaton, producer, Chips Chipperfield, director, Geoff Wonfor. [London]: Apple; [Los Angeles]: Capitol Records, C9 7243 4 92975 9 3, 2003, episode 5, 20:06-20:29. In mentioning the CIA, Ringo most likely meant the FBI.
 Marty Lacker, from Alanna Nash’s, Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 504.
In Atomic Tunes we write much about nuclear weapons, the Berlin Wall, and bomb shelters. In this article we analyze three Cold War music videos about those subjects. Music videos have been created since the early 20th century, but did not gain widespread appeal until the early 1980s. With MTV, which started broadcasting on August 1, 1981, music videos washed into the music business like a tidal wave. Suddenly, musicians spent as much time in front of movie cameras as they did on concert stages or in recording studios. We have found several Cold War music videos that contain unforgettable images and clarify an opinion or perspective that might be vague in the lyrics. On political themes in music videos Anne Johnston Wadsworth and Lynda Lee Kaid write, “Before videos, an artist or group might compose a song to express a political viewpoint, but the basic interpretation was largely left to the listener. … In addition … the lyrics may not be understood by the listeners. But with videos, lyrics are interpreted for audiences through the visuals, providing, in some instances, a new message to the song." Oftentimes, a band’s video would express sharper and more critical views of Cold War events than their music or lyrics would. While lyrics and music allow listeners to visualize the song in their mind’s eye, a music video interprets a song in more concrete terms.
Don’t Push that Red Button!!!
One of the most iconic images or symbols of the Cold War was the “red button,” that if pushed would launch nuclear weapons. Thomas Hine writes, “The imagery of the push button went far beyond the household during the Populuxe years [the 1950s and 1960s]. It was strongly tied to the military’s use of computers and the replacement of manned bombers by guided missiles. … The President of the United States was widely viewed as having a push button on or in his desk that would trigger atomic war as surely and inexorably as a housewife could activate her dishwasher. And in the Kremlin there was another push button, with just about the same power."
The dreaded button of doom continued to be an iconic image of the Cold War into the 1980s. It appears in the videos for Donald Fagen’s “New Frontier” (at 1:16-1:22 discussed below) and Jethro Tull’s “Fylingdale Flyer” (at 2:31 as a red telephone instead of a button). In the video to Ultravox’s “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” (1984), a scientist in a nuclear power plant pushes a red button (at 0:44) when the computer system indicates a meltdown and imminent explosion. The button also makes an appearance at the end of Genesis’s video for “Land of Confusion” (1986), which is populated with caricature puppets of world leaders and celebrities from the British satirical show Spitting Image. The video recounts a strange dream Ronald Reagan has in which he appears as Superman and then a cowboy trying to save the world. He is thirsty when he wakes up from the dream, so he reaches to a panel by his bed to ring for a nurse to bring him a drink of water. The panel has two red buttons labelled “NURSE” and “NUKE.” He presses the wrong button.
The “finger on the button” is such a powerful image because catastrophic death and destruction can be caused by such a simple and commonplace act. Of course, there is no such thing as a single button that can launch a nuclear weapon. For a glimpse into the complex protocol involved in such an operation, see an official explanation in this footnote (which actually alludes to Genesis’s “Land of Confusion” video and Reagan pressing the “NUKE” button). Yet the possibility always exists that a weapon could be launched by accident or by subterfuge, resulting in the loss of life that could number into the millions, simply due to human or computer error. The button is a symbol, albeit an oversimplified symbol, of this undeniable fact. The best of the “red button” videos is Men at Work’s “It’s a Mistake,” which is analyzed in detail below.
Men at Work were an Australian rock band best known for their Billboard number one hits “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” both of which were on their first album Business as Usual (1982). Their second album Cargo from 1983 also had two hits, “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake,” which peaked respectively at number three and number six on the Billboard chart. The lyrics for “It’s a Mistake” are a bit vague, but express the opinion of a soldier questioning the nuclear politics of power-hungry military elite: generals will be eager to advance military weaponry, but if catastrophe happens they will deny their culpability by saying it was a mistake or that the other side was the aggressor. The video, directed by Tony Stevens, makes what is vague in the lyrics clear; it is about the nuclear brinkmanship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and the obsolescence of foot soldiers in a nuclear war.
Some rock musicians were not keen on music videos. They did them as an obligation to their record companies and let video directors take the upper hand in their creation. But most performers were delighted with MTV and saw videos as an opportunity to present themselves and their music in a fresh light. Men at Work took great interest in their videos, especially “It’s a Mistake,” where all the band members appear and play multiple roles as kids, soldiers, and generals. When Men at Work appeared on American Bandstand in 1982, lead singer Colin Hay told Dick Clark, “We script our own videos,” so the video is the band’s own visual interpretation of the song. View the video here.
The timings and song sections below track the significant elements in the video.
0:00-0:18 - Introduction
Stop motion animation of soldier action figures and red toy tanks moving about on a desert battlefield.
0:18-0:46 - Verse 1
The five band members, dressed as kids, play at being soldiers with plastic toy rifles. A general beckons them into a tent, where other generals are partying.
0:46-1:03 - Pre-chorus 1
Four of the band members pose as various “men at work”: an executive (Greg Ham) in an office answers a phone call, an anti-nuke protestor (John Rees) hold a sign that reads “one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day,” a road construction worker (Jerry Speiser) digs with a pick, a doctor (Ron Strykert) wraps a bandage around the ankle of a young boy.
1:03-1:21 - Chorus 1
The four civilians’ work uniforms transform into military uniforms and they are shown on a desert battlefield. In addition, their “props” change: the executive’s office telephone turns into a military field telephone, the protestor’s anti-nuke sign turns into a rifle, the construction worker’s pick turns into a rifle, and the doctor’s bandage turns into a military medic’s bag. They each have a look of astonishment on their face as they and their props change. Each band member lip-synchs the line “It’s a Mistake” as they transform into military personnel.
1:21-1:40 - Verse 2
The soldiers walk through a forest battlefield.
1:40-1:57 - Pre-chorus 2
The soldiers are beaten by old ladies with umbrellas.
1:57-2:16 - Chorus 2
The soldiers face the camera and lip-synch “It’s a Mistake.”
2:16-2:34 - Verse 3
An American and a Soviet military commander stand face to face over a world map and maneuver plastic soldiers and tanks. They both sweep away the figures from the map with their arms.
2:34-2:51 - Pre-chorus 3
A reserved Soviet general is shown on a TV set. A portrait of Vladimir Lenin can be seen on the wall. A cocky American general is shown on the TV and the portrait on the wall changes, possibly to Ronald Reagan.
2:51-3:11 - Chorus 3
Soldiers walk down a dirt road and lip-synch “It’s a Mistake.” Two memorial wreaths are shown side-by-side on the ground, presumably placed on the recently-dug graves of a Soviet and an American soldier. Each wreath is wrapped in a banner which says “It’s a Mistake” in Russian (это ошибка) and in English.
3:11-3:46 - Guitar solo
Ron Strykert plays a Fender Telecaster standing on rocks using his guitar seemingly to defy the fiery winds blowing at him.
3:46-4:32 - Chorus 4
Band members pose as military personnel in American and Soviet nuclear missile command bunkers. The American general (Colin Hay), screams “It’s a Mistake” repeatedly into a telephone. The Soviet general (Jerry Speiser) on the other end of the line shows alarm as he hears the message. The American general accidentally (?) opens the protective lid on a large red button and snuffs out his cigar on the button instead of in the nearby ashtray. His horrified expression shows that he has just launched nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union. The Soviet general and his assistant shut their eyes and plug their ears with their fingers, anticipating the detonation.
