When Sting’s post-Police album Dream of the Blue Turtles came out in 1985, the U.S. and Russia (then still also known as the Soviet Union) were embroiled in the Cold War, a tense conflict of words that had existed for decades. Things began to change around the time Sting released the Blue Turtles single “Russians,” as President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev entered into talks about the reduction of their nations’ nuclear arsenals. Those discussions continued for several years until the Cold War ended, which helped ease East-West tensions, at least for some people and at least for a while.
In the middle of it all, “Russians” was a song of hopefulness that the Soviets would seriously consider at least one thing before they pushed the nuclear button: their kids. Some of the lines included:
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
But what might save us, me and you
Is if the Russians love their children too
Some people may have considered it a little maudlin when Sting name-checks the “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, with the line with the line How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy? But when you consider that Sting himself had several children at the time and fathered even more later, the sincerity of the line can’t be overstated. In the book Lyrics by Sting, the artist explained how the song came to be:
“In this political climate a friend of mine, who was doing research at Columbia University in New York, had a computer system sophisticated enough to intercept the Soviets’ TV signal from their satellite above the North Pole. On a Saturday night in New York City we could watch Sunday morning programs for the kids in Russia. The shows seemed thoughtful and sweet, and I suddenly felt the need to state something obvious in the face of all this rhetoric: Russians love their children just as we do.”
Sting’s song, of course, may be considered old-school to younger people who haven’t studied much history, and to those who don’t know much about Russia beyond President Vladimir Putin, who is in the news almost daily. But regardless of the players or what the country is called, the song is as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago.
Besides Green Day’s “American Idiot,” “Russians” may be the only song that rhymes “America” with “hysteria,” and Sting wrote his song first. While the lyrics are all Sting, part of the song’s melody is from the “romance” theme of the Lieutenant Kije suite, the great work by modern classical composer Serge Prokofiev, who was, of course, Russian. Prokofiev died in 1953, but Sting appropriately gave him a co-writing credit.