Monday, February 22, 2021

Musical Monday - 99 Luftballoons by Nena

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of March 10, 1984.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 3, 1984 through March 17, 1984.

In 1984, Germany was still divided, and Berlin was still split by a wall. The world was held in the grip of a cold war between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. who essentially kept the world more or less constantly on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Nena's song imagines that a misunderstanding - a red balloon floating over the Berlin Wall is mistaken for a UFOs, leading to a sequence of events that ratchets cross-border tensions up and results in an nuclear exchange. At the end of the song, the narrator walks through the ruined wasteland that the world has become and says that ninety-nine years of war have left no possibility for anyone to be the victor. The English language translation is slightly different, but fundamentally tells the same story.

It shouldn't be surprising that a band from West Germany, a nation situated on the literal front lines of this worldwide conflict, would come up with an antiwar song. What makes this song chilling in retrospect is that in 1983, a false alarm in the Soviet early-warning system indicated that five nuclear missiles had been launched at the country. It was only the clear thinking of Soviet lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov that prevented the U.S.S.R. from launching a retaliatory strike and kicking off what would have almost certainly been an apocalyptic nuclear exchange. Though no one outside of Soviet missile command knew about this until decades later, the fact that this song recounts a scenario disturbingly similar to an event that almost destroyed the world is somewhat terrifying.

Previous Musical Monday: Jump by Van Halen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Jump by Van Halen
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Hello by Lionel Richie

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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