99 Red Balloons


there’s something here from somewhere else …

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  I originally included the band's appearance on Top Of The Pops, but it got withdrawn; so I replaced it with a collector's item - the official promo video - which has likewise been withdrawn.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?  

God Control


this is your wake-up call

Who are the prophets of today? How does God talk to us all?

Here is Madonna as Madame X, but with both her eyes open (hmm) in a work of art that I’ve categorised as ‘experimental’, as it blends the forms of song and film and the character as observer and participant, victim and survivor. The specific subject of mass shootings and inadequate gun control is particular to the USA and Madame X speaks into that situation as loudly as anyone could. I think she is fulfilling her duty as an artist, which is to help people see something they can’t or won’t see.

I’m fascinated by the title of the song and the personal theology that might lie behind it. Is she saying “we don’t need to control guns, we need to control bad people who use them, and God must do this for us all, because we can’t?” – in other words a kind of prayer. It’s certainly a lament “We lost God control”. Surely she’s not saying that God used to generally keep things in pretty good shape, but then s/he has ‘let go’ of us all lately? Or is it just a reference to the way formal religion has historically been a means of social control?

So who will take any our sins and save us from ourselves?

Price Tag

Jessie J

Jessie J on top form here, showing how you can create a great performance with just a song, a voice and a guitar – inspiration for solo players everywhere.

I think this song is a manifesto anthem for everyone who feels that their music is some kind of calling or vocation. Here are the lyrics.

It’s not about the money, money, money
We don’t need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the price tag

Here’s some wisdom about money from the Bible in 1 Timothy.

look for the magic money tree!