Cover image for Rock around the bloc : a history of rock music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union
Rock around the bloc : a history of rock music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union
Ryback, Timothy W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
xii, 272 pages, 20 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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ML3534 .R9 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In February 1987, Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev personally received Yoko Ono in Moscow. In a surprising revelation, Raisa declared that she and her husband were fans of John Lennon. While Raisa sang lyrics from a Lennon song, the Soviet leader observed solemnly, "John should have been here."It was a stunning declaration. After three decades of virulent anti-rock rhetoric, a Soviet leader had allied himself with the forces of rock and roll. In the era of glasnost and perestroika, rock and roll has provided, in a very real sense, the soundtrack to the Gorbachev revolution. Thisstunning policy shift has fueled the already burgeoning Soviet rock scene and has commanded intense media attention in the West. But as Timothy W. Ryback demonstrates in this lively and revealing book, Western music, particularly rock and roll, is not new to the Soviet bloc. Indeed, as Mr. Ryback shows, rock music has effected one of the most significant transformations ever in Soviet bloc society. He traces theemergence of rock culture in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from 1954 to the present day, where it has become unquestionably the most pervasive form of mass cultural activity in Communist society. Charting this process, Rock Around the Bloc looks at both sides of the thirty-year war betweenrock fans and Soviet bloc governments. It takes the reader into the Kremlin for special Central Committee meetings devoted to the "evil" of rock music; into the streets of beleaguered 1968 Prague and 1981 Poland where rock bands and their fans helped spearhead social and political reforms; andinto the bedrooms of young people secretly tuning into rock broadcasts from the BBC and Radio Free Europe. The reader comes to realize that in some ways, life in the Soviet bloc was surprisingly similar to life in the West. There was the Elvis craze in the late 1950s, Beatlemania in 1964, and the disturbing appearance of punks and skinheads on urban streets in the early 1980s. At the same time,these similarities make the differences all the more striking. Prague's mid-1960s drug cult relied on analgesics mixed with alcohol to ape western drugs. In 1969 young Moscow musicians seeking to convert their acoustic guitars into electric ones dismantled every public phone in Moscow to pilfer theelectronic parts. And Dean Reed, an expatriate American who became a genuine Soviet bloc superstar selling millions of records, died mysteriously shortly after expressing his desire to return to the United States. Informed throughout by a deep knowledge and love for the music as well as an understanding of the Soviet bloc's political and social realities, Rock Around the Bloc tells a fascinating story on many levels: the liberalization of communist society, the traumas and triumphs of Soviet bloc youthculture, the spread of rock's influence in unlikely places, and the surprisingly rich variety of rock and roll in Eastern Europe that keeps its kinship to western music while forging a unique identity all its own. Engagingly written and full of compelling detail, Ryback's definitive account willdelight all rock fans and will fascinate people interested in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and modern social history.

Author Notes

Timothy W. Ryback is a Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University. His writing on European culture and politics has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

With unprecedented changes taking place behind what used to be the Iron Curtain, Ryback's book could hardly have been written at a more appropriate time. In this meticulously annotated work it becomes abundantly clear that rock music, in all its forms and variations, has played a role in the Soviet bloc similar to its role in the US in the '60s and early '70s. The music and its attendant culture have defined and energized youth, often in opposition to established social and political norms. In so doing, rock has encouraged a life-style that has much more in common with Western than Communist values. Ryback's focus is broader than that of Artemy Troitsky's groundbreaking Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia (London, 1987), and Ryback places a greater emphasis on the symbiosis of music and politics. With its illustrations, excellent endnotes, and index, this book should be welcomed by music, cultural studies, and political science scholars as well as by casual readers. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries at all levels. -H. A. Keesing, University of Maryland at College Park

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Sounds of Socialismp. 3
1 Onslaught of the Coca-Cola Barbarians, 1946-1953p. 7
2 Rock and Rollback, 1954-1960p. 19
3 Bards of Discontent, 1956-1965p. 35
4 Beatlemania: Leninism Versus Lennonism, 1960-1966p. 50
5 You Say You Want a Revolution, 1965-1969p. 66
6 The Crackdown, 1965-1970p. 85
7 The Soviet Rock Scene, 1965-1972p. 102
8 Rocking the Balkans, 1965-1975p. 115
9 Bands on the Run, 1972-1976p. 129
10 The Soviet Rock Scene, 1970-1979p. 149
11 Punk in Hungary, 1976-1986p. 167
12 Punk in Poland, 1980-1986p. 180
13 The Final Bastions Fall, 1980-1988p. 191
14 The Soviet Rock Scene, 1980-1988p. 211
Conclusion: Shattering the Iron Curtainp. 232
Chronologyp. 235
Notesp. 251
Indexp. 267