Russians (song)

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"Russians"
Single by Sting
from the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles
B-side "Gabriel's Message"
Released November 1, 1985
Format 7", 12"
Genre Soft rock
Length 3:58
Label A&M
Writer(s) Sting, Sergei Prokofiev
Producer(s) Sting and Peter Smith
Sting singles chronology
"Fortress Around Your Heart"
(1985)
"Russians"
(1985)
"Moon over Bourbon Street"
(1986)

"Russians" is a topical anti-war song by Sting, from his debut solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, released in July 1985, and released as a single in November. The song is a commentary and plea that speaks about the then-dominant Cold War foreign policy and doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) by the United States and the Soviet Union.

The song speaks to both sides ("there's no monopoly on common sense/On either side of the political fence") as it describes the thoughts of ordinary citizens of both superpowers and their divergence from official U.S. policies in the early 1980s of a limited or 'winnable' nuclear war ("there's no such thing as a winnable war/It's a lie we don't believe anymore"). It then recounts and rejects the views of both US President Reagan ("Mr. Reagan says 'We will protect you'/I don't subscribe to this point of view", a reference to the proposed SDI/'Star Wars' initiative) and Soviet Premier Khrushchev ("Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you/I don't subscribe to this point of view"). Hence he hopes that the "Russians love their children too," since this would apparently be the only thing that would save the world from eventual obliteration by nuclear weapons ("[J. Robert] Oppenheimer's deadly toy").[1]

Historically, the Cold War entered its final years around the time "Russians" was released, when Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, and in 1989 Gorbachev and Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, declared the Cold War over at the Malta Summit,[2] with the Soviet Union dissolving two years later.

Origins and history[edit]

In his 2010 interview with World Entertainment News Network, Sting admitted that the song was inspired by watching Soviet TV via inventor Ken Schaffer's satellite receiver at Columbia University:[3][4]

"I had a friend at university who invented a way to steal the satellite signal from Russian TV. We'd have a few beers and climb this tiny staircase to watch Russian television... At that time of night we'd only get children's Russian television, like their 'Sesame Street'. I was impressed with the care and attention they gave to their children's programmes. I regret our current enemies haven't got the same ethics."

Sting performed the song at the 1986 Grammy Awards. His performance of the song was released on the 1994 album Grammy's Greatest Moments Volume I.[5]

Further analysis of the song[edit]

The song uses a theme from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev,[6] and its lead-in includes the famed Soviet news broadcaster Igor Kirillov, who says approximately the following: "...The (British) Prime Minister described the talks with the head of the delegation, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, as a constructive, realistic, practical and friendly exchange of opinions...", referring probably to the meeting of Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The Soviet leader at the time was Konstantin Chernenko.

Popular culture[edit]

In the comedy Peep Show, the character Jeremy Osborne ponders, "Do you think he really wondered, Sting, if the Russians loved their children too?" to which Mark Corrigan replies, "No, it's a rhetorical question like, 'can you feel the force?' or 'do they know it's Christmas?'." [7]

A parody of the song appeared in the satirical TV show Spitting Image, which featured increasingly abstract concepts for the sake of rhyming, and referenced Sting's previous career as a schoolteacher.

A cover of the song was released on August 24, 2013, by German electronic music artist Ben Ivory. The original lyrics were modified to reflect protest against anti-LGBTQ laws in Russia. The video depicts clips of peaceful protests, protesters dumping bottles of Russian vodka and clips taken from television news broadcasts of police clashing with protesters.

The song was used in promos for the second season of The Americans.

Track listings[edit]

7" single
  1. "Russians" – 3:57
  2. "Gabriel's Message" – 2:15
12" maxi
  1. "Russians" – 3:57
  2. "Gabriel's Message" – 2:10
  3. "I Burn for You" (live) – 4:40

Personnel[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Country Certification Date Sales certified Physical sales
France[8] Gold 1985 500,000 476,000

Charts[edit]

Chart (1985) Peak
position
Dutch Mega Top 100[9] 8
French SNEP Singles Chart[9] 2
Irish Singles Chart[10] 11
Swedish Singles Chart[9] 16
Swiss Singles Chart[9] 13
UK Singles Chart[11] 12
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[12] 16
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks[12] 34

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oppenheimer's deadly toy" refers to the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist who was considered "The father of the atomic bomb." He later regretted his creation, saying he intended it to be used for energy in peace time (source: "Russians by Sting Songfacts").
  2. ^ Malta summit ends Cold War, BBC News, December 3, 1989. Retrieved June 11, 2008.
  3. ^ "Sting's Russians was inspired by illegal satellite viewings". The Daily Express. July 15, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Russians". Youtube. "What struck me when I was watching these programs was how much care and attention and clearly love had gone into these programs. And these were our enemies, but they clearly love their children just like we love ours." 
  5. ^ "Grammy's Greatest Moments, Volume 1: Various Artists". Amazon.com. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  6. ^ Gable, Christopher (2008). The words and music of Sting. ABC-CLIO. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-275-99360-3. 
  7. ^ Movie quotes from Peep Show Season 1 - http://www.allsubs.org/search-movie-quotes/Peep%20Show%20Season%201%20/1
  8. ^ French certifications See: "Les Ventes" => "Toutes les Certifications depuis 1973" => "STING" Infodisc.fr (Retrieved March 24, 2009)
  9. ^ a b c d "Russians", in various singles charts, Lescharts.com (Retrieved March 24, 2009)
  10. ^ Irish Single Chart Irishcharts.ie (Retrieved March 24, 2009)
  11. ^ UK Singles Chart Chartstats.com (Retrieved March 24, 2009)
  12. ^ a b Billboard allmusic.com (Retrieved March 24, 2009)

External links[edit]

  • [1] - analysis of the song on Pop History Dig (Jack Doyle, "Sting: 'Russians', 1985," PopHistoryDig.com, April 30, 2009)