Each section of the video is tailored to each section of the song (the introduction, the verses, the pre-choruses, the choruses, and the guitar solo). The sections are discreet and form their own narrative, yet are unified by the overarching anti-nuclear theme. The introduction sets up the first theme of the song, the view that war is a game for generals. The action figures give the impression that soldiers are merely toys that generals unfeelingly move about. Verse 1 provides a different perspective on this with the band acting like young boys playing at war. A general beckons the boys into a tent where other generals drink and party in a tent safely behind the front lines. Pre-chorus 1 and Chorus 1 present a second theme, the militarization of society, with the band members posing as ordinary civilians being transformed like magic into soldiers. The apprehension the band members feel when forced into military life is echoed when each lip-synchs the chorus, “It’s a Mistake.” Verse 2 and Pre-chorus 2 show the soldiers walking through a forest about to meet the foe, but all they meet are old ladies who pummel them with umbrellas. Perhaps this expresses the view that the soldiers are being sent out to fight an enemy that is not very powerful, that the Soviets are not as much of a threat as the U.S. military makes them out to be. Verse 3 highlights another theme of the video, the contrast between conventional and nuclear weapons. The American and Soviet generals are shown moving toy troops and tanks closer to each other on a world map, indicating field maneuvers in conventional warfare. The generals then swipe all the figures from the map in an instant, suggesting the destructive scale of nuclear weapons. Of this scene, Oliver Lindner writes, “On the one hand, it indicates the trial of strength between the powers or the potential casualties inherent in conventional warfare. On the other hand, it also signifies the futility of troop combat operations and, as a logical consequence, the possibility of a rush to weapons of mass destruction.” The most poignant shot in the video comes at the end of Chorus 3, where two memorial wreaths with “It’s a Mistake” in Russian and English are shown sitting side by side on the ground. Here the cost of war in human lives on both sides is the “mistake.”
The climax of the video takes place during the final chorus after the guitar solo. The band members, playing U.S. and Soviet generals and their assistants in missile control bunkers, act out an accidental launch of a nuclear missile. The “mistake” happens when the U.S. general (Colin Hay) nervously drums his fingers on the control panel, accidentally opens the safety lid covering a large red button, and unfortunately snuffs out his cigar on the red button, instead of in the nearby ashtray. Quick shots are used to show the careless action of the U.S. general and the panicked reaction of the Soviet general and his assistant (Jerry Speiser and Greg Ham). The guitar solo and the final chorus are trapped in a descending chromatic progression, with bass player John Rees sounding out the pitches B, A#, A, G#. Descending chromatic progressions (often called “lament bass”) have musically signified sorrow, doom, and death since the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Here it generates a feeling of dread, of being trapped in an irresolvable dilemma. After three cycles of B, A#, A, G#, the progression continues to descend (F#, E, D#, C#, B) and slow in tempo. The video ends with the U.S. general slowly raising his offending hand to his mouth. The expression of shock and horror in his eyes reflects his realization that he, his cigar, and that cursed red button, have started a nuclear war.
The message of the video can be neatly summarized by considering who sings the choruses to “It’s a Mistake.” The first three choruses are sung by civilians and soldiers, warning of the dangers and consequences of nuclear weaponry. Interestingly, the memorial wreaths seen at the end of Chorus 3 join in and silently sing “It’s a Mistake” with the text on their banners. It is only in the last chorus that the general sees the consequences of nuclear brinkmanship, and the possibility of an accidental launching, and sings “It’s a Mistake.” Ordinary civilians and soldiers see nuclear weapons as a threat to human life while military elite see them as status symbols.
The theme of the song and video is also reflected in the cover sleeve of the 45 single. The drawing depicts Soviet and American generals shaking hands while holding red buttons behind their backs. The forced, devious grins on their faces indicate that they are more interested in pressing the red buttons than in making peace. Behind them stand their respective stockpiles of nuclear missiles. The military cap the American general is wearing bears the U.S. coat of arms (also called the Great Seal or the President’s Seal) which is a bald eagle clutching a 13 leaf olive branch in one talon, symbolizing peace, and 13 arrows in its other talon, symbolizing war. Yet on the single sleeve, the eagle is drawn with a nuclear missile in each talon. The Ramones played a similar prank with the Great Seal on the back cover illustrations of their second and third albums Leave Home and Rocket to Russia (both from 1977), discussed in chapter 8 of Atomic Tunes.
Elton’s Cold War Romance Hits a Wall
The Soviet Union was a mysterious land to most Americans and Britons during the Cold War. The women of the Soviet Union were even more of a mystery. A common theme in popular music has been the quest of a man for an uninterested or unattainable woman, and his resultant unrequited love. This theme, which can be traced back to medieval traditions of courtly love, was given a new twist in the Cold War era where the mysterious, unattainable woman was behind the Iron Curtain.
In “Nikita” (1985) by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the protagonist of the song is attracted to a female East German or Soviet border guard at the Berlin Wall. The Iron Curtain was a subject of interest to Elton, since he played several concerts throughout the 1970s and 1980s in West Berlin and was one of the few popular musicians to play in the Soviet Union, which he did in May 1979. On the cover of the 45 single, the two Ns in Elton John’s name and the N in Nikita are shown as the Cyrillic letter I, which looks like a backwards N to Westerners. Thus “ELTOИ JOHИ” and “ИIKITA” make the words look part English and part Russian, capturing in typescript the song’s wish for a cross-cultural romance. Cross-culturalism is also conveyed in Elton’s clothes on the sleeve since he is wearing a brash, snazzy suit jacket, emblematic of European fashion in the 1980s, and a simple white cap bearing a red star, a symbol on the Soviet flag and a universal icon of communism.
The music video for the song was directed by Ken Russell, who directed the 1975 film adaptation of the Who’s album Tommy, which starred Elton as the Pinball Wizard. The song’s form is verse-chorus with a synthesizer solo after the second chorus. The form of the video closely follows the form of the song. It begins with Elton sitting in a car photographing Nikita, a female border guard at the Berlin Wall. During the first verse and chorus, the video shows Elton charming Nikita and her allowing him to cross the border. During the second verse and chorus, he attempts to cross again but a male guard sends Nikita away and refuses to let him enter. The synthesizer solo shows a daydream that Nikita has of spending time with Elton, slow dancing with him, attending a football (soccer) match with him, playing chess, and bowling. The final chorus shows Elton glumly viewing the pictures he has taken of her. They are intrigued by each other, but their circumstances prevent any meaningful interaction. The timings and song sections below track the significant elements in the video.
0:00-1:10 - First verse and chorus
Soldiers goose step in front of the Berlin Wall. Elton is taking photographs of Nikita, an attractive female border guard. He is sitting in a red convertible Bentley, wearing a red/black Watford Football Club coat and a red-banded straw boater hat.
Elton’s car pulls up to the border crossing and is stopped. Nikita checks his passport and lets him through with a slight smirk.
1:44-2:12 - Second verse and chorus
At night in an elevated surveillance booth, Nikita sees Elton standing inside a red heart which he has drawn in the snow. She smiles as she looks at him through the surveillance camera.
Elton again arrives at the border crossing and shows Nikita his passport. Nikita smiles and attempts to speak to him.
A surly male border guard walks up and abruptly dismisses Nikita. She salutes him and walks away. The male guard refuses to let Elton pass the gate. As his car backs up, he waves to Nikita, who stands with a despondent look on her face in the guardhouse doorway.
