Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Wind of Change" - Scorpions

It's a funny thing, the iconic reach of this song. Written by Scorpions vocalist Klaus Meine, it's one of the premier power ballads of all time -- one of the few globally successful ones sung by a continental European band. You're as likely to hear its whistled opening refrain in Argentina as in Uzbekistan, in St. Petersburg as in Johannesburg.

"Wind of Change" is remembered as the theme song of arguably the last great political-cultural moment in world politics -- the collapse of communism in Central Europe and the former USSR in 1989-90. It was indeed inspired by those events: Scorpions played in Moscow in 1989, at the height of Mikhail Gorbachev's campaign of glasnost (openness). But the song wasn't released until November 1990, and didn't become an international hit until well into 1991. It went on to be voted "Song of the Century" in a German ZDF network poll. As I say, you hear it damn near everywhere.

Adorable and just a little kitsch, "Wind of Change" draws its central motif not from Central Europe, but from Africa. The British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, addressing a recalcitrantly racist parliament in South Africa in February 1960, declared that a "wind of change" was sweeping the African continent -- one of national liberation and political independence. (His speech ever since has been remembered as the "Winds of Change" speech, but it was WIND, and Scorpions got it right.)

The direct references in "Wind of Change", however, are not to Africa but to post-Soviet Russia -- as the video (below) also makes clear. The Moskva river and Gorky Park are mentioned at the outset, establishing an ambience of intoxicated emancipation that carries through the anthemic and only slightly cringe-inducing chorus ("the magic of the moment / On a glory night ..."):

Follow the Moskwa
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change
An August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the wind of change

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
Can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change ...

The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a storm wind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change

Inseparably connected as "Wind of Change" now is with perhaps the greatest mass-freedom movement of the past four or five decades, one would expect to see it deployed where activists are pressing for their own national liberation and/or democratization. (I just bet this was a popular song in North Africa and the Middle East during the Arab Spring.) Anyone wishing to express their support for such movements could do far worse than look to Scorpions' epic ballad.

Here's the original video of "Wind of Change":

And a live version with symphonic backing:

Scorpions have also recorded Spanish and Russian-language versions of the song.

Other Resources

Available on Scorpions, Crazy World (1991).

Wikipedia page for "Wind of Change."

Scorpions played the song at Mikhail Gorbachev's 80th birthday party in 2011!

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