Wind of Change is one of the highest selling singles of all time – and still holds the record as the highest selling single by a German artist. When the single was released in January 1991, the world was, to be blunt, crazy. The Berlin wall had come down not even a year and a half earlier. The Soviet Union was in turmoil and, though none of us knew it yet, it was about to collapse. Less than six months earlier, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army had invaded Kuwait. Three days prior to the song’s release, the US had started the precision bombing campaign that would shortly lead to a ground invasion of Kuwait.
Listening to the wind of change
A few months later, I joined a group from my school that was scheduled to travel to the Soviet Union that fall (September, if I recall correctly) to watch a Soyuz launch. We didn’t go that year, because in August of 1991, there was a coup attempt against then-President Mikhail Gorbachev. Our teachers, wisely, concluded that taking a bunch of middle-schoolers into the midst of that mess wasn’t wise. We did eventually get to go, though. The trip was finally rescheduled for March of 1992. By the time we got there, the Soviet Union didn’t exist anymore.
Listening to the wind of change
I have a vivid memory of sitting on a Moscow subway train with a small group of Americans as a Russian man came into our car carrying a guitar, sat down near us, and played and sang this song. It was awkward – not only because his guitar playing was mediocre and his English was terrible, but because of how much raw emotion he put into the song. He felt it.
I was thirteen that day. I was hardly an expert on international geopolitics, but I was pretty current on what was going on and just how major it was. The song’s peak of popularity in the US had already come and gone, so we all knew it, of course. And as Americans of that era, we had interpreted the song with a huge degree of optimism. The Soviet Union was gone. Saddam Hussein may not have been gone, but he’d been soundly defeated. Eastern Europe was freed from the grasp of tyrannical, oppressive governments held in check by the Soviet boot. The “end of history” was nigh.
This song hasn’t gotten a lot of airplay in a good while. But over the last few months, I’ve heard it on the air repeatedly. It’s not on all the current stations, of course, but it’s getting quite a bit of time on the classic rock stations. I’ve always enjoyed the song. But twenty-five years after its release, I finally recognize the true beauty of it. The optimism I saw in the song as a child is definitely there. It’s real. As an adult, looking at a different world and listening with different ears, what I also hear is the fear. The world was changing, and to that Russian man on the subway, it was terrifying and hopeful all at the same time.
As I said, the song is getting a lot of airplay recently. And for good reason. ISIS is on the rise. Iran and Saudi Arabia are bombing each others’ embassies and expelling diplomats. Russia and the US are fighting proxy wars over Ukraine and Syria. Terrorism is breaking out in Europe and the US again. The economy is shaky, and western power seems to be waning.
The future’s in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change