How Music Helped Soothe the Savage Beast of Communism


This is a story about cultural influences that do not make daily news headlines, created a more powerful impact on a major historical event than we realize. The end of the Cold War, and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 actually began decades before.

The first youth counterculture movement in the Soviet Union began in the 1950’s. The Stilyagi, or style hunters, was a derogatory word used for these young people who wore foreign labeled clothing, as well as their fascination with western culture in films, music, clothing, etc.

As a result of some reforms made by Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev during the 1950’s, an international festival that attracted 34,000 people from 130 countries, entitled The 6th World Festival of Youth and Students, was held in Moscow in 1957. Some Eastern European communist countries responded by arresting Stilyagi and rock music fans. Interestingly, NATO published a report that speculated the intentional use of rock music for subversive purposes.

Beatlemania swept the Soviet Union during the 1960’s. According to a Russian historian named Mikhail Safanov, “The Beatles brought us the idea of democracy. For many of us, it was the first hole in the Iron Curtain.” A Russian musician named Boris Grebenshchikov founded a Beatles-inspired band called Time Machine, in the 1970’s, which became very popular. However the members were forced to go underground. The Soviet government, instead, officially sanctioned other musical groups such as vocal instrument ensembles, which contained lyrics to songs that were considerably tamer than underground groups such as Time Machine.

Rock music continued to be banned in the Soviet Union as the 1980’s arrived. The authorities in 1985 produced a long list of forbidden music, which listed the name of the band, and the reason for which it was banned. A few examples are Black Sabbath because of “violence and religious obstructionism”, Donna Summer because of “eroticism”, and the Sex Pistols because of “punk and violence.”

Billy Joel became the first American rock musician to tour the Soviet Union in 1985. This new development was part of a new policy called Perestroika, by a new leader of the Soviet Union at that time, Mikhail Gorbachev. Perestroika was reforms made in the economy and society of the Soviet Union. Joel’s tour was so successful that it became a turning point among Russian youth, who now were convinced there was nothing to fear from western culture.

However it was a four hour concert by Bruce Springsteen in communist East Germany on July 19, 1988 that marked the turning point in the role music played in the historic event that occurred one year later. Playing before a crowd of 300,000 people, Springsteen began the show by speaking to the audience in German, saying, “I’m not here for or against any government.” The song which generated the most powerful reaction from the crowd was a rendition of Bob Dylan’s song, Chimes of Freedom. Written in 1964, Dylan wrote it about big changes taking place in that time period. Springsteen chose to perform it because it could be adapted to the changes occurring in the lives of his East Germans fans.

Some historians believe that this concert quickened the fall of the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany in 1989, as well as the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Below you will find a copy of the English translation of a list of musicians and their reasons for being censored by the Soviet Union, as well as a video of the significant Bruce Springsteen concert in 1988, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.




Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience : Part 5: Atlantic Records


Founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun, an immigrant from Turkey, Atlantic Records, like Motown and Stax Records, earned a reputation as one of the most important recording labels specializing in jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul recordings by African American musicians.

Ertegun in 1953  recruited music reporter Jerry Wexler, the man who coined the term “rhythm and blues” to replace “race music”, as vice-president. Ertegun and Wexler realized many rhythm and blues recordings were being covered by white musicians, often with greater success. Black musicians on the Atlantic label such as Joe Turner’s release, Shake, Rattle and Roll, while #1 on the Rhythm and Blues charts. only made it to #22 on the Pop charts. Meanwhile the same version by the white performers, Bill Haley and the Comets, reached #7 on the Pop charts.

Billboard magazine, in this Tenth Anniversary feature of Atlantic Records observed that its “fresh sound”, and quality of recordings was a great advance on what was the standard for rhythm and blues recordings at the time.

One of the artists who became famous on the Atlantic label was Aretha Franklin.  She began at Atlantic in 1967. Originally a Gospel singer, Jerry Wexler encouraged Aretha to return to her musical roots to build a career.

The one song she is most noted for is Respect. Originally written and released by Otis Redding in 1965, Wexler thought this song had the potential to be a crossover hit to reach a white audience. Aretha Franklin’s re-imagination of the song maintained most of the original lyrics:


Find out what it means to me


Take care..TCB

Sock it to me, sock it to me, etc.

The above lyrics, not on Redding’s version, made the difference, as Aretha’s version became an anthem for both the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements. She altered the lyrics to represent herself, a strong woman demanding respect from her male significant other.

