The Soviet Union Creates a List of 38 Dangerous Rock Bands: Kiss, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Village People & More (1985)


Image via Mario Cas­ciano

Music is dan­ger­ous and pow­er­ful, and can be, with­out intend­ing to, a polit­i­cal weapon. All author­i­tar­i­an regimes have under­stood this, includ­ing repres­sive ele­ments in the U.S. through­out the Cold War. I remem­ber hav­ing books hand­ed to me before the Berlin Wall came down, by fam­i­ly friends fear­ful of the evils of pop­u­lar music—especially punk rock and met­al, but also pret­ty much every­thing else. The descrip­tions in these para­noid tracts of the bands I knew and loved sound­ed so ludi­crous and hyper­bol­ic that I couldn’t help sus­pect each was in fact a work of satire. They were at the very least anachro­nis­tic, yet ide­al, types of Poe’s Law.

Such may be your reac­tion to a list pub­lished in 1985 by the Kom­so­mol, the Sovi­et youth orga­ni­za­tion formed as the All-Union Lenin­ist Young Com­mu­nist League in 1918. (Find it below.) Con­sist­ing of thir­ty-eight punk, rock, met­al, dis­co, and New Wave bands, the list is not at all unlike the mate­ri­als print­ed around the same time by cer­tain youth orga­ni­za­tions I came into con­tact with.

The mech­a­nisms of state repres­sion in the Sovi­et Union on the eve of per­e­stroi­ka  over­matched com­par­a­tive­ly mild attempts at music cen­sor­ship made by the U.S. gov­ern­ment, but the pro­pa­gan­da mech­a­nisms were sim­i­lar. As in the alarmed pam­phlets and books hand­ed to me in church­es and sum­mer camps, the Kom­so­mol list describes each band in obtuse and absurd terms, each one a cat­e­go­ry of the “type of pro­pa­gan­da” on offer.

Black Sab­bath, a legit­i­mate­ly scary—and polit­i­cal­ly astute—band gets pegged along with Iron Maid­en for “vio­lence” and “reli­gious obscu­ran­tism.” (Nazareth is sim­i­lar­ly guilty of “vio­lence” and “reli­gious mys­ti­cism.”) A great many artists are charged with only “vio­lence” or with “sex,” which in some cas­es was kind of their whole méti­er. A hand­ful of punk bands—the Sex Pis­tols, the Clash, the Stranglers—are cit­ed for vio­lence, and also sim­ply charged with “punk,” a crime giv­en as the Ramones’ only offense. There are a few odd­ly spe­cif­ic charges: Pink Floyd is guilty of a “dis­tor­tion of Sovi­et for­eign pol­i­cy (‘Sovi­et aggres­sion in Afghanistan’)” and Talk­ing Heads endorse the “myth of the Sovi­et mil­i­tary threat.” A cou­ple hilar­i­ous­ly incon­gru­ous tags offer LOLs: Yazoo and Depeche Mode, two of the gen­tlest bands of the peri­od, get called out for “punk, vio­lence.” Kiss and the Vil­lage Peo­ple (above), two of the sil­li­est bands on the list, are said to prop­a­gate, “neo­fas­cism” and “vio­lence.”

