While it is often said that cockroaches will probably be the last surviving species on earth after the apocalypse, you have to wonder whether it might
in fact be scorpions. Or rather the 120 million record-selling German rock legends Scorpions, whose 19th studio album, Rock Believer, is released later this month. Formed in 1965 and featuring the same vocalist (Klaus Meine) and guitarist (Rudolf Schenker) since 1970, the band has only existed for three years short of the Stones’ record – and the Stones can’t claim to have played a part in the remaking of the face of Europe.
1990 was a time when bombastic rockers were making a habit of scoring big hits with epic rock ballads (witness Aerosmith’s What It Takes, Whitesnake’s The Deeper the Love, or Guns ’n’ Roses’ cover of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door of that year), and the Scorpions’ Wind of Change could have seemed like more of the same, what with the earnest synths, whistling and overwrought emotion that made holding your lighter aloft almost compulsory. But coming as it did at the moment of the rebirth of Germany, it took on a magnitude beyond the boundaries of rock.
With the lyrics “The world is closing in/ Did you ever think/ That we could be so close/ Like brothers?/ The future’s in the air/ Can feel it everywhere” it seemed tailor-made for the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, and the video, directed by king of rock visuals Wayne Isham, used footage of the Wall’s construction and its fall. It remains the best-selling single ever released by a German artist and one of the best-selling singles of all time.
But while Schenker has called the song “the soundtrack of the most peaceful revolution on earth”, since the idea for the song pre-dated the fall of the Wall and it was not released until after reunification, it was the revolution beyond German borders it really soundtracked.
Meine had been inspired to write Wind of Change by the band’s experience at the Moscow Music Peace Festival of August 1989, which brought several western heavy-metal acts to the Soviet Union for the first time to play to an audience of 100,000.
Schenker later told Rolling Stone: “The Wall had not come down yet, but it was here, in Moscow, where you could feel everything coming. Gorbachev was bringing glasnost and perestroika! The world was changing.” Meine wrote the complete song during that Moscow trip, opening it with references to the Moskva river and the city’s Gorky Park.
Wind of Change appeared on the band’s Crazy World LP, released almost exactly a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it was released as a single the following January, months after German reunification. It became a major hit of 1991 across Europe and perhaps the most popular and recognisable political song of all time (indeed, such was the scale of its
impact, a conspiracy theory that it was written by the CIA as a bit of Cold War psyops has arisen). That December, as the USSR was being dismantled, the band met Gorbachev at the Kremlin and presented a donation from the
proceeds of the song to be spent on Russian children’s hospitals.
But despite the geographically specific references, Wind of Change spoke beyond the communist world. Coming at a time of global tumult, from
Tiananmen Square to the end of Apartheid, the song’s video deliberately
reflected that wider feeling of revolution, using film of assorted conflicts, environmental catastrophes and inspirational leaders. The band have since performed the song in places touched by conflict or where freedom is limited, from Lebanon to China, as well as at the 10th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate and Gorbachev’s 80th birthday gala in 2011.
Now, with the first offering from Rock Believer – made in the shadow of
Covid, as the band were forced to record in their hometown of Hanover rather than in the planned location of Los Angeles due to travel restrictions –
Scorpions are again speaking to a time of global change.
Lead single Peacemaker is intended as a post-Covid anthem. Meine sings “Peacemaker, peacemaker/Bury the undertaker” as the heavy but hopeful track looks to leave a time of loss behind. The band are serious about their post-pandemic plans, playing a Las Vegas residency from next month and touring Europe from May. Who better than European rock’s true survivors to celebrate the possibilities of the post-pandemic future?
SCORPIONS IN FIVE SONGS
In Trance (1975)
Having evolved from a Merseybeat-influenced sound to psychedelia, by the time of this single and the album of the same name Scorpions had adopted a hard rock stance.
Rock You Like A Hurricane (1984)
With screaming guitar solos and acres of rock bombast, this is now the Scorpions’ signature song.
Still Loving You (1984)
Scorpions’ first substantial hit, going Top 5 in France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, reaching No. 14 in Germany and even gaining traction in
Russia, this track proved, over a decade before Wind of Change, that ballads were their strong suit.
Like Rock You Like A Hurricane and Still Loving You, this track is from breakthrough LP Love at First Sting and is another instance of Scorpions tackling the Cold War. “Why cannot people that we made the leaders of the world/ Understand that we don’t want to fight?” it asks.
This hard-rocking lead single from the German rock legends’ new album proves that guitarist Rudolf Schenker and singer Klaus Meine being in their 70s is no bar to them producing energetic sounds with a future-facing message.