This version not only reached number one on all of the national Billboard charts, but also became an international hit, as well. Respect is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.

Below is a video of Respect:






Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 4-Stax Records and Otis Redding


Stax Records, originally named Satellite Records, was founded in Memphis Tennessee in 1957. Satellite’s early releases were of the country and rockabilly genre. Jim Stewart, its founder, was a white country fiddle player at the time.

Satellite entered the rhythm and blues (r&b) market in 1959. Their first r&b  release was the Veltones’ song “Fool in Love.” At the same time, Stewart met with Memphis disc jockey and r&b singer Rufus Thomas. Thomas and his daughter recorded a song in 1961 entitled, “Cause I Love You.” It became a big regional hit, and was picked up for national distribution by Atlantic Records.

1961 was also the year when Satellite Records changed their name to Stax Records. This was a result of a complaint filed by another company by the same name. Stax was a combination of the names of the two owners, Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton.

By 1962, Stax had transformed itself from a regional label into a national one, on par with Motown and Atlantic Records. Black musicians who were employed there felt that they were treated as equals, and had the freedom to be creative.

Unlike Motown, Stax was not formed as a black music label. Jim Stewart was intent on getting the best talent he could find, whether the musicians were black or white. Stax’s house band, Booker T. and the MG’s, was integrated.

Stax had an onsite record store to test consumer reaction to it, immediately after one was released. The onsite store was run by Estelle Axton.

Otis Redding and Stax, following on the heels of Motown’s success in London in 1965, embarked on a tour of London in 1966. The size of the crowds seeing him perform were varied. However the highlight of this tour was a performance on a popular British TV show,  Ready, Steady, Go! As Mark Ribowsky put it in his book, Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul, “the performance came as a revelation to many Brits who had never heard, much less seem, him, but now knew that he was unbelievably cool.”

However it was Redding’s appearance at the Summer of Love Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that elevated his popularity among white audiences. This was a gamble, to find out if a southern soul singer could find success in an audience of white rock and roll music fans.

The results of that first came after Melody Maker, a notable music publication at the time, noted that Otis had replaced Elvis Presley as the world’s top male vocalist. A booked tour of the state of California brought him to many nightclubs. Renting a manager’s houseboat near San Francisco, he came up with his most widely noted song, Sitting at the Dock of the Bay.

Sadly, Redding died long before his career got a chance to take off. He was killed in a plane crash in that same year, 1967, at the age of twenty-six.

Below is a video of Redding performing a cover of the Rolling Stone’s song, Satisfaction. It was performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was mentioned above.



Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 3: Motown, The World, and the Legacy


Motown has grown tremendously since 1959. They made their entry into the international market in 1964, when Mary Wells’ scored a hit in Britain with the release of My Guy. The Tamli-Motown Revue, consisting of performers Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandelles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, took their show to London in 1965. British singer Dusty Springfield introduced them on a televised display of their performance. Their reception was recognized by the Beatles, who covered a few Motown songs on their second album, With the Beatles.

Motown’s influence also reached the former Soviet Union. A band named Black Russian was comprised of three Russian citizens who immigrated to the United States in 1976 to seek political and musical freedom. They were signed by Motown president Berry Gordy in 1978. Black Russian was one of the few white acts that became part of this predominately black record company that promoted predominately black musicians. The group’s genre was a mix of rhythm and blues, soft rock, and pop. Two of their singles, Leave me Now, and Mystified, received attention and positive critical feedback.

A record company that primarily promoted black musicians performing soul music, Motown over the years branched out with subsidiaries into genres such as alternative,  hip hop/rap, jazz and rock.  Michael Eric Dyson, author of  Mercy, Mercy, Me: The Art, Love and Demons of Marvin Gaye summed up Motown’s legacy, “Motown shaped the musical tastes of millions of Americans with its bright melodies, upbeat lyrics, and crossover ambitions. It wanted to sell the beauty and brilliance of the black voice to white America. Motown broke down many racial barriers with its massive artistic achievements, even as it embodied both the triumphs and troubles of the American dream and capitalism.”

Below are videos of the Motown performers Martha and the Vandelles in London in 1965, as well as a recording of one of Black Russian’s recorded songs, Leave me Now.




Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 2: Motown, Marvin, and the Jackson 5


Marvin Gaye, popularly known as the “Prince of Soul”, was raised in a housing project in Washington, DC. While in high school, he formed a singing group with some friends by the name of The Moonglows.