3:01-3:26 - Synthesizer solo
Daydream sequence: Nikita slow-dances with Elton in a dark club. Eschewing her drab guard uniform, she is wearing makeup and is dressed as fancifully as Elton.
At a football match dressed in Watford colors, Elton and Nikita cheer as Watford scores a goal. Elton is wearing the massive Doc Marten boots that he wore in the film adaptation of Tommy.
Elton and Nikita play chess. Nikita takes Elton’s black queen with her white queen. She places his black queen on the brim of his hat.
Elton is standing in a lane in a bowling alley. A double exposure is used to show Nikita (dressed in red) emerging from Elton’s body and rolling the ball. End of daydream sequence.
3:46-4:31 - Final chorus
The view of Nikita in the guardhouse doorway returns, yet it is a photograph that Elton has taken. Elton sits glumly in a chair, using a slide projector to view the pictures he has taken of her.
Nikita is shown at the Wall with the soldiers goose stepping in front of her.
The use of the color red is a vital element in the video. As with the typescript and Elton’s clothes on the 45 single sleeve, red in the video is a symbol of Elton’s infatuation with Nikita, and his interest in her world. He is dressed in red, sits in a red car, and draws a red heart around himself in the snow. Additionally, Nikita is in a red dress as she emerges from Elton’s body in the bowling alley scene. Although they meet face to face at the Wall, they might as well be from different planets. The Iron Curtain prevents them from forming a relationship and Nikita remains as much a mystery to Elton as the Soviet Union does to the Western world.
Bomb Shelters: The Ultimate Make-Out Pads
Singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen began writing songs with Walter Becker when they met as undergrads at Bard College in 1967 in New York. After a move to Brooklyn and little success trying to get Brill Building artists to record their sardonic songs, they were discovered by producer Gary Katz from ABC Records. He convinced them to move to California, form a group, and record the songs themselves. As Steely Dan, they released seven albums, had several high-charting singles, and sold millions of records. Fagen and Becker broke up in 1981 and pursued solo careers, but reformed Steely Dan in 1993.
Donald Fagen’s first solo album, The Nightfly from 1982, is a concept album about growing up in 1950s and 1960s suburban America. It holds a unique place in Cold War music in that it brings to life simultaneously the two periods when nuclear fear was at its peak: the late 1950s/early 1960s and the early/mid 1980s. On the inside sleeve of the LP, Fagen included a note indicating the theme of the album: “The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build. - D.F.” Fagen, who was born in January 1948, would have been roughly between the ages of ten and fifteen during the period the album depicts. Ted Gioia, in his review of The Nightfly Trilogy writes, “While other works try to evoke the old days by focusing on sock hops and malt shops—think Happy Days or Grease—Fagen understands that these were the most superficial aspects of the era. After the Kennedy assassination, America lost its innocence. We became a cynical nation. What we lost after the Zapruder moment was not our past. It was our future. The Nightfly recaptures that very element, in all its elusiveness. These are songs about the future we lost back in the past, and in that convoluted way resonate with tragedy behind their happy, optimistic facade.”
Two songs in particular, “I.G.Y.” and “New Frontier,” portray life during the Cold War in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The lyrics of “New Frontier” depict a bomb shelter not as a protective bunker to wait out nuclear war, but as a great place for a neighborhood party, a “summer smoker underground.” Fagen said, “This actually was based on a true story that I heard about, some kids who, when their parents go away for the weekend, they use the fallout shelter to have a party. … Of course, the fallout shelters probably would have been useless in the case of living in them anyway, so at least you could have a party.”
The lyrics make some slight references to impending doom, but focus mostly on the protagonist’s desire to drink beer, do the limbo, and meet a woman that reminds him of actress Tuesday Weld. After they hook up, share their admiration for jazz great Dave Brubeck, and pretend that a nuclear war actually took place, they exit the bomb shelter as if they are Adam and Eve in a new frontier. The title of the song is a reference to John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” acceptance speech as the Democratic candidate in the 1960 United States presidential election, when he famously said “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats. ... Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won. That there is no longer an American frontier. ... And we stand today on the edge of a new frontier, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils. ... Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. ... I'm asking each of you to be pioneers towards that New Frontier.” Robert J. Toth, noting how the song gives a lighthearted twist to the speech, writes that Fagen’s “New Frontier” is a “metaphor for the mysteries of sex and adulthood.”
Just as the song is striking in its combination of bright music and sarcastic lyrics, so the music video made for it presents a haunting contrast between optimistic and pessimistic images. Scenes showing the excitement of a young couple’s blooming love and idyllic life in the 1950s are juxtaposed with animated images of Soviet nuclear missiles and mushroom clouds. British film directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel of Cucumber Studios in England were hired to make the video. Although Fagen did not appear in it, and even distanced himself from it, the video augments the Cold War setting of the song. It opens with young lovers leaving a party and jumping into a car. The young man turns on the car stereo and the music of “New Frontier” begins. An animated pattern of red squares is momentarily shown. The viewer quickly realizes that the red squares are houses arranged in a grid-like pattern, a bird’s eye view of a seemingly-endless suburban sprawl. The animation ends and the lovers are shown driving through the suburbs to a fallout shelter. As they are climbing inside, the narrative is interrupted again by animation depicting a massive red hand, with the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol emblazoned on it, pressing a button. A red rocket, bearing both “CCCP” and the hammer and sickle symbol, takes off, apparently on its way to detonate over the network of suburban houses (and our young couple) shown previously. The animation ends and the lovers are shown in the shelter wooing, dancing to Dave Brubeck, flipping through a survival manual, and getting over their shyness. The two young lovers view the fallout shelter as a place to get intimate without being disturbed, rather than a place to survive a nuclear war. Like the bomb shelter novelty songs “Fallout Filly” and “Fallout Shelter” covered in chapter four of Atomic Tunes, the video portrays a fallout shelter as the ultimate make-out pad. The timings, narrative flow, and important visual elements in the video are described below.
Young lovers leave a party and drive off in a 1950s era Buick.
Animation shows a bird’s-eye view of suburban houses and streets.
Lovers drive to a backyard bomb shelter and climb inside.
Animation shows a red Soviet finger pressing a button which launches a nuclear missile.
Lovers kiss, listen to Dave Brubeck, read survival manual.
Animation shows an atomic bomb descending, exploding, and producing a mushroom cloud. Man loses hair.
Lovers smoke cigarettes and drink to relax.
Animation shows a male stick figure wooing a female stick figure.
Man touches his index finger to the lady’s index finger, a reference to the “Creation of Man” section of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco depicting God’s creation of Adam. Lovers dance, as do their respective animated stick figures. Dave Brubeck and his bandmates are animated.
Animation shows a Picasso-esque dismembered sunbather. Sunbather is morphed into S. Neil Fujita’s abstract painting on the cover of Brubeck’s 1959 Time Out album.
Lovers continue to woo and recline in each other’s arms.
Animation shows a red rocket flying over suburban homes.
Woman leaves man, who has fallen asleep in the shelter.
Animation shows an American general strutting, Soviet missiles menacing him, a mushroom cloud billowing, and a family climbing into a fallout shelter.
Man wakes up, climbs out of the shelter and sees someone in a gas mask and hazmat suit. It turns out to be his lover. She takes the gas mask off and they embrace. Video ends with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s “peace” symbol.
