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.”
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