By the time Gaye had signed with Motown in 1960, the Moonglows had broken up. However it was not until 1971 with the release of the song, What’s Going On, did he gain prominence. It was inspired by an act of police brutality at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Berkeley, California. Living up to his reputation as the Prince of Soul, he demonstrated his ability to take this song and sing it in a way that came across in an emotionally powerful way to both black and white listeners. One line of the lyrics was “war is not the answer.” This song had sold 100,000 records in one day. What’s Going On made it to number two on the pop music charts, and number one on the rhythm and blues charts.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) was another single released on the same album. Its theme was a concern for the environment, such as the disappearance of blue skies, overcrowded land, and the poisoning of the air. It was Gaye’s second million seller. He received two Grammy Award nominations and several NAACP Image Awards, and Rolling Stone’s magazine’s album of the year.

The Jackson 5, five brothers including Michael Jackson, was formed in 1964. They were discovered in 1967, after performances at noted music theatres in Chicago and New York. Gladys Knight of the famed Gladys Knight and the Pips saw the Jackson 5 performance in New York, and sent a tape of it to Motown Records. Motown signed the group in 1969.

Their first four single songs, I Want you Back, ABC, The Love you Save, and I’ll be There, reached number one on the top 100 charts. As a result, the Jackson 5’s appeal toward youth became Motown’s main marketing focus. Many products such as the J5 heart logo, a Saturday morning TV cartoon series, and a teenager publication Right On, began in 1971 and focused on each of the brothers.

Motown launched Michael Jackson’s solo career in 1971 in order to increase sales. Got it be There and Ben were two of his first songs that reached the Top 40.

The rise of the Jackson 5 in the 1960’s and 1970’s coincided with the rise of another group of brothers who were white, The Osmonds. According to the father of the Jackson 5, The Osmonds were considered to be a musical inspiration, and instructed his sons to study them carefully.

Below you’ll find a YouTube video of Marvin Gaye’s performance of What’s Going On, and a video of an early Jackson 5 song I Want you Back. Michael Jackson appears in his early innocence.







My Post-Childhood Journey Into Music: Part 4: Listening to You, I Get Your Music (Earthshine)


An earlier post, dated February 11, 2012, has a similar title. Its subject is about how music is contained inside each individual’s soul. The title of that post is Listening to You, I Get the Music, and it does happen to be a song on the Tommy album. Parts 1 through 3 have been about my journey through music. This part is about others’ journeys, artists who express themselves through music.

The first artist is Neil Peart, songwriter and drummer for the rock band, Rush. His song, Earthshine, comes from a book he wrote, entitled, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Peart had unexpectedly lost his daughter and wife within a short period of time. He had escaped from these tragedies by first taking a four-month journey on his motorcycle from Canada, where he lives, all the way south to Mexico. Throughout the next two years, until he returned to record a new album with the band, Neil Peart had ceased to identify himself not only as a celebrity in a major rock band, but as someone who became unable to feel, or relate to any form of music.

Ghost Rider is his journal that is emotionally riveting. He keeps referring to his “baby soul”, and how it needed constant comforting and nurturing throughout this challenging time. Fortunately his story has a happy ending, as he meets his new wife, and she bears him a new daughter. Earthshine, the song I mentioned in the beginning, is about the joy he experienced after discovering a new wife, whereupon he rediscovered how blessed he had become.

Some of the lyrics of the song are:


A beacon in the night

I can raise my eyes to



A jewel out of reach

For a dream to rise to


You can access the video below to listen to the entire song:




My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part 3: I’m Free


The pivotal song in the rock opera, I’m Free, is also pivotal in my own life. Tommy’s mother throws him into the mirror out of exasperation for all the years he never responded to her efforts to communicate with him. The rough equivalent of this for me was when after only two months of knowing my future stepmother and stepsiblings, my father, on Mothers Day, told me that the five of us will become a family. Given the fact that only two months meant that they were still strangers to me, in addition to the inability to gain closure over the loss of my biological mother ten years earlier, it felt as if I were thrown into a mirror, just as Tommy had been.

However as the four months between the day I was told of the marriage, and the day of the wedding had passed, I began to accept the new reality. While my fifteen-year old brother-to-be and I had a lot of tension between us, I adored my five-year old sister-to-be.

