Soviet Baby Boomers

Soviet Baby Boomers – Media and the Cultural Politics of Détente

Another important issue in Raleigh’s book is a role of media in cultural consumption of the Soviet baby boomers especially during the 1970s (pp. 221-223, 275, 299).  I will add, which was missing in the book. The détente of the 1970s became a critical period in the westernization of Soviet youth, and various media played important role in this process. Paradoxically, by legitimizing consumption of Western cultural products, the official Soviet policy of détente justified an incorporation of various elements of Western modernity (from the new fashions to a commercialization of popular culture) into Soviet ideological practices of the 1970s that further disoriented and confused both local ideologists and local youth.

As early as 1964, using Western forms of radio broadcasting, Soviet radio introduced a new radio station Maiak [Beacon] with a round-the-clock five-minute news and twenty-five minute entertainment show. This station was the first to introduce Western rock music to Soviet audiences. In 1967 a radio journalist Viktor Tatarskii came to Maiak and created a music show, Vstrechi s pesnei, which popularized Soviet estrada songs. From 1968 to 1975, the Moscow radio station Maiak broadcast a special music show by Tatarskii and the journalist Grigorii Libergal with the title Zapishite na vashi magnitofony. Tatarskii included the latest western music hits along with his professional commentary. As a majority of contemporaries mentioned, in many provincial Ukrainian towns Tatarskii’s radio show was more important as a source of pop music information for Soviet high school and college students than radio programs from the West.[1] The radio station’s administration tried to control him and stop him from playing “loud music.” Several times Maiak cancelled his show. After 1976, Tatarskii moved to other Moscow stations, and he devoted his new shows to jazz music and Soviet estrada. Together with the central radio station Yunost Tatarskii and other young radio journalists, such as Ekaterina Tarkhanova, Vladimir Pozner and Igor Fesunenko, organized two new radio shows: Na vsekh shirotakh and Muzykal’nyi globus. These shows covered various topics of modern popular music including jazz and rock and roll, and they became the major source of information about Western pop music for millions of Soviet rock music fans.[2]

The period of détente made various forms of Soviet media available for the new cultural influences from capitalist West.  During this period the Soviet administration bought the official licenses for manufacturing popular music records from the West and bought also new western music recording technologies, music instruments and disco equipment; the first comic books from the West were reprinted in the Soviet Union, officially licensed western movies were shown, Soviet television broadcast the concerts of Western popular musicians, and Western rock music was incorporated into official Soviet television shows, such as Mezhduanrodnaia panorama and Vesiolye rebiata (with a range of music – from the light dancing tunes of ABBA, the Beatles, Boney M, Paul McCartney and Smokey, arias from Jesus Christ Superstar to a more heavier beat of Sweet, Slade, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Nazareth, Queen and UFO). Different Western pop musicians such as Cliff Richard, B.B. King, Elton John and Bonny M. toured with the concerts in Moscow and Leningrad during the 1970s.[3]

The Soviet music recording company Melodia released the first licensed Western music records to satisfy the growing demand among young Soviet consumers for Western music and at the same time, to respond to new ideological requirements for Soviet entertainment. The first attempt to satisfy these demands was a release of two songs (three years after their original release in England!) – “Girl” by the Beatles and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones in a Soviet compilation of popular music in 1967-68. But Melodia did not reveal the true names of the famous rock bands. It put only the words: “English people’s (narodnaia) song: vocal and instrumental ensemble (England).”[4] By 1976, in many cases without revealing the name of the performers or songwriters, Melodiia’s compilations (besides twelve singles with the Beatles and Rolling Stones songs) included music by the Animals, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Cliff Richard, the Hollies, Elton John, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bee Gees, Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Slade, Sweet and T. Rex. Released without any official permission from the Western music record companies, all these Melodia’s recordings became the first available source of music for the youngest Soviet rock music fans, mainly the middle and high school students, who had just begun their search for information about their favorite music.