  1. Sex Pis­tols: punk, vio­lence
  2. B‑52s: punk, vio­lence
  3. Mad­ness: punk, vio­lence
  4. Clash: punk, vio­lence
  5. Stran­glers: punk, vio­lence
  6. Kiss: neo­fas­cism, punk, vio­lence
  7. Cro­cus: vio­lence, cult of strong per­son­al­i­ty
  8. Styx: vio­lence, van­dal­ism
  9. Iron Maid­en: vio­lence, reli­gious obscu­ri­tanism
  10. Judas Priest: anti­com­mu­nism, racism
  11. AC/DC: neo­fas­cism, vio­lence
  12. Sparks: neo­fas­cism, racism
  13. Black Sab­bath: vio­lence, reli­gious obscu­ri­tanism
  14. Alice Coop­er: vio­lence, van­dal­ism
  15. Nazareth: vio­lence, reli­gious mys­ti­cism
  16. Scor­pi­ons: vio­lence
  17. Gengis Khan: anti­com­mu­nism, nation­al­ism
  18. UFO: vio­lence
  19. Pink Floyd (1983): dis­tor­tion of Sovi­et for­eign pol­i­cy (“Sovi­et agres­sion in Afghanistan”)***
  20. Talk­ing Heads: myth of the Sovi­et mil­i­tary threat
  21. Per­ron: eroti­cism
  22. Bohan­non: eroti­cism
  23. Orig­i­nals: sex
  24. Don­na Sum­mer: eroti­cism
  25. Tina Turn­er: sex
  26. Junior Eng­lish: sex
  27. Canned Heat: homo­sex­u­al­i­ty
  28. Munich Machine: eroti­cism
  29. Ramones: punk
  30. Van Halen: anti-sovi­et pro­pa­gan­da
  31. Julio Igle­sias: neo­fas­cism
  32. Yazoo: punk, vio­lence
  33. Depeche Mode: punk, vio­lence
  34. Vil­lage Peo­ple: vio­lence
  35. Ten CC: neo­fas­cism
  36. Stooges: vio­lence
  37. Boys: punk, vio­lence
  38. Blondie: punk, vio­lence

The list cir­cu­lat­ed for “the pur­pose of inten­si­fy­ing con­trol over the activ­i­ties of dis­cote­ques.” It comes to us from Alex­ei Yurchak’s Every­thing Was For­ev­er, Until It Was No More: The Last Sovi­et Gen­er­a­tion, which cites it as an exam­ple, writes one read­er, of “the con­tra­dic­to­ry nature of Sovi­et life, where as cit­i­zens par­tic­i­pat­ed in the rit­u­al­ized, pro for­ma ide­o­log­i­cal dis­course, this very dis­course allowed them to carve out what they called ‘nor­mal mean­ing­ful life’ that went beyond the state’s ide­ol­o­gy.” A large part of that “nor­mal” life involved cir­cu­lat­ing bootlegs of ide­o­log­i­cal­ly sus­pect music on impro­vised mate­ri­als like dis­card­ed and stolen X‑Rays. The Kom­so­mol even­tu­al­ly wised up. As Yur­chak doc­u­ments in his book, they co-opt­ed local ama­teur rock bands and pro­mot­ed their own events as a counter-attack on the influ­ence of bour­geois cul­ture. You can prob­a­bly guess how much suc­cess they had with this strat­e­gy.

See the full list of thir­ty-eight bands and their “type of pro­pa­gan­da” above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sovi­et Hip­sters Boot­legged West­ern Pop Music on Dis­card­ed X‑Rays: Hear Orig­i­nal Audio Sam­ples

Bruce Spring­steen Plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m Not Here For Any Gov­ern­ment. I’ve Come to Play Rock

Yakov Smirnoff Remem­bers “The Sovi­et Depart­ment of Jokes” & Oth­er Sta­ples of Com­mu­nist Com­e­dy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Ronny says:

    I think ‘cult of strong per­son­al­i­ty’ has got to be my favourite. And what does ‘reli­gious obscu­ri­tanism’ even mean??

  • brian t says:

    What, the Sovi­ets nev­er heard of Rush? Prob­a­bly a good thing, I sup­pose.

  • Penny in Texas says:

    Great minds think alike, bri­an t!

  • Daniel says:

    Stooges dodged the “punk” bul­let!

  • mr. Lasse says:

    I wish some­one (like me?) would make a sim­i­lar list here today of pop music NOT to be played for rea­sons of “bor­ing”, “too sim­plis­tic”, “annoy­ing as fuck”, “has been aired too much already”, “makes me puke”, etc.

  • I have the hots for Britt Ekland says:

    I read that in Decem­ber 1980, Yuri Andropov was in charge of ensur­ing that the Sovi­et Union did­n’t have any gath­er­ings of peo­ple remem­ber­ing John Lennon after the lat­ter’s mur­der.

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