Did the CIA Write the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” One of the Bestselling Songs of All Time?

By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it seemed the fate of the Soviet Union was all but sealed. It would be two more years before the USSR officially dissolved, and flew the Soviet flag over the Kremlin for the last time, but the age of Cold War belligerence officially ended with the 1980s, so it seemed. Soft power and suasion would finish the job. And what better way to announce this transition than with the soft-rock stylings of a power ballad like the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change”? The sentimental song from German metal and hard rock favorites was suddenly inescapable in 1990, and it was not at all subtle about its message.

The song became a massive hit and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time. It served as “a soundtrack of sorts to a political and cultural revolution,” writes Richard Bienstock at Rolling Stone. Oddly, “especially in light of the Scorpions’ background… ‘Wind of Change’ was about neither the Berlin Wall nor their German homeland.” Instead, the song was ostensibly inspired by a historic two-day festival the band played in Moscow in 1989, a so-called “hard-rock Woodstock” featuring metal royalty like Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella, and Skid Row alongside hard rock Soviet bands like Gorky Park.

Three months after the concert, the Berlin Wall fell, and Scorpions’ lead singer Klaus Meine wrote the words:

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future’s in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

The iconic whistled intro and lighters-in-the-air video cemented “Wind of Change” as a definitive statement on how the “children of tomorrow” will “share their dreams” in a globalized world. Tantalizingly vague, the lyrics read like Surrealist ad copy, sliding back and forth between doggerel and weird Symbolist incantation:

The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

These lines, it may not shock you to learn, may have been written by the CIA. At least, “that’s the mystery driving the new eight-part podcast series Wind of Change,” writes Nicholas Quah at Vulture. (Listen on Apple, Spotify, Google, and on the podcast website.) “Led by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe and produced by Pineapple Street’s Henry Molofsky… the journey takes us to a shape-shifting Wonderland, a world where an American agency like the CIA may very well have participated in the production of pop culture as part of concerted efforts to build sentiment against its enemies abroad. It might even be something that’s happening right now.”

Those who’ve read about how the Agency has influenced everything from Abstract Expressionism, to literary magazines, creative writing, and Hollywood films might not find these allegations particularly surprising, but as with all the best examples of the serial podcast form, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes this story worth pursuing. Keefe approaches the subject with a naiveté that might be deliberate, playing up the idea of mass entertainment as “carefully devised and calibrated messaging.”

The podcast is great fun (“it’s been described as This is Spinal Tap meets All the President’s Men,” writes Deadline); its story, Keefe says in a statement, “stretches across musical genres, and across borders and periods of history.” Do we ever find out for sure whether the agency best known for overthrowing governments it doesn’t like wrote the Scorpions’ 1990 power ballad “Wind of Change”? “Hear the music, and the accents and the voices,” says Keefe, “and judge for yourself who might be lying and who is telling the truth.”

If you ask Klaus Meine, it’s all a fantasy. (But, then, he would say that, wouldn’t he?) “It’s weird,” the Scorpions singer commented after learning about Keefe’s podcast. “In my wildest dreams I can’t think about how that song would connect with the CIA.”  The idea, however, would make “a good idea for a movie,” he says, “That would be cool.” A movie, maybe, funded by the CIA.

Related Content:

How the CIA Funded & Supported Literary Magazines Worldwide While Waging Cultural War Against Communism

The CIA Assesses the Power of French Post-Modern Philosophers: Read a Newly Declassified CIA Report from 1985

Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944)

How the CIA Helped Shape the Creative Writing Scene in America

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

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  • Paul Sheppard says:

    The CIA did not influence Abstract Expressionism.
    The agency was involved in the promotion of Abstract Expressionism at the Venice Biennale
    Which is somewhat different

  • Josh Jones says:

    Fair enough

  • Bob S-K says:

    Thanks for writing about this! I just finished the series and liked it very much. I was born in 1968 and was a Scorpions fan during my teens. My punchline, though, is that I didn’t think the podcast successfully connected the song and the CIA. (Mild spoilers follow.)

    I loved all the episodes: the plane ride to the Moscow festival with all those bands, the story about drug running and Doc McGhee, and convincing interviews with ex-agency employees. They’re well produced and the storytelling is top-notch. I think this man Keefe makes good arguments that the CIA has involved itself in cultural influence: literature, movies, music, and so on, and continues to do so. And maybe the agency did have a hand in the 1989 Moscow Peace Festival (episode 5, I Follow the Moskva, was riveting). It’s hard to believe that the CIA wouldn’t have had some involvement in such a thing.

    But none of the episodes make a clear connection to “Wind of Change” specifically. We hear Klaus Meine’s story of the writing of the song, but I wasn’t convinced at any point by any details of how anyone at the CIA would have written the lyrics and then handed them over to the Scorpions (and what motivation the Scorpions would have had to be part of such an operation).

    One also senses that this Keefe chap is not really a music person. At no point do we get an in-depth musical analysis: the verses, the bridge, the cadences, the flavor of the thing, the reason why these particular measures don’t quite feel like the Scorpions. He suggests the possibility that Klaus Meine did not write the song — that’s the crux of the whole project, and the burden of proof is heavy. I don’t think he delivers. Yes, many Scorpions songs are faster and harder than “Wind of Change,” but recall 1984’s “Still Loving You.” There are examples in the Scorpions canon that make “Wind of Change” sound very much like the Scorpions song I believe it to be.

    Okay, if I may, more about songwriting. In general, no one sits down to write a hit song. Songwriters crank out the work: song after song after song, albums are put together, tours are scheduled, and maybe occasionally a song becomes a hit. The work is in the volume (I’m thinking of the “ceramics teacher” chapter of Bayles & Orland’s Art & Fear). So if the CIA had written “Wind of Change,” it would likely have been the result of having tried to write dozens of songs over many years in order to have at least one of them become a hit. It’s more likely that this mysterious Langley employee who made the passing comment that the agency wrote the song was doing what any case officer would find hard to resist: to take credit after the fact for an operation that went well (very well, in this case).

    Oh, (goodness I feel like I’m rambling), and to follow the espionage angle a bit further, it would have taken unnecessary effort and risk to put together an operation involving the Scorpions and their songs, just to try to effect changes east of the iron curtain that were already well underway (I’m pretty sure the agency knew a lot more than we did during those years). Any CIA employee seeking permission to set up and run a rock song-writing operation in late 1989 would likely have been gently reminded that there was no need, because the Scorpions were already taking care of it.

    Every episode had me enraptured, I tore through the series in just a few days. I was hooked. But the connection between all the episodes and the question of the writing of this song, “Wind of Change,” was not made. I remain convinced that this is a Scorpions song.

    But still, go listen to the podcast. It’s good.

    Bob S-K
    Durham, NC

  • Paul says:

    A lesser known fact is that NOAA wrote Rock You Like a Hurricane for the Scorpions.

  • Bob S-K says:

    Yes! Brilliant.

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