As leaders from around the world gather at the United Nations this week for a global summit on climate change, the outlook is gloomy. The U.S, historically the world’s worst polluter, can’t even decide if man-made climate change exists. Meanwhile, China, the current king of greenhouse gas emissions, is reluctant to sign on to any climate change pact that would hinder its growth.
All of which got me thinking about Sting.
The 1980s were pretty dark days in geopolitics, but also the apex of do-good populism in the music industry. Before the rebirth of the music festival in the 1990s, A-list rock and pop musicians collaborated on topics ranging from helping family farms in the Midwest to helping starving children in drought-plagued East Africa.
Pop artists tackled some of the big socio-political issues of the day — nothing new in rock ‘n’ roll — and some of those songs shaped the way a generation of young Americans viewed the world. Notably, pop music took on the Cold War. Songs like Elton John’s “Nikita” (1985), Nena’s “99 Luftballons” (“99 Red Balloons,” 1983), and Billy Joel’s just-under-the-wire “Leningrad” (1989) humanized the West’s Cold War nemesis, pointing out the folly of mutually assured destruction. The most direct of these melodic appeals was probably Sting’s “Russians,” from 1985: