‘Wind of Change’ is not only a great Classic Heavy Metal song, but also one that came to define the post-communist era towards the end of the 20th century. Let’s find out more.
The Berlin Wall Falls
‘Wind of Change’ by the Scorpions – a song about one of the most momentous political events of the 20th century – the fall of the Berlin Wall. Right? Well, not quite. The song actually captures the Zeitgeist for a much wider change happening in the lead up to the Wall coming down – the crumbing of Communism itself, where millions of people across Eastern Europe started to claim their freedom.
With Mikhail Gorbachev as its new president the Soviet Union in the mid-to-late 1980s launched 2 ground-breaking political initiatives, Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (reconstruction) that essentially signalled the beginning of the end to the cold war. The enmity between communism and capitalism would end, and the Soviets kicked off a string of large-scale economic reforms that would transform the Soviet Union – though Gorbachev had set in train events that would later run out of his control, leading to the collapse of the entire Soviet edifice in a few short years. It was a disaster for his own political career, but history remembers him kindly, and he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
This breaking down of political barriers would naturally spill over into the cultural realm. German rockers The Scorpions paid visits to Russia at the height of perestroika, and penned the Classic Heavy Metal song ‘Wind of Change’ as a direct result of what they experienced there. First there was a Russian tour in 1988 in support of the ‘Savage Amusement’ album. Then, they played on the bill of the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August 1989, a gig for over 300,000 Muscovites. Neither would have been permitted only a short time earlier and the band came away energized and determined to capture the mood they had just experienced.
(That peace festival was attended by some of the biggest names in rock, with Bon Jovi, Skid Row and Motley Crue all appearing on the bill. Joining them was Ozzy Osbourne – the one artist who singularly failed to get into the new mood of peace. It was on his return from Moscow, fuelled up on the best Russian vodka that he tries to strangle his wife Sharon.)
Here’s ‘Blackout’, one of the songs performed by The Scorpions on the day.
Reflecting on the Zeitgeist
But back to ‘Wind of Change.’ The song is a reflective number – it represents a celebration of positive changes already happening in the world rather than being any kind of activist anthem. Indeed, the song was only released as a single over a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, meaning that it was the result of changes already taking place, rather than their trigger. But it is still widely remembered as the soundtrack to the end of that cold war era.
And because it chimed with the Zeitgeist so well, it became a commercial splash, and one of the biggest selling Classic Heavy Metal singles of all time. It hit #1 in the Scorpions’ backyard in Germany and did well across mainland Europe, which of course was the area most affected by the cold war Iron Curtain divide, including physical barriers like the Berlin Wall. The song also reached #4 in the US and #2 in the UK, and to date has clocked up at least 14 million sales.
In the opening, we have the famous whistling melody, as though Klaus Meine is going for a stroll in his local park, or cosplaying a friendly postman bringing the morning mail. It sets the dynamic for what is to come. Reflective, thoughtful, and celebratory but in a low-key way. Then after the accompanying clean guitar, we get to the famous cultural references of the time – following the Moskva River down to Gorky Park. There’s another Russian cultural input later, about playing the balalaika, a well-known folk instrument.
The guitar solo is a classic, but it’s one that has air guitar players closing their eyes and looking up to the heavens to soak up the inspiration rather than heading for the mosh pit.
Then the outro brings back more whistling as the song ends peacefully in a way that invites a quiet moment of further reflection on it’s most important message – that change is inevitable. And desirable too, for the sake of children, future generations everywhere. Above all, it’s an optimistic song that makes listeners believe that better times are on the way.
The song first appeared on the album ‘Crazy World’ and was only released as a single in January 1991 (as said, well over a year after the Berlin Wall had fallen.) But even then, it was clear that further change was on the way, as shown by that total collapse of the Soviet Union later the same year. No doubt the fact that the song was penned by The Scorpions helped to establish it as such an era definer – they grew up in West Germany, sure, but would have been well aware of the recent history that resulted in the physical division of their own country. In cold war Germany, if The Scorpions wanted to play a show in Berlin, until recently their own national capital, it meant endless checkpoints and bureaucracy.
And that experience clearly influenced the video for the single, which shows emotional scenes of the Berlin Wall going up, followed by footage of the militarized nature of such cold war borders. At least 136 people are known to have been killed attempting to cross the Berlin Wall alone – their names etched into a memorial on what remains of the barrier. And that video is probably the main reason why people closely associate ‘Wind of Change’ with that one seismic event – the fall of the wall.
Of course, ‘Wind of Change’ is a staple of the Scorpions’ live set. They played it in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 1999 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Wall falling, and even at the Berlin New Years’ Eve party to usher in 2023.
Sadly, times have changed. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, The Scorpions felt they could no longer sing the song as a ballad romanticizing Russia as a place heralding positive change.
“To sing ‘Wind of Change’ as we have always sung it, that’s not something I could imagine any more,” Meine told Die Zeit. “It simply isn’t right to romanticise Russia with lyrics like: ‘I follow the Moskva/ Down to Gorky Park…Let your balalaika sing’“.
The band have changed the lyrics to: “Now listen to my heart/ It says Ukrainia/ Waiting for the wind to change,” which are usually projected on a screen behind the band as they perform. It’s deeply regrettable that the freedom and opportunity that so inspired The Scorpions to pen this Classic Heavy Metal track are now once again under threat. Progress is never a given – The Hawk pays tribute to those having to fight for it again.
Who remembers that era around the fall of the Berlin Wall? It was quite something – a momentous time in history. For The Hawk, ‘Wind of Change’ is part of the story of that tumultuous era, and goes as far as any other song I know in capturing the mood of optimism about the coming changes. It’s a pity that optimism hasn’t always been born out – such is life. It means the song now tells a bit of what might have been – a more nuanced mood all these years later.
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