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If You’re Smelling Something Foul on the Berlin Wall Anniversary, It’s Probably the “Wind of Change”

November 9, 2009

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both in concrete reality for the Germans whose movements through their country were no longer restricted, and for its much larger symbolic value as the ultimate visual symbol of the collapse of Soviet Communism, the dismantling of the Wall was a momentous event.

As with any moment of great historical import, November 9, 1989, presented both significant endings and new beginnings. During numerous remembrances throughout Germany and continental Europe, and in countless news articles and media retrospectives, this great shifting of historical tides is being both celebrated and analyzed in great detail.

But how many among them will remember the German hard rock band Scorpions and “Wind of Change,” their pseudo-profound, language-mangling, cheese-rock ode to the huge events of the time? Not enough, I’m afraid, not enough. Still fewer will put the Berlin Wall-era cultural artifact (the song, not the band, though they’re certainly artifacts of what could be called the Hairassic Era of rock music) in its proper place.

I’m here to make that right. In preparing to perform this important duty, I’ve watched the “Wind of Change” video several times. Also, during extensive research in the exclusive, rarefied cultural archives of Wikipedia, I learned that viewers of German TV network ZDF chose “Wind of Change” as the Song of the 20th Century in 2005. This legwork led me to two realizations: 1) “Wind of Change” may well be the worst song and video of the past 20 years, and 2) the voting in that ZDF poll must have been limited to the Scorpions’ hit singles and Hasselhoff B-sides. Even from that limited candidate pool, if I had a vote, I’d still take “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” or even “Night Rocker,” over “Wind of Change” in a heartbeat.

The “Wind of Change” video is a perfectly, if unintentionally, unified and complete exemplar of every late 1980s power-ballad cliche. It’s got the:

1. Slow motion shots of live crowds pumping their fists and lip-syncing random snippets of the lyrics.

2. Stock footage of historical events (a requisite for when bands like Scorpions tried to get serious and political).

3. Band members making ridiculous faces during guitar solos (check the 2:32 mark of the video to see a Scorpion making what I believe is called the “smell the fart” face).

4. Mournful whistling (crap, after several viewings of “Wind of Change,” I’m finding that whistling part easier to recall than Axl Rose’s part in “Patience.” Damn you and your plaintive whistle, Klaus Meine.)

5. Lighters. Lighters everywhere. My God, the lighters.

Top all that off with some painfully ridiculous lyrics, made even more nonsensical (but almost forgivable) by the fact that English is the band’s second language. The chorus’s first line—“Take me to the magic of the moment, on that glory night”—is the best/worst example. One cannot be taken to magic, and glory is not an adjective. This line literally means nothing. Worse still, with the band trying SO HARD to make a meaningful “statement song,” the inanity only becomes more striking.

But I must give the Scorpions’ video monstrosity credit for one thing. Other bands and songs may have been more integral, but the squishy power-ballad sentimentality perfectly captured in “Wind of Change” helped pave the way for the ascent of Nirvana, whose wounded, raw, angry aesthetic represented a near-total rejection of 1980s cock-pop culture.

I started enjoying rock music at the age of 12 when Poison ruled MTV, and I even bought a few hair metal albums on cassette. But I didn’t feel music in my soul until hearing holy documents like Nevermind, Disintegration, Ritual de lo Habitual, Ten, and Out of Time at the age of 16 – 17. So Scorpions did a favor for me and, I’d argue, millions of music fans like me. I was probably going to reject much of the music of my childhood anyway, but the vacuity of songs like “Wind of Change” made me run screaming toward more thoughtful, authentic music.

On this anniversary of the event that provoked the most massive social change of the latter half of the 20th century, I can’t help recalling the beginnings and endings of November 1989 in these very personal—and musical—terms. For it was about that time that Scorpions and a hundred bands like them were swept into the dustbin of history. In my musical world, a real wind of change made “Wind of Change” obsolete, and when Ron-bo Reagan said, “Tear down this wall,” he was actually talking about a wall of bad metal hair doused in Aquanet.

  1. November 10, 2009 2:03 am

    I feel obligated to share a little tidbit from NPR this evening, because I too had this (damned) song going through my head when I heard it was the anniversary of the Wall coming down. NPR had an article about German folk and protest music, and how very little there was in West Germany about the Wall. It was too painful, they said, too big. The job, naturally, fell to the East Germans to brave the authorities and sing about it. But of course, the story went on, it’s another German band whose work is now irrevocably linked with the fall of the Wall in most people’s minds – and then they dropped this little bit that I had forgotten.

    This song didn’t come out until six months after the Wall came down. It was actually spring 1990 when the Scorpions got insanely lucky with this annoying cheeseball of a song. It’s funny what tricks memory will pull on you, because I and doubtless millions of others have linked the two in our minds because of the subject matter of the aforementioned supremely cheesy power-ballad and its video. Knowing the truth, to me, makes the sentimentality of the song seem positively egregious in retrospect.

  2. November 10, 2009 12:50 pm

    If glory isn’t an adjective, then how do you explain the term “glory hole”?


  3. November 10, 2009 12:54 pm

    Maybe I should’ve substituted “account for” in place of “explain” as I’m sure my link does a more than adequate job of explaining the term.

  4. Tony Mendocino permalink
    November 10, 2009 8:03 pm

    (The?) Scorpions sank even lower in 1990. While Sonic Youth was following their incredible Daydream Nation with the more accessible Goo, and the Pixies gave us Bossanova, MTV decided that America needed to hear more Scorpions, who obliged with the dumber-than-a-sack-of-hammers bilgepump of a song, with the subtle title of “Tease Me, Please Me”. I’ll never forget the time some dumb bastard discharged a girl’s mace canister right into my face, as that worse-than-Stalin excuse for music was blasting out of the hotel TV. I have their new slogan:

    Scorpions – if you think they suck now, wait till you get maced!

  5. January 23, 2014 8:48 am

    And Nirvana are where exactly now? And the Pixies are now a cabaret act as far as I can see… And the Glory that is the Scorpions continues to Rock, just like a hurricane. :) I’ve seen the Scorpions in Germany and that song really means a lot to so many German people.

    It expresses the hope for a new way, free of the horrors of the past. It captures a moment in time and space that resonates with millions of people. The lyrics are not Beckett, but what rock lyrics are?

    “Take me to the magic of the moment, on that glory night”—is the best/worst example. One cannot be taken to magic, and glory is not an adjective. ” Actually, the words are used as metaphors and you can be taken back to a moment in time, a magic moment, and on the wings of music, that my friend is how you fly to that magic moment. That moment is glorious, but glory scans better.

    Also, check out the early Scorpions with Uli Jon Roth on searing lead Guitar. The Scorpions. Still standing since 1972. Respect.


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