In 1976, as a direct result of détente, Melodia signed its first official contract with the Dutch recording company OLD ARK to facilitate the release of the album of the Dutch rock band Teach-In.[5] It was the first original Western music record that Melodia released with an official license. After this, many Western music records reached Soviet consumers through official channels. These records represented different styles of Western music – from Billie Holliday’s Greatest Hits in Jazz to the ex-Beatles’ John Lennon Imagine and Paul McCartney and the Wings’ rock album, Band on the Run.[6] Popular journals such as Krugozor and Klub i khudozhestvennaia samodeiatel’nost released various compilations of such Western music on flex discs which were included as the music appendices to these journals.[7]

As another result of détente, young Western pop music enthusiasts could not only listen to Soviet music records with popular Western music hits, but also watch their music idols on Soviet television. The Central Soviet Television program always prepared a special music variety show which was shown on New Year’s night. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, this show usually included a long concert with famous Soviet and foreign musicians and actors who were predominantly from socialist countries. This show was called Novogodnii Goluboi Ogoniok. Various Soviet celebrities, politicians, journalists, artists, musicians and singers were invited to Ogoniok as guests. Some sat at tables with wine, champagne and snacks, while others played music, danced or sang. Classical music and traditional folk and Soviet popular songs dominated this show. Sometimes popular singers from socialist countries such as Karel Gott from Czechoslovakia or even Dean Reed from the United States appeared as guests of the Ogoniok television show.[8] Millions of Soviet fans of Western pop music were pleasantly surprised that after a traditional long and boring Novogodnii Ogoniok show on the early morning of 1 January, 1975, the central Soviet television station broadcast an unusually long concert of Western pop music stars. These stars included the most popular names that would become played regularly in the Soviet discothèques during the 1970s, such as ABBA, Boney M, Dowley Family, Donny Osmond, Silver Convention, Joe Dassen, Amanda Lear, Smokey and Baccarat. After 1975, each year Soviet television aired similar shows at least once a year, usually very late at night.

Since 11 January, 1977, Soviet television had organized a special show Melodii i ritmy zarubezhnoi estrady which included the most popular stars of Western rock and disco music. Until perestroika Melodii i ritmy was the only television show which gave a unique opportunity to millions of Soviet fans see their idols on the Soviet television screen at least once a year. During the 1970s Soviet television also organized the broadcasting of variety shows, which included covers of the most popular western hits in Russian by various Soviet vocal instrumental ensembles (VIAs). So-called Televizionnye Benefisy of the famous Soviet film stars such as Larisa Golubkina (1975) and Liudmila Gurchenko (1978) and Evgenii Ginzburg’s show Volshebnyi fonar’ (1976) offered very good covers of songs from the British rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and also covers of songs from albums by the Beatles and Paul McCartney by various VIA such as Vesiolye rebiata from Moscow and Poiushchie gitary from Leningrad.[9] Many young television viewers requested that these television shows be replayed.[10]

Soviet film industry already had been westernized by the 1970s as a result of official emphasis on commercial success. In the Soviet Union during the mid-1960s gross movie ticket sales was at roughly 1 billion rubles annually, of which the state was said to have collected 440 million in “pure profit.” Eventually, the notion of commercial success in the Soviet film industry led to its internationalization and purchase of more foreign movies, which brought more profits to this industry. For every ruble in its budget, Soviet officials estimated income from foreign film purchases at 5 rubles; in the case of commercial Western films, it could reach 250. The Soviet Ministry of Culture began to purchase large numbers of films from abroad – from 63 in 1955 to 113 in 1958, with plans for over 150 in 1960. In the period from 1954 to 1991 the USSR imported 206 films from India, 41 from the United States, and 38 from France.[11] Just in 1973 alone, the main Soviet authority for the acquisition and distribution of foreign films, Soveksportfilm, bought more than 150 feature films from 70 countries (more than 50% from capitalist West). During the period of détente, this number grew. More Western films reached Soviet moviegoers especially in the provinces by the end of the 1970s than the previous decade.[12]