Dave Brubeck is mentioned in the lyrics of the song, but Morton and Jankel of Cucumber Studios make him a recurring symbolic element throughout the video. The lovers dance to Brubeck’s music, he and his three bandmates are animated onscreen, and the cover of his 1959 album Time Out is shown twice. Most obviously, the young man with his horn-rimmed glasses looks much like Brubeck in the late 1950s. Thus, the video fleshes out the lyrical reference, giving it new layers of meaning and alluding to the jazz pianists’ role in the Cold War. Fagen was a big fan of Brubeck’s music.
In the spring of 1958, Brubeck was asked to be a cultural ambassador by the U.S. State Department. The Dave Brubeck Quartet traveled to cities in England, Western Europe, Poland, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Rumors were spread that the Brubeck Quartet may travel to the Soviet Union and play in Moscow, but this never materialized. Nevertheless, they did play several concerts in Poland, a country behind the Iron Curtain, and Iraq, which in 1958 signed a treaty with the Soviet Union to trade oil for weapons. Brubeck saw in his jazz quartet a model and symbol of democracy, in that each member was encouraged to play in his own manner and had ample opportunities for soloing. In addition, Brubeck’s quartet was racially integrated, with African American Eugene Wright playing upright bass. Just before Brubeck travelled to Europe in 1958 he said, “Jazz represents America in so many ways. Take freedom for example. In jazz you have freedom of expression within the structure of the musical form. In the United States we have individual freedom within the structure of the Constitution.”
Thus in the video, the emphasis placed on Brubeck in a bomb shelter adds irony to an already ironic song. Brubeck’s jazz is used as a symbol of freedom, yet the couple listens to his music in what amounts to a prison cell underground. Brubeck hoped his music would play a part in the cultural communication between the superpowers, but in the video all it can do is bring together two lovers. His music can bring two people together underground, but not two nations above ground. Yet, the video ends on a bright note. When the young man discovers that his mate is missing from the shelter, he climbs up the ladder, opens the door, and sees someone wearing a gas mask and hazmat suit. It turns out to be his girlfriend. The blue skies above them show that nuclear war did not occur. After the lovers embrace, the video ends with the logo of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, commonly known as the “peace” symbol. Although the danger of nuclear war was a false alarm and the couple emerges to a sunny day, the video has planted in the viewer’s mind the reality that it may not be a false alarm next time.
 Anne Johnston Wadsworth and Lynda Lee Kaid, “Political Themes and Images in Music Videos,” in Politics in Familiar Contexts: Projecting Politics through Popular Media, ed. Robert L. Savage and Dan Nimmo (Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1990), 160-161.
 Thomas Hine, Populuxe (Woodstock, N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 2007), 128, 133.
 Jason Wiese, “The Myth of the Big Red Button: How the ICBM Force Maintains Positive
Control, Nuclear Surety.” Air Force Global Strike Command website. http://www.afgsc.af.mil/News/Features/Display/tabid/2652/Article/629957/the-mythof-the-big-red-button-how-the-icbm-force-maintains-positive-control-nu.aspx
 Colin Hay, from “Dick Clark Interviews Men at Work - American Bandstand 1982.” YouTube video, 2:05. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6irWveHiXY
 This scene may have been inspired by two Monty Python sketches. In the “Batley Townswomen’s Guild Presents the Battle of Pearl Harbour” sketch, old ladies “reenact” the Battle of Pearl Harbor by whacking each other with purses and wrestling in the mud. In the “Hell’s Grannies” sketch, a town is terrorized by surly, pugnacious grandmothers. The sketches are in the episodes “The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes to the Bathroom” and “Full Frontal Nudity” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, season 1, 1969. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Hay mentions his enthusiasm for Monty Python in Gino Vivinetto’s interview “Off-duty from Men at Work,” St. Petersburg Times (April 26, 2001).
 Oliver Lindner, “‘Two Tribes’: The Cold War in Music Videos of the Mid-1980s.” In Between Fear and Freedom: Cultural Representations of the Cold War, ed. Kathleen Starck (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010), 129.
 Perhaps the general intentionally opened the safety lid and intentionally snuffed out his cigar on the button. The video cleverly leaves his actions ambiguous, allowing the viewer to wonder if the missile launch was perhaps not a “mistake” at all.
 The descending progression, and the mood it projects, is best exemplified in the ground bass of Dido’s aria “When I Am Laid in Earth” in Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas from 1688.
 Some examples would be “Cold, Cold Heart” by Hank Williams (1951), “For No One” by the Beatles (1966), “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos (1970), “The Flame” by Cheap Trick (1988), “Creep” by Radiohead (1992), “She’s So High” by Tal Bachman (1999), and “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt (2004).
 Nikita’s face is shown just before the sequence begins, implying that it is her daydream. Yet at the end of the daydream, Elton is shown viewing the pictures he has taken of her, implying that the daydream could also have been his.
 Donald Fagen, The Nightfly. Warner Bros. Records 1-23696, 1982, LP.
 Ted Gioia, “The Nightfly Revisited.” The Jazz.com Blog. February 17, 2008. http://steelydanreader.com/2008/02/17/the-nightfly-revisited/
 Donald Fagen, in Ben Sidran’s Talking Jazz: An Illustrated Oral History (San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1992), 190.
 Robert J. Toth, “The Nightfly Still Lives at 25,” The Wall Street Journal (January 9, 2008).
 Sweet, Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years, 208.
 Stephen A. Crist, “Jazz as Democracy? Dave Brubeck and Cold War Politics,” Journal of Musicology 26, no. 2 (2009): 147-148.
 Dave Brubeck, in Russ Wilson’s “Brubeck Quartet Off for Poland,” Oakland Tribune, February 2, 1958 (Brubeck Collection, 1.E. 1a.8), quoted in Stephen A. Crist’s, “Jazz as Democracy?: 162.
In chapter six of Atomic Tunes, we have a section on Billy Joel’s tour of the Soviet Union in July/August 1987, in which he was the first Western rock musician to stage large scale rock concerts there. We also discuss his 1989 song “Leningrad” about both Cold War history and Joel’s experiences during the tour. While “Leningrad” was a minor hit, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (both from the album 1989 Storm Front) hit number one on the Billboard chart and has come be one of Joel’s most recognized songs. It too is deeply enmeshed in Cold War history. It is distinctive for its rapid-fire list of significant historical events, and gives the listener an indication of how long the Cold War lasted: long enough for someone to track its events throughout their lifetime from birth into middle age. Joel’s song recounts, in one to five word phrases, the major historical events in the first 40 years of his life, from 1949 (four years after the first atomic bomb was dropped) to 1989 (the year the Berlin Wall began to be dismantled). When asked if he meant the song to be a history of the Cold War, Joel explained that he wrote the song to celebrate his 40th birthday and was simply chronicling the major events during his life span. Many of those major events had to do with the Cold War. He added, “It has a symmetry to it. It’s 40 years, from ’49 to ’89. It was just my luck that the Soviet Union decided to close down shop at that particular time.”
The song is full of Cold War data, from beginning to end. The lyrics start with Harry Truman, who gave the order to detonate the first atomic bomb ending World War II and beginning the Cold War. The penultimate item Joel cites is the Tiananmen Square protest resulting in martial law in China, a struggle between progressive or repressive communism. The song was released on September 27, 1989, a month and a half before the Berlin Wall began to be dismantled. Of the 119 events, people, places, inventions, books, and films name-dropped in the song, at least 29 (almost 25%) directly reference the Cold War: U.S. President Harry Truman, the formation of Communist China, Senator Joseph McCarthy, North Korea, South Korea, spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the hydrogen bomb, Panmunjom (where the Korean War ended), Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and his right hand man Georgy Malenkov, the Communist Bloc, attorney Roy Cohn (McCarthy’s crony), the fall of Điện Biên Phủ in Vietnam, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Suez Canal Crisis, the Russian satellite Sputnik, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, rocket tests with monkeys, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the U-2 spy plane, South Korean President Syngman Rhee, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the Congo Crisis, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs invasion, North Vietnam President Ho Chi Minh, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and China declaring martial law as a result of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Several other events in the lyrics have indirect connections to the Cold War. The lyrics demonstrate how for people born in the 1940s, the Cold War was in the news on a daily basis throughout their lives. For a deeper analysis of the lyrics, musicologist Ken Bielen has provided an excellent summary of the historical events listed in the song.
