DCSIMG

They were banned in the USSR

IT IS one of the strangest line-ups of rock and pop stars ever, a place where the Sex Pistols, Madness and AC/DC rub shoulders with Village People, Donna Summer and Julio Iglesias.

But what these, and 32 other acts, have in common is even more surprising: they were all on a secret blacklist issued by the communist authorities in the former Soviet Union.

While the Kremlin fretted over Afghanistan and an economy creaking under the strain of the Cold War, it also had time to keep a beady eye on the baleful influence of popular Western music.

Bands from Sparks to the Stooges were accused of everything from violence and neo-fascism to religious obscurantism and eroticism.

The blacklist, which was meant to clamp down on disco playlists, was distributed to party officials in January 1985, two months before Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as the leader of the USSR.

Its existence has been revealed in a new book, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More, by Russian emigre and author Alexei Yurchak.

The blacklist, titled 'The approximate list of foreign musical groups and artists, whose repertoires contain ideologically harmful compositions', was drawn up by Komsomol, the Communist Party's Youth Wing. It was written in the obscure and verbose language of Soviet bureaucracy and riddled with classic Cold War paranoia.

Despite their left-wing street-cred in the West, the Clash were banned for "punk and violence", as were, among others, the B-52s, the Stranglers and Blondie.

Heavy metal acts such as Black Sabbath, Nazareth, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were blacklisted for supposed offences including religious obscurantism, violence, racism and anti-communism.

Talking Heads joined the list for "myth of the Soviet military threat" and Pink Floyd were blacklisted for "distortion of Soviet foreign policy".

But more mainstream acts also fell foul of the communist authorities. The Village People were deemed 'violent', Tina Turner was banned for "sex", Summer for "eroticism" and several artists, including Iglesias and 10cc, for "neo-fascism".

The document stated: "This information is recommended for the purpose of intensifying control over the activities of discotheques" and "must also be provided to all VIA [vocal instrument ensembles]".

But Yurchak, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, believes the policy backfired. He said: "The measures it proposed to curb the spread of Western music helped to create the conditions that enabled its further expansion."

Dr Andrei Rogatchevski, a lecturer in Russian studies at Glasgow University, said: "The authorities didn't like references to sex because they disliked any emotions they could not control.

"Anyone who was religious in any way was guilty of 'religious obscurantism'. It didn't matter whether you believed in God or the devil or black magic or whatever. The only thing you were supposed to believe in was the party. They didn't like violent lyrics because they might disturb Soviet order. And as for any reference to fascism, that caused the deaths of millions of people."

He added: "Not that the ban was very effective. I remember when I was younger and living in the Soviet Union, I listened to copies of AC/DC and other groups like that, although you knew it wasn't approved of."

Ukraine's consul in Edinburgh, Vitalii Pantus, admitted that despite the ban, Western music had played a part in destroying Soviet Communism.

He said: "People wanted to learn, study, say and listen to what they wanted. It was mainly young people for whom musical freedom was important. Even in 1985 when it was blocked, if you really wanted to buy it, you could on the black market."

Veteran DJ Paul Gambaccini said: "It's interesting how entries on what is theoretically a Far Left list are similar to those that have appeared on Far Right lists, particularly from the religious Right.

"After all, this is the same period in which the Sun tried to get us to ban the Smiths.

"All of which goes to show that if you credit music with too much brain-bending power, you make a fool of yourself, regardless of your convictions."

Chas Smash of Madness last night joked that the band's top ten hit 'Baggy Trousers' was really about "a scheme to smuggle out of the USSR as many dissidents as possible hidden in the trousers of sympathetic Cossacks".

He added: "We were inspired by but never considered ourselves punk. Dangerous? Well it's true that we amassed a massive backlog of parking tickets. So dangerous? All day long, mate."

And Alison Moyet - former lead singer with Yazoo (banned for "punk, violence") - said: "I am absolutely delighted, although mildly surprised. I would have thought they'd have been thrilled by a big lass who looked like she could pull a cart on a diet of potatoes and dumplings."

 
 
 

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