Here is a stand-out song from 1984, remarkable because of its unusual style that manages to treat some serious subject matter in a pop genre. This was five years before the fall of the Berlin wall and the cold war was still a reality, with soviet and western nuclear arsenals opposing each other on a posture of mutually assured destruction.
The song was originally sung in Nena’s native German language (Neunundneunzig Luftballons), and re-recorded in English. That accounts for the pronunciation and my mishearing the lyrics for years … Just to clarify:
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message, something’s out there
There are lots of themes to explore – fear of the unknown, fear of the ‘other’, aggressive posturing, poor communications, unintended consequences, over-reliance on technology with a belief that ‘there is no other way’. It’s a bit of a downer – the song ends with destruction and a lone survivor looking for hope in happy memories.
The Bible story that comes to my mind is the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.1-9. It’s a myth, of course, about how the world got many languages because God intervened upon seeing that humankind could soon ‘do anything they want’. The tower did not fall down, but the work was abandoned. We are still building towers to the sky, metaphorically and literally, as the human race is still trying to prove that we can do anything we want. What would have to happen to us to make it stop? Fire and flood? – they might be coming. All over the world, despite our modern technology, we are still scattered and confused.
There seems to be some assertive copyright enforcement on videos of this song. I originally included the band's appearance on Top Of The Pops, but it got withdrawn; so I replaced it with a collector's item - the official promo video - which has likewise been withdrawn. The official Sony BMG 'video' above just shows the sleeve cover image, but I kept it in because it is the best English-language audio version. So here to compensate is a live version in German. How long before they take this down too?
I stumbled on this lovely recording when browsing the facebook group ‘The Hippies Were Right’ – but that’s another story …
Let’s hear it for the Chapman Stick, an unusual 12 (or 10 or 8) string guitar-like instrument. Learn all about them at www.stick.com. No, I’m not on commission, but I did the searching so you don’t have to. I first heard a stick played live by the excellent Jim Lampi in about 1992 at the Rolls-Royce guitar club in Derby. Everyone was astonished at the sound and the musicianship.
And let’s hear it for Abby Clutario. She is a featured artist for Nord instruments, and from their web site we read
Abby Clutario is a Filipino multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger, best known as the vocalist, keyboardist, and Chapman Stick player of the progressive band fuseboxx, and world-fusion group, Humanfolk. Her interest in music began at age 4. Throughout her formative years, she honed her musical talent in singing and playing the piano as a choir and music ministry member. To further discover her talents, she pursued a music degree in college, developing her musical abilities and immersing herself with a fusion of influences in classical music, pop, jazz and new age.
Here is music bringing people together! This video features artists from Angola, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, England, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine., USA, Venezuela (but not in that order). Whew – imagine organising that!
I’ve added this bonus version of the song because I used a shortened version in my original post which omitted some crucial lyrics.
There are a number of videos available of Neil Young and others performing this song, but I used this one as a bonus because a) it’s got all the words(!) and b) it’s a great music project where people from around the world have joined together to create a unique recording and c) there is some fine guitar shredding going on. Plus, there are definitely other instruments used that I’ve never seen before.
Which is the ‘real’ version of the song? Which one is ‘the truth’? This illustrates the way in which parts of the Bible have been written, with a selection of material and choice of presentation style for a particular audience. For example, we have four Gospel books of the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) rather than one – but it doesn’t make sense to ask ‘which one is the real one?’.