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” is the perfect example of a popular song that stimulates in listeners an interest in history and international affairs, a rock song that can actually teach you something. The song originated in a conversation Joel had with Sean Lennon (John Lennon’s second son) in 1989 in which the fourteen-year-old remarked that not much happened in the 1950s when Joel was growing up. Joel pointedly responded, “Are you kidding me? Have you ever heard of the Korean War? You ever hear of Little Rock? You ever hear of the Hungarian Uprising? All kinds of stuff happened.” Joel then started to compile a list of the major people and events in his lifetime. When he had questions on chronology, he perused expansive encyclopedias like Chronicle of the 20th Century, a hefty 1,357 page book which traces the major events of the 20th century month by month. Drummer Liberty DeVitto said, “I can remember him standing in the studio with this book called Chronicles, this really thick book about history, and he just kept flipping the pages from 1949 until the year Storm Front came out. He rearranged them so that they rhymed, but that’s how we got the song.” Joel said of himself, “I’m a history nut. I devour history books. At one time I wanted to be a history teacher.” Joel’s song is a favorite among history teachers. Educators such as Scott Allsop, Ron Kurtus, and Michael Longrie have written academic articles and created websites using “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to teach 20th century world history to high school and college students.
Joel has always expressed affection for the song’s lyrics, but he says “…that melody is horrendous. It’s like a mosquito droning. It’s one of the worst melodies I've ever written.” The melody of the verses is rigid and persistent, but certain asymmetrical features of the song’s form keep it from sounding monotonous. The chorus provides contrast. Most of the verses have four groups of two lines, but one has two groups and another has three. The first verse has an instrumental break in the middle of it. The bridge after the second chorus changes key. Compared to other contemporaneous “barrage of lyrics” rock songs, Joel’s at least has a discernible melody. The melodies of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965), Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” (1973), Reunion’s “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)” (1974) and R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (1987), innovative and a joy to listen to in their own ways, tend to hover around a single pitch.
For most of the song, each group of two lines covers the main events of each year from 1949 to the late 1980s. For example, the two lines consisting of “Harry Truman” to “Joe DiMaggio” cover the year 1949 and “Joe McCarthy” to “Marilyn Monroe” cover 1950. Joel focuses more on the history of the 1950s and 1960s, squeezing events from the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s into the final few groups. This gives the impression by the end of the song that time is speeding up, spinning out of control, and hurling us toward some inexorable catastrophe. The song sounds like a celebration and a lament at the same time. It gives listeners a sense of being both exhilarated and overwhelmed by the times they have lived through, that the human race is lucky to have survived the 20th century at all, with its horrific procession of wars, dictators, famines, genocides, and the invention of the hydrogen bomb.
High school teacher Scott Allsop created this video with historical photographs for every item mentioned in the lyrics of Billy’s Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Watch and get a history lesson!
 Billy Joel in “Billy Joel - Q&A: Tell Us About ‘We Didn't Start The Fire?’” University of Oxford, May 5, 1994, 3:47-3:58. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx3T8pbDcms
 Ken Bielen, The Words and Music of Billy Joel (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2011), 75-79.
 Billy Joel in Fred Schruers’s Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography (New York: Crown Archetype, 2014), 200.
 Chronicle of the 20th Century. Editor in chief, Clifton Daniel (Mount Kisco, N.Y.: Chronicle Publications, 1987).
 Liberty DeVitto, from interview with Annie Zaleski from “‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ was an Accidental Hit that Captured Craziness,” A.V. Club (December 16, 2014). http://www.avclub.com/article/we-didnt-start-fire-was-accidental-hit-captured-cr-212802
 Hank Bordowitz, Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man (New York: Billboard Books, 2005), 168.
 Scott Allsop, “‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’: Using 1980s Popular Music to Explore Historical Significance by Stealth.” Teaching History 137 (December 2009): 52-59. http://www.mrallsophistory.com/revision/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/We-Didnt-Start-the-Fire-article.pdf; Ron Kurtus, “‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ (Facts) History Summary from 1949-1989,” School for Champions website. http://www.school-for-champions.com/history/start_fire_facts.htm#.VXsBybfbK70; Michael Longrie, “Billy Joel’s History Lesson.” College Teaching 45, no. 4 (Fall 1997): 147-149.
 Billy Joel in Bill DeMain’s In Their Own Words: Songwriters Talk about the Creative Process (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004), 119.
Recently, Rowman & Littlefield released the volume Christian Sacred Music in the Americas (2021). Andrew Shenton and I coedited the volume and had the great joy of working with many wonderful scholars. The publisher kindly offered me permission to share the full-text of my chapter on this site. Please feel free to read it and share with others who would find it useful. My chapter "Hymns of Joyful Praise: Sacred Harp Singing in Athens, Georgia" specifically addresses Athens, Georgia (and its surrounding counties) as an important node in the dissemination and performance of shape-note hymns.
As a university town surrounded by rural spaces, Athens, Georgia functions as a nexus both for traditional singing practices and for scholarly research into and publication of shape-note hymnals. The collaboration between scholars and singers created a feedback loop that strengthened and renewed the local practice of shape-note traditions. This study uses archival research and oral histories of local singers to explore the distinctive nature of the Athens area singings, focusing on key historical moments, individuals, and venues from the 19th century to the present.
There are several chapters in the book on shape-note hymn traditions, for those who are Sacred Harp practitioners or researchers. It also covers a wide variety of sacred music topics across the Americas, from chant traditions in Brazil to a study on a Choctaw hymnal. The publisher has also offered a 30% discount code for buying the volume through their site: RLFANDF30.
From their website:
Christian Sacred Music in the Americas explores the richness of Christian musical traditions and reflects the distinctive critical perspectives of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music. This volume, edited by Andrew Shenton and Joanna Smolko, is a follow-up to SCSM’s Exploring Christian Song and offers a cross-section of the most current and outstanding scholarship from an international array of writers.
Here are two sections that didn't make it into Atomic Tunes, on Soviet Premiers Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.
In the early 1950s, several country musicians wrote songs about Joseph Stalin. The songs provided a way for the average American to point a proverbial warning finger at the Soviet leader with no fear of reprisal. Although Stalin was regarded as an important ally during World War II, since the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the Nazi war machine from 1941 until the end of the war, America’s regard for him soon dissipated in the mid to late 1940s. James S. Olson summarizes the typical American impression of Stalin in the 1950s as, “…the primary symbol of the malignancy of communism and the threat it posed to the free world. … Stalin replaced Adolf Hitler, in the minds of Americans, as the incarnation of evil. … Stalin’s willingness to see to the demise of tens of millions of his own people could easily translate into the destruction of millions of Americans. Once the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons in 1949, that threat seemed even more real.”