The détente affected Soviet television as well, the most important medium for the Soviet consumers. Traditionally, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the images from Western capitalist countries appeared on the Soviet television screens on regular basis in the television news (especially in the section about foreign events of the show Vremia), in the show Klub kinoputeshestvii, in V mire zhivotnykh and in Mezhdunarodnaia panorama. Besides an obligatory anti-capitalist propaganda, these images from television gave the interesting information about the life style, fashions and politics in the West. As one fifteen-year Soviet high school student noted in the summer of 1970, “I have a lucky day today [Sunday, July 12]. At noon I listened to Tatraskii’s radioperedacha about music of my favorite Creedence [Clearwater Revival]. In the evening I watched on television how the ordinary people in New York City live in Klub kinoputeshestvii and then in the very boring Mezhdunarodnaia panorama I saw a story about the life style of British youth with my favorite the Beatles ‘Liubov’ nelzia kupit’ [Can’t Buy Me Love] song playing in background…”[13] Overall, images and shows from the socialist countries prevailed in the Soviet television at the beginning of the 1970s. As one contemporary explained in his dairy in 1971, “our socialist neighbors provided us with the television images of our socialist West from Poland and Hungary, which is better and more interesting than to watch only our boring and redundant television information.” Therefore, Soviet audience enjoyed watching on a television the cultural products from the countries of Soviet Bloc such as a Soviet parody of the Polish television variety show Kabachok 13 stuliev with the original hits of Polish pop music, or Polish television mini-series about “the adventures of a Polish patriot/intelligence officer in the Nazi uniform” during the WWII – Stavka bol’she chem zhizn’ (1965-68); the telvision film series for children made in socialist countries such as a Polish film about the adventures of a Polish tank crew during the WWII Chetyre tankista i sobaka (1966-1972) and a Hungarian historical adventure film Captain Tenkesh (1963). The rare TV films based on the classical foreign literature from capitalist countries appeared on the Soviet TV during the Brezhnev era. Since the middle of the 1970s, the cultural situation of détente resulted in showing more television films, shows and information directly from the capitalist West. According to the most complete recordings of everyday life from five summer school diaries during the period of the 1970s, the Soviet children watched on Soviet television not only the broadcast from America about the ice hockey matches between the Soviet and Canadian hockey teams, but also the American television series Lassie about the adventures of a collie dog, the British mystery film The Moon Stone based on Wilkie Collins’ detective novel and various BBC television mini-series like David Copperfield based on Charles Dickens’ novel. As one sixteen-year rock music fan reacted to the cultural détente on television in late 1977, “it’s amazing to see what is going on on our television: since 1975 we have watched an American movie about Lassie, various broadcasts about Soviet-American space flights of Soyuz-Apollon and scientific exchanges between us and Americans, then we have seen an English detective movie The Moon Stone, and finally, on Soviet television the official political show Mezhdunarodnaia panorama is introduced by the [unannounced] melody of One of These Days from Pink Floyd’s album Meddle.”[14] Meanwhile, the adult Soviet adiences fell in love with the BBC television series The Forsyte Saga based on John Galsworthy’s novel and other Western television movies, like an Italian film The Life of Leonardo da Vinci by Renato Castellani. According to the Soviet film critics, these movies were the most popular Western feature films, shown on the Soviet TV during the 1970s.[15] As one contemporary summarized the situation in the Soviet media during the détente, “It was a real Western cultural invasion in the Soviet Union. Since 1975 the Soviet audiences had been exposed to the massive attacks of images and sounds from the capitalist West on television, in the movies, on a radio, on the music records, and of course on a dance floor.”[16]

[1] See summer diary of Alexander Gusar, Pavlograd, Dnipropetrovsk Region, June 2, 1971 and diary of Vasilii Leshchinskii, Vatutino, Cherkasy region, July 12, 1971.

[2] See about this in Sergei I. Zhuk, Rock and Roll in the Rocket City, 90, 97, 246 (In my book, I misprinted his first name incorrectly as Aleksandr). See also information in Western media about his show: Billboard, February 19, 1972, and an internet interview with him: “Viktor Tatarskii: ‘Vstreche s pesnei’ reitingi ne nuzhny” in

[3] See in detail about this in Leonid Parfenov, Namedni. 1971-1980. Nasha era (Moscow: Kolibri, 2009).

[4] See memoirs of Andrei Makarevich, a representative of the Soviet generation of “the Beatles men” and a leader of the Soviet rock band “Time Machine” from Moscow: Andrei Makarevich, “Sam ovtsa”: Avtobiograficheskaia proza (Moscow: Zakharov, 2002), 53-54; see also A. Bagirov, “Bitlz” – liubov’ moia (Minsk: “Parus”, 1993), 3, 157. From 1971 to 1975, without any official permission from the Western record companies, Melodia released six small musical records (“minions”) with the most popular Beatles hits. The Soviet recording company also released at least two minions with songs by Rolling Stones, “As Tears Go By,” “Paint It Black,” “Ruby Tuesday” and some others. The Moscow rock band Vesiolye rebiata covered the Beatles songs “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” in English and “Drive My Car” in Russian and released their own minion on Melodiia. See complete list of the Melodiia discs with the Beatles recordings in A. Bagirov, Op. cit., 157-58. A. Bagirov mistakenly wrote that a VIA Golubye gutary (instead of Vesiolye rebiata) was the first Soviet rock band which covered a song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” See A. Bagirov, Op. cit., 82. Compare with interviews with Sadovoi, Svichar and Suvorov. From 1974 to 1984, Melodia released two minion-compilations with John Lennon’s songs from the “Imagine” album, and two minions with a few songs from the albums “Ram” and “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings.A. Bagirov, Op. cit. 160-162.

