Music is a powerful force for unity. It’s an international language that crosses borders. And it’s hard to be enemies with people who make you sing and dance. Music can undermine political regimes, which is why they sometimes prevent you hearing the stuff that might make you think there’s a better way to live.

In early 1985, the Komsomol, the youth wing of the Soviet Communist Party, drew up a list of Western musical acts not to be played on the radio, or in clubs and discos. They were “ideologically harmful” – although in most cases the list didn’t specify how or why.

Scroll down for the Spotify of acts banned for sex, punk, neofascism and more

Komsomol list of acts banned in USSR
1985 black list in original Russian

The list cites many reasons these 38 acts were not to be played, including violence, eroticism, punk, mysticism and religious “obscurantism”. It’s probably lost something in the translation, and picked up some spelling errors along the way. But it reveals a deeper knowledge of Western music than might have been expected in the 1985 Soviet Union.

The blacklist had a catchy title – “the approximate list of foreign musical groups and artists whose repertoires contain ideologically harmful compositions“. Van Halen, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Talking Heads and Julio Iglesias are on it, with Madness, B-52s, Alice Cooper, The Village People, Donna Summer, Tina Turner, AC/DC and a Swiss band that sounds just like them called Krokus.

It’s sinister and hilarious all at once, a reminder of just how hot the Cold War became in the mid 80s, and how daggy political folks can seem when they have to deal with “the youth”.

The do-not-play list is documented in Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No Morea marvellous book from Russian anthropologist Alexei Yurchak

Like most attempts to prohibit and control, the Komsomol ban list seems to have had little effect on what was played on radio and in the discos. And being listed may have enhanced outlaw status, or alerted music-loving Soviet teens to bands they hadn’t yet discovered. One person’s ban is another’s list of helpful suggestions.

There are a couple of bands cited for specific transgressions – Pink Floyd and 10CC for lyrics perceived as anti-Soviet. Whatever the reasons for inclusion, the list stands as a curious relic from the tail-end of the Cold War, and a very stylish 70s/80s compilation album. Enjoy.

This is an online version of a piece for the ABC Digital Radio show It’s Just Not Cricket with Glynn Greensmith – scheduled for Saturday April 21. 


The list in English

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