This week at THE AVID LISTENER: Tim Smolko, “Silly Songs about the Space Race”


This week at The Avid Listener we bring you the fourth and final installment of Tim Smolko’s series about the Cold War and pop music. The Space race, one of the historic linchpins of the Cold War, launched (see what I did there?) some interesting music, and Tim has chosen 3 songs in particular to share with our readers.

Here’s the requisite teaser: “The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, on October 4, 1957, triggering the space race with the United States. Although the satellite was only the size of a beach ball and emitted nothing more than radio beeps, many Americans feared it, supposing that it had some sort of militaristic purpose. This fear can be tracked through three novelty songs from the late 1950s: ‘Russia, Russia (Lay That Missile Down),’ ‘Sputniks and Mutniks,’ and ‘A Russian Love Song.’ Sputnik was not the first great accomplishment of the Soviets in space. On August 21, 1957, they launched the R-7 Semyorka, the first intercontinental ballistic missile. It travelled 4,000 miles carrying a dummy warhead and was theoretically capable of reaching the United States. This news did not alarm Americans, since the Russians had a reputation for propagandizing. But six weeks later, another R-7 missile launched Sputnik, causing widespread alarm…”

As a reminder: Tim and Joanna Smolko are publishing with Indiana University Press called Atomic Tunes: The Cold War in American and British Popular Music (due out 2018), a project that recently won the prestigious Hampsong Education Fellowship in American Song from the Society for American Music. Many thanks to IU Press is allowing us to share these excerpts.

We’ve got just a few weeks left of our Avid Listener spring season before we go on a hiatus for the summer. Stay tuned!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

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