[5] This band Teach In became popular among Melodiia administrators because it won the Eurovision competition in 1975. Officially, a Teach-In’s record was released under a license from CNR b. v. Grammofoonplaten Maatschappij  (Leiden, the Netherlands). The Melodiia record’s number was GOST 5289-73 (C60-07403), and its price was 1.90 rubles. I still have this record in my music collection. The most popular Melodia compilations in the 1970s included  “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, “Holiday,” “I Can’t See Nobody,” “To Love Somebody” by Bee Gees, “Mary Long” and “Super Trouper” by Deep Purple, “Coz I Lov You” by Slade, “Funny Funny” by Sweet, “Hot Love” and “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” by T. Rex. See interviews with Natalia Vasilenko (a teacher), Dnipropetrovsk, July 19, 2007, Vladimir Donets (an industrial worker), Dnipropetrovsk, July 19, 2007 and Svichar (Vatutino).

[6] Bagirov, “Bitlz, 160-162. See interviews with Aleksandr Gusar (a teacher of chemistry), Dnipropetrovsk, May 4, 1990, Compare with the interviews with Suvorov, Solodovnik and Sadovoi.

[7] They were songs by the major stars of Western rock music, from Elton John and Pink Floyd to Jethro Tull. See about these journals in Timothy W. Ryback, Rock Around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 161; Yurchak, Everything, 190, 217.

[8] See a story of the “Soviet TV Ogoniok” that was established in April of 1962 in Parfionov, Namedni. 1961-1970, 44. Compare with Kristin Roth-Ey, Moscow Prime Time, 124-125, 212ff. Different scholars give the different translation of this show’s title in English. Recently, Kristin Roth-Ey translated it as a Little Blue Flame.

[9] See about this in Sergei I. Zhuk, Rock and Roll in the Rocket City, 239, 240. See also Fedor I. Razzakov, Gibel’ sovetskogo TV: Tainy televidenia ot Stalina do Gorbacheva. 1930-1991 (Moscow: EKSMO, 2009), 7-260, see especially 76, 96-97, 109-110. He had already written a series of popular books about Soviet cinema, radio, theater and television.

[10] Young enthusiasts of rock music such as Solodovnik and Gusar requested a replay of the Golubkina’s show with a Moscow band covering McCartney’s hit ‘Ms. Vanderbuilt” from the Wings’ album Band on the Run (entitled as “Nasha koroleva khot’ kuda”) at least two times. See interviews with Gusar and Solodovnik.

[11] Kristin Roth-Ey, Moscow Prime Time, 36.

[12] Novyny kinoekranu, 1973, No. 12, p. 13. See also Vladimir Baskakov, “V ritme vremeni,” Iskusstvo kino, 1980, No. 1, pp. 26-58.

[13] School Summer Diary of Vladimir Solodovnik, Sinel’nikovo, Dnipropetrovsk Region, 1966-1978: July 12, 1972.

[14] School Summer Diary of Aleksandr Gusar, Pavlograd, Dnipropetrovsk Region, 1970-1977: November 8, 1977.

[15] Interview with Askold B., a son of a head of tourist department in Dnipropetrovsk Trade Unions branch, Dnipropetrovsk University, April 15, 1993, Novyny kinoekranu, 1970, No. 2, p. 14. See an article about the BBC adaptation of David Copperfield which was shown on the Soviet TV in Aleksandr Anikst, “Bez vdokhnovenia,” Sovetskii ekran, 1975, No. 24, p. 4. See also a negative review of the British TV film The Moon Stone based on Wilkie Collins’ detective novel which was shown on the Soviet TV as well in Aleksandr Anikst, “Kamen’ okazalsia ne dragotsennym,” Sovetskii ekran, 1975, No. 20, p. 4. See also Leonid Parfionov, Namedni, 232, 286.

[16] Interview with Mikhail Suvorov, Dnipropetrovsk, June 1, 1991.

By Sergei Zhuk

A former Soviet expert in US history, especially in the social and cultural history of colonial British America, Dr. Sergei Zhuk, moved in 1997 to the United States, defended his new (now American) Ph.D. dissertation about imperial Russian history at Johns Hopkins University in 2002. Now Sergei Zhuk is Associate Professor of Russian and East European History at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. His research interests are knowledge production, cultural consumption, religion, popular culture and identity in a history of imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.