Southerners, especially, viewed him as the world’s greatest threat to democracy, Christianity, and capitalism. The onset of the Korean War in 1950 spurred many country performers to chastise him by name in their songs. The first of the five country songs we will consider is “Mr. Stalin You're Eating Too High on the Hog” by Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith and his Crackerjacks from 1950. Smith, an accomplished guitar, fiddle, and banjo player, wrote over 500 songs and hosted several radio and television programs. His most well-known composition is “Feudin’ Banjoes” from 1955. It was later recorded by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell, renamed “Duelling Banjoes,” and used in the film Deliverance (1972). The jaunty bluegrass rhythm, comical accordion riffs, and wry vocal delivery in “Mr. Stalin” give the song a half country/half Vaudevillian character. The lyrics scold Stalin for thinking the Soviet Union can match the military might and affluent lifestyle of America. The phrases “eating high on the hog” or “eating high off the hog” refer to eating the choicest cuts of meat on a pig, the loin (which is the pig’s back) and upper leg, commonly called pork chops and ham. The impression the lyrics give is that Americans are accustomed to eating the best cuts, pork chops and ham, while the Russians should stick with the lesser cuts, such as the pig’s feet, chitterlings (intestines), and belly. Smith takes the insult even further in the last verse, telling Stalin to give up meat and “stick to Kremlin wheat.” The not-so-subtle suggestion here is that the Soviets have weak constitutions, and they should become vegetarians because eating meat might give them “American indigestion.” The quip about “Kremlin wheat” may be a reflection of the negative view of vegetarianism in America in the 1950s. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson writes, “There was a time when to be vegetarian (never mind vegan) was considered ‘unmanly’ and a sure sign of physical weakness.” Vegetarianism did not begin to attract attention, and some respect, until 1971 with the publication of Frances Moore Lappé's bestseller Diet for a Small Planet.
“Kremlin wheat” may also be a reference to the numerous five-year plans that Stalin instituted beginning in the late 1920s to industrialize the Soviet Union and boost its economy. A large factor in the widespread plans was the collectivization by the Soviet government of hundreds of privately-owned peasant farms, many whose primary crop was wheat. Peasant farmers were forced to combine their lands with their neighbors to form large parcels, work the fields collectively, and then sell their products to the government--with little remuneration--to feed the rapidly growing class of industrial workers in the cities. The wheat ceased to be the property of the farmers and became the property of the Kremlin, hence “Kremlin wheat.” By the 1930s, collectivization had become a massive failure causing widespread famine in rural Russia, what was once called the “breadbasket of Europe.” In short, the lyrics portray Americans as muscular, manly, meat-eaters and the Soviets as weak, effeminate, famine-plagued vegetarians. Ironically, one of the most popular dishes in America in the 1950s was Beef Stroganoff, a hefty, hearty meal if ever there was one. This light-hearted song ends with a darkly ominous nuclear threat. The penultimate line in the last chorus admonishes Stalin to “remember the rising sun,” a reference to the Japanese flag, hence Japan itself and the destruction it suffered from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The next song “No, No Joe” was recorded in 1950 by country great Hank Williams. He released it under a pseudonym “Luke the Drifter.” “Luke the Drifter” was an alter ego that Williams created to give himself an opportunity to record more personal and serious songs. By 1950, he was feeling trapped by his public persona and wished to release weightier songs without the risk of alienating his audience that expected more hits like “Move It On Over.” In the “Luke” songs, which often incorporate spoken recitations, he grapples with inner demons, moral questions, and social issues. Williams himself wrote most of these songs but Fred Rose, one of the most respected songwriters from the early years of country music and Williams’ close friend, wrote “No, No Joe.”
In the lyrics, Rose humorously denounces Stalin’s “cult of personality.” Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Soviet music, art, and literature praised Stalin as the “father of peoples.” Posters used the iconographic practices of the Russian Orthodox Church to portray him as a god-like figure, a secular saint, omnipotent yet benevolent. Statues of him adorned public squares, cities were renamed after him, and his name was included in the Soviet Union’s national anthem. Ironically, Stalin stressed to his party comrades that true Bolshevists were devoted to the state and to the working class, and they should not make spectacles of themselves. By the late 1940s, Americans were getting wind of the Stalin cult and this song is a reaction to it. Rose and Williams make it clear that America will not suffer his fear tactics. Williams’ taunting and playful delivery strips the Soviet leader of his grandeur, takes him down a few pegs, and portrays him as an imposter. He admonishes Stalin with lines like “Don't go throwin’ out your chest / You’ll pop the buttons off your vest.” The lyrics equate Stalin with “the Kaiser” (Wilhelm II of Germany), Hitler, and Mussolini, and state that these fallen leaders are saving a place in hell for him.
While Arthur Smith and Hank Williams scold Stalin with humor, Roy Acuff has little to offer him but doom and destruction in his “Advice to Joe” (1951). Known as the “King of the Hillbillies” and the “King of Country Music,” Acuff helped to establish Nashville as the center of country music in the 1930s and 1940s through his appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and his creation of the foundational label Acuff-Rose with Fred Rose. “Advice to Joe” is a reaction to the Soviet Union becoming a nuclear power in August 1949, when they successfully detonated their first atomic bomb. Acuff warns Stalin that if he dares to use an atomic bomb on the United States, he will be paid back swiftly and Moscow will be demolished. If he survives, he’d better find a place to hide because Uncle Sam will have a noose ready. God will shut Heaven to him and he’ll be “face to face with Satan.” Acuff also takes the time to remind Stalin that he is an ingrate. He’s forgotten that “Uncle Sammy” helped him during World War II. Like the anti-communist country songs we discuss in chapter 3 of Atomic Tunes, this one is as unsubtle as, well, an atomic bomb.
Two country songs celebrate Stalin’s death in 1953: “Death of Joe Stalin (Good Riddance)” by Buddy Hawk and his Buddies and “Stalin Kicked the Bucket” by Ray Anderson. Hawk’s somber song expresses relief that a threat to the world had been removed while Anderson’s song is filled with glee and merriment. Both assume Stalin wound up in hell, since Hawk refers to him as the “devil’s helper” and Anderson says Satan can retire since Stalin will “keep the fire” and stoke the “devil’s train.” Hawk must have written and recorded his song as soon as he heard of Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, since a large advertisement for the song appeared just nine days later in the March 14, 1953 issue of Billboard magazine. Anderson’s song came out two weeks later.
Poking Fun at Khrushchev
The songs about Stalin usually put him in league with the devil and warn him that Uncle Sam will have to teach him a lesson. The next three songs about Khrushchev, on the other hand, are not quite as vitriolic and chastising. (Just one of them puts Khrushchev in league with the devil.) They are evidence of “The Thaw” after Stalin’s death in 1953, during which Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s totalitarianism, released millions of political prisoners from the Gulag prison camps, lessened the restrictions on artistic expression, and gave Russian citizens a certain degree of economic freedom. Instead of pointing a warning finger at Khrushchev, they poke fun at him. Khrushchev’s gregarious nature can be seen near the beginning of “Red Spring,” the fourteenth episode of CNN’s definitive documentary Cold War, which contains footage of him drinking merrily with his advisors and wrestling with them in the snow. Although Khrushchev was at times as ruthless a dictator as his predecessor, as these songs show, he was much more approachable than the stony and statue-like Stalin.
