The destruction of the atomic bomb had major significance that ushered in a new era of political and social history. The danger of fallout and world ending events was brought to the forefront of American cultural and military thought. From this new climate, many tried to grapple with this fear of nuclear annihilation in numerous ways outside of film and other means of communication.
One of the most powerful tools these post-apocalyptic songs have is the level of imagery conveyed in them. It’s this imagery that best conveys the social commentary of the songs. One such is David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’ (1972). “News guy wept and told us, Earth was really dying cried so much his face was wet then I knew he wasn’t lying”(1) The song conveys the Earth’s upcoming destruction and the reaction to it. It’s just one of the many examples of the reaction to the Cold War climate of possible nuclear annihilation.
In 1976, Billy Joel released ‘Miami 2017’ the opening line alone, “I’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway”is a similar kind of haunting imagery like “Five Years.” This song ties into Billy Joel’s own thoughts of New York at the time of a financial crisis, “I just had these apocalyptic visions of buildings burning and skyscrapers collapsing”(2) The apocalyptic feel of the song, ties into its connotation of its location in the “future” from the time of its release. Still the song conveys the anxieties of the time, for both New York and the mentality seen in the 1970s in a post-war America.
Finally, in 1980, Peter Gabriel released “Games without Frontiers” this song, is one of the many in Gabriel’s discography that connect to elements of social commentary. This kind of commentary is even evident in Gabriel’s songwriting in Genesis using wordplay and puns to convey internal problems in England in ‘Aisle of Plenty”. The song compares politics of the times and world leaders to children. The official video even features an atomic bomb going off and duck and cover videos to reinforce this connection to his anti-war themes and social commentary.(3) The songs title even conveys this, with the advent of the nuclear bomb old rules of warfare are outdated.
Throughout the decades following the end of World War II and into the Cold War, there was global change both socially and political. Many had to grapple with questions of the end of the world, that are now bubbling to the surface again in an intensely divisive political climate. The use of the atomic bomb encapsulates real world horrors and anxieties that many tried to addresses. This shows the power of the icon that is the Atomic Bomb and the long lasting effects it had on culture of the era that followed it.
1Bowie, David “Five Years” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWm03wYBTbM
2 Dan, Poepenbring “Miami 2017” The Paris Review Jan 4 2017
3Peter Gabriel, Games without Fronitershttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xZmlUV8muY
Images of album covers from google images