The key to my successful transition and integration into a new family was the result of acceptance of the new family by relatives from my biological mother’s family. So instead of feeling like an orphan living in a family of two, my Dad and myself, I was integrated into more than one family. First, my new immediate family of my father, stepmother and stepsiblings. Second, my stepmother’s extended family. Third, my biological mother’s extended family.

However beyond attainment of a normal life and finding peace within myself, I evolved from someone self-absorbed with my own problems, to a person finding empathy with others experiencing problems or challenges in their own lives.




My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part 2: Christmas, Cousin Kevin, There’s a Doctor


The Christmas scene in Tommy shows him sitting in a circle, but despite being surrounded by friends, is silent and completely withdrawn. This holiday is regarded as being a time of joy and celebration. The same held true for me during my fifth or sixth birthday party. I have a vague memory of crying loudly  after everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. To refer back to Part I, I perceived the inability of adults to help me grieve over the loss of my mother, and find what therapists today call closure, as a continuing cover-up. Since I could not yet comprehend and verbalize how I was feeling, I, like Tommy, became silent and withdrawn. In other words, I could not enjoy the celebration of my birthday without the physical presence of my deceased mother.

During one part of this holiday celebration, we can hear Tommy internally crying, See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me. Something similar was happening to me, with the Heal Me being a question of how my mother will continue to live on in other ways.

The Cousin Kevin scene is about Tommy being bullied by a member of his own family. I was bullied in school by fellow classmates. In addition to being insecure, I was also short in height, both of which made me easy prey with other boys.

The emotional trauma I was experiencing, in addition to bullying in school, resulted in testing that revealed I had a learning disability. This is where the There’s a Doctor scene enters. The doctor in the Tommy movie was one who conducted physical tests on the boy. I have a vivid memory of being physically dragged out of the car by my father when we visited a local psychologist. I recall that I was asked to participate in a few exercises, of its purpose I do not know. I do recall that throughout elementary school, I would be taken out of a class in order to participate in various activities by some sort of special education instructor. I remember feeling that something was wrong with me, such as being “dumb” or “stupid” in some way. It was only the fact that I never had to repeat a grade that gave me assurance I had normal intelligence.









My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part I: What About the Boy, Amazing Journey


The first scene in Tommy that has a similarity with my own life is entitled, What About the Boy. While Tommy watched his father being killed, my mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The chant from Tommy’s mother and her lover to the boy was “you didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it.” My father and other adults were perceived myself, at the age of three, as evasive whenever I asked about my Mom’s death. So to me, her death felt like a cover-up.

The next act, Amazing Journey, is when Tommy shuts down and internalized all his anger. While I internalized much of my own, I was told that I also externalized denial. Pretending that my deceased mother was playing hide-and-seek with me, I would walk around the house, telling her to come out from where she was hiding.

Pete Townshend, the band member who created Tommy, said that when the boy emotionally shut down, he experienced everything as musical vibrations. My own outlet also came from music, by hearing sad love songs on the radio. The one song which I related to more than any other was Carole King’s tune, So Far Away. The lyrics are:

So Far Away

Doesn’t Anybody Stay in One Place Anymore

It Would be so Nice to See Your Face at my Door

But it Doesn’t Help to Know

That You’re So Far Away







My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Introduction


The following is a six-part post. The first three are the most personal I have written for this blog. The last three relate to personal stories and challenges of three current musicians.

A previous post entitled, Listening to You, I Get the Music , is about the rock opera that brought The Who to its superstar status. However the main character in this opera, Tommy, and the title of it, has many similarities with my own life.

My biological mother had died when I was three years old. I was an only child at the time. Although the death of any family member is hard for anyone at any age, no adult was able to help me get through what therapists today call a normal grieving period. As a result, I became emotionally traumatized by my mother’s passing. It had impacted my social and educational development.

In short, I was not living what people working in the field of child development would regard as a normal life. It was not until the age of 14, after my father had remarried, and I gained a stepmother, stepbrother and stepsister, did I finally discover what a normal life is supposed to be like.

The story of Tommy is one in which he, too, is an only child who experiences the death of a parent at an early age, becomes emotionally traumatized, but is able to free himself much later in life. However, in addition to attaining a normal life, Tommy tries to help others who are less fortunate. I try to do the same with family members, friends, etc., who are going through tough times in their lives.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with each act and sequence of Tommy, access the link to the Tommy movie, below. Watching the movie for our purposes is better than listening to the original soundtrack, since the movie conveys needed visual images.