The major impetus for these songs was Khrushchev’s visit to the United States from September 15-27, 1959, in which he became the first Soviet leader to set foot on American soil. A large part of the “Khrushchev Thaw” was his desire to travel to other countries and engage in their cultures, something Stalin never did after World War II. The first song, Jimmie Driftwood’s folk novelty “The Bear Flew over the Ocean” (1959) reflects the ambivalent feelings Americans had about Khrushchev’s visit. Driftwood is most well-known for his song “The Battle of New Orleans.” Johnny Horton’s recording of it reached number one on the Billboard chart in 1959. Driftwood is also famous for the homemade acoustic guitar he played. His grandfather fashioned it from a fence post, an ox yoke, and the headboard of his wife’s bed. “The Bear Flew over the Ocean,” a reworking of the children’s song “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” characterizes America as “friendly,” “free,” “peaceful,” and “powerful.” It characterizes Khrushchev as simply a “big bear,” a common stereotype of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. In the middle of the song, Driftwood picks out on his grandfather’s guitar the opening phrase of “The Marines’ Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”). Although the lyrics speak of America as “friendly” and “peaceful,” this allusion to one of the most revered of U.S. military songs puts more emphasis on “powerful,” giving the song more punch. Driftwood was invited to perform his songs for Khrushchev during his 1959 visit, but little has been written about if this actually occurred. What is more well-known is that Driftwood played the song outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York City (while Khrushchev was visiting there) standing next to large stuffed black bear. A picture of him next to this “big bear” appeared in the September 28, 1959 issue of Life magazine. Was this a protest or just a mischievous prank? Tellingly, a year earlier on the back cover of his 1958 album Jimmie Driftwood Sings Newly Discovered Early American Folk Songs, Driftwood said of his hearty Ozark Mountain ancestors, “My grandfathers were great deer and bear hunters.”
While Driftwood’s song paints Khrushchev as a big bear, the next song paints him as a big spender. “I Dreamt I Saw Khrushchev (In a Pink Cadillac)” from 1962 was written by composer and lyricist Mel Leven, who wrote music for Walt Disney movies such as One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) and Babes in Toyland (1961). It was sung by actor and puppeteer Walker Edmiston, who was the voice of Enik in Land of the Lost (1974-1976) and Ernie the Elf in Keebler cookie television commercials. The narrator in the song dreams that Khrushchev is frivolously basking in American consumerism and entertainment. The first three verses place Khrushchev in a pink Cadillac on his way to a ball game eating a hot dog, drinking Coca-Cola, getting his bald head rubbed by two giggly girls in the back seat, and singing “Is good fine country here in U.S.A.” In the fourth verse the narrator is awoken from his dream by the television, which shows a mob singing in front of the Kremlin. They are singing the new Russian national anthem, “Is Good Fine Country There is U.S.A.”
Each of the four verses has three lines plus a one-line repeated refrain. Edmiston sings the first three lines of each verse in the voice of Barky the Dog, a character he created for The Walker Edmiston Show (1950s-1960s). He speaks/sings the refrains in a mock Khrushchev accent. In addition, Edmiston’s voice is treated with reverb, giving it a somewhat menacing weigh and tone, as if he is speaking from a podium at a massive communist party rally. Actually, he is speaking about how much he loves the U.S.A. in the refrains: “Is good fine country here in U.S.A.” in the first three and “Is good fine country there in U.S.A.” in the fourth.
Placing Khrushchev in a pink Cadillac is not the only way to poke fun at the Soviet leader. In the shuffling rockabilly tune “Khrushchev and the Devil” (1962), Jay Chevalier puts him on the phone with Satan to discuss the details of world domination. Khrushchev tells his “pal Satan” of his plans to take over the world with his submarines, Sputniks, and missiles, and asks for a little assistance. The devil would like to oblige his “buddy Khru” but admits that the “Yankee people” have just as many submarines, Sputniks, and missiles as the Soviets. Satan and Khrushchev must face the fact that they “can’t whip the U.S.A.” These three songs lampoon the Russian Premier by portraying him as a bear, a playboy, and the devil’s crony.
 James S. Olson, Historical Dictionary of the 1950s (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. 2000), 271.
 Warner Brothers or Weissberg never approached Smith to obtain permission to use his composition in Deliverance. He successfully sued for lost royalty payments and songwriting credit.
 Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Food (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009), 174.
 Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971).
 For more information on the Soviet collectivization of peasant farms, see Lynne Viola’s Peasant Rebels under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture of Peasant Resistance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
 Colin Escott, with George Merritt and William MacEwen, Hank Williams: The Biography (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994), 125-126.
 Jan Plamper, The Stalin Cult: A Study in the Alchemy of Power (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution, Stanford University; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
 “The Death of Joe Stalin” advertisement, The Billboard (March 14, 1953): 44.
 “Stalin Kicked the Bucket” advertisement, The Billboard (March 28, 1953): 43.
 “Red Spring” episode from Cold War: The Complete Series. A Jeremy Isaacs Production for Turner Original Productions. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Warner Home Video 3000042713, 2012, 6 DVD set, 1:20-1:56.
 Zac Cothren, “Jimmy Driftwood,” in Encyclopedia of Arkansas Music, ed. Ali Welky and Mike Keckhaver (Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2013), 79.
 “Khrushchev Confronts the Republic,” Life 47, no. 13 (September 28, 1959): 40-41.
 Jimmie Driftwood, Jimmie Driftwood Sings Newly Discovered Early American Folk Songs. RCA Victor LPM 1635, 1958, LP.
 The label on the single shows “Walker Edmiston as Barky.”
We have two chapters in Atomic Tunes about folk musicians, but we couldn't quite squeeze this section in, about Burl Ives and Pete Seeger.
Thanks to his role as wise old Sam the Snowman in the Christmas television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Burl Ives (1909-1995) has been remembered as a grandfatherly figure, a singer of songs, and a teller of stories. Less well-known, yet more intriguing, is his role in the folk-singing movement. Ives moved to New York City in 1933 and over time became closely involved with those at the nucleus of the folk music revival: Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, and many others. He performed at fund-raisers for traditionally left-wing causes and participated in a weekly radio show created by Alan Lomax and Nick Ray entitled Back Where I Come From (1940-1941). Along with his involvement with the folk music community in the 1940s, he pursued more commercial opportunities, including film. During World War II he was drafted into the Army. He entertained the troops and performed in Irving Berlin’s military musical This is the Army.
However, Ives’ relationship with the folk singing community began to splinter after he was listed in Red Channels (1950) as a suspected communist subversive. Red Channels was a book released in June 1950 by the American Business Consultants, an anti-communist organization led by former FBI agents and supporters of the John Birch Society that also published the weekly anti-communist newsletter Counterattack. Like Senator Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), American Business Consultants’ objective was to expose communists and communist sympathizers. The tone of Red Channels is black and white, leaving little room for gray. The introduction is quite plain in stating that the 151 persons listed were to be regarded as either communists or hapless dupes of them. Thus it is no surprise that when copies of the book were sent to radio stations, television studios, and Hollywood film studios, the people listed therein were thought of as having a scarlet red “C” embroidered on their garments. Actors, directors, screenwriters, playwrights, musicians, composers, and other in the arts were blacklisted and had their careers hindered or ruined because of their political beliefs.
In order to save his career, Ives needed to act quickly to control the damage. First, he visited the New York branch of the FBI to defend himself. A letter to the director of the FBI states that “On 9/7/50, BURL IVES appeared at the Bureau and advised that he had severed all connections with communists and communism.” Subsequently, Ives voluntarily appeared before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) on May 20, 1952, which was the Senate counterpart to the HUAC. In this appearance, he reaffirmed his distance from communism. He deftly asserted his role as a “missionary” for American folk songs, which he says led him to participate in a wide variety of events without looking closely to whom he was singing. His motivation, he repeatedly asserts, was his love of music and he felt “persecuted” that anyone would associate him with communism. He expounds, “I should like to state that I made a decision a good many years ago in regard to communism. I realized I was not a communist and did not believe in the communist philosophy. But having been, for many years, around New York and in what they call the general labor movement, and at the time of the New Deal, I was in the middle of all of these artistic things that were happening. As a matter of fact, my first audience as a singer was various unions and so-called progressive organizations. At this time, I sang for groups wherever I could get an audience, because nobody would listen to me before, and to have an audience to sing my songs made me very happy.”
He describes organizations he participated in and performed for in a variety of terms such as “liberal, do-good organizations.” He states, “During all of this time there was never a question in regard to any of these organizations of the Soviet Union or Soviet Union communism. This was purely American business, so far as I was concerned, and had to do with various positive things.” Ives shifts the tone of his testimony the further he gets into the interview. He employs two rhetorical devices to support his innocence. First, he breaks into song, performing a patriotic ballad as an example of the kind of music he performed early in his career, “I Just Got My Army Call.” Second, when questioned about a performance during this time, he fixates on his love of a man who shares with him a reputation for jolliness and children’s entertainment. His love for this man and his vibrant attire, not communism, motivated him, “As a matter of fact, the organization I didn’t know, and I just went because of the idea of wearing a Santa Claus suit.” By pairing together the images of patriotism and Christmas nostalgia, Ives positions himself as a loyal American.
All festivity is left behind, however, when Ives begins to go on the offensive and name names. With the mention of Pete Seeger, Ives appears to be vindictive. He says his relationship with him and other left-wing folk singers was “chilly.” He elaborates, “…I am acquainted with Peter and one or two of the other people. But it has not been a warm relationship and the assistance that I have offered to them has been in the furtherance of folk music, and certainly never to further the purposes of the Soviet Union or any other organization that would be against our Government.”
The questioning shifts to his participation in political events hosted by the Communist Political Association (an alternate name for the Communist Party USA) in 1944. After defending himself, he takes on a tone of hesitation as he continues, “I am very sorry to have to bring up names in this matter” and proceeds to name a number of his associates including the musician Richard Dyer-Bennett, and Allan Meltzer, who had previously worked as Ives’ publicity agent. Ironically, though he wanted the committee to know that he expressed no political affiliations by attending the meetings of the CPUSA, he said that the presence of others there suggested their affiliations with the organization. Ives was asked one final question by investigator Donald D. Connors, Jr.:
MR. CONNORS. Mr. Ives, do you feel that it is incumbent upon those persons who have been in some way, however slight, affiliated with the Communist Party, or the Communist Political Association, to come forward and tell of their experiences in the sense that they have a civic or a moral or patriotic duty to make this disclosure?
IVES: I believe it is the duty of every citizen to say where he stands.
In light of those who were threatened, blacklisted, and sometimes even jailed for their assertion of their rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, it is perhaps Ives’ closing statement that is the most shocking.
On August 18, 1955, Pete Seeger was summoned to appear before the HUAC. Near the beginning of his testimony, he said that he loves his country deeply, had never done anything of a conspiratory nature against it, and served for three and a half years in the Armed Forces. His testimony was quite different from Ives’: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”
The folk-singing community was stunned by Ives’ testimony, given the high regard for freedom of speech that folk musicians valued. Their verbal retribution was sharp and swift. The October 1952 issue of the folk magazine Sing Out! featured an editorial on Ives’ testimony before the FBI and the SISS, denouncing his actions. It was most likely penned by editor Irwin Silber. It read, “The future of Burl Ives should be interesting. We’ve never seen anyone sing while crawling on his belly before. But maybe Burl Ives will be able to figure it out. It shouldn’t be too hard. Nothing’s too hard for a stool-pigeon—except keeping his integrity.” Burl Ives was ousted from the folk singing circles, and many former friends and colleagues would no longer associate with him. Pete Seeger’s reputation and career was greatly damaged for almost two decades, in part by being called anti-American by Burl Ives. Meanwhile Ives went on to great success, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1959 and becoming Sam the Snowman in 1964.
Later in his career, Ives participated in the same types of social causes championed by Seeger and others in the folk movement. For example, in the 1970s, he became part of the “This Land is Your Land—Keep it Clean” advertising campaign put out by the Bureau of Land Management. Considering the rift between Ives and folk revival community, the association of Ives with a campaign titled after Woody Guthrie’s most iconic song is tinged with irony. It wasn’t until 40 years later however, that the rift was finally repaired. Ives, Seeger, Paul Robeson Jr., Josh White Jr., Odetta and many others were invited to perform at a gala concert at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The invitations were issued most likely by concert programmers less familiar with the uncomfortable history between Ives and his contemporary folk singers. The concert took place on May 17, 1993. Ron Olesko recalls the concert in a retrospective of Ives’ life written for Sing Out!, “Seeger and Ives were invited, to the horror of many. The two were kept separate backstage. Ives, who was still persona non grata and 83 years old at the time, was met with a cold reception by the audience. After Ives played a few songs to polite applause, Pete silently walked out on stage and without saying a word, bent over and kissed Ives on the top of his head and then started singing “Blue Tail Fly” with Ives. A simple gesture that spoke volumes.
Ives was in frail health and performed in a wheelchair. Pete Seeger, likewise, performed the concert sitting down. Given his usual stance, towering high with banjo in hand, it is clear that he took this stance as a mark of respect and forgiveness. Following Ives’ death in April 1995, Bob Edwards interviewed Pete Seeger for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, discussing Ives’ life and music. At one point, Edwards pointedly asked Seeger how he and other folk singers felt about Ives’ testimony in the 1950s. Pete graciously replied, “Well, I don’t know how other people feel. I’m strong on the idea of forgiveness. I think Burl forgave me some of my foolishness and mistakes, and I’m willing to forgive others. I don’t think the human race will last unless we include forgiveness as an important quality of our lives.” Both men’s lives were shaped by forces ultimately beyond their control. In Seeger’s statement, we see conviction and compassion that were developed across a lifetime of singing out for the betterment of those in need. But we can also read this in the larger context of the Cold War conflict: in practicing forgiveness, he advocates for the kind of societal attitude that could bring about lasting peace.
 Ronald D. Cohen, Depression Folk: Grassroots Music and Left-Wing Politics in 1930s America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 136-137.
 American Business Consultants. Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television (New York: American Business Consultants, 1950), 87-88.
 American Business Consultants. Red Channels, 1-7.
 “Re Los Angeles Airtel to NY, 3/2/55” in “Burl Ives Part 01 of 01.” FBI Records: The Vault. Federal Bureau of Investigation website, p. 50. https://vault.fbi.gov/burl-ives/Burl%20Ives%20Part%2001%20of%2001/view
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry: Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-Second Congress, First and Second Sessions. (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 208. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951d02120689q;view=1up;seq=137
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 209.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 208.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 214.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 208.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 216.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 215.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 216.
 Ronald D. Cohen, Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), 80.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 221.
 Burl Ives, in United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary, Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television and the Entertainment Industry, 228.
 Pete Seeger, in Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1968, ed. Eric Bentley (New York: The Viking Press, 1971), 687-688.
 Pete Seeger, in Thirty Years of Treason, 688.
 “Burl Ives Sings a Different Song,” Sing Out! 3, no. 2 (October 1952): 2.
 Ron Olesco, “Remembering Burl Ives on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth,” Sing Out! (June 14, 2009) https://singout.org/2009/06/14/remembering-burl-ives-on-the-100th-anniversary-of-his-birth/
 Pete Seeger, interviewed by Bob Edwards in segment “In Memoriam: Burl Ives according to Pete Seeger” on NPR’s radio program Morning Edition, April 14, 1995.
Joanna & Tim
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