Winds of Change – the ultimate power ballad?

Robin Ince is intrigued by the idea that Scorpions’ Wind of Change was really a CIA tool to help win the Cold War

Do you have a favourite song? Did it change your life? Did it find you love? Did it save your life? Or did it just change the course of all world history? If it happens that your favourite song is all five then it must be Wind of Change by Scorpions. My knowledge of Scorpions is scant. I remember that my cousin with the denim jacket covered in patches for Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin had a Scorpions poster on his wall. It was one of those images of rebellious sneering threat which if you stare at long enough becomes a magic eye picture of leather camp. They are a band that are often “rocking like a hurricane”. Though they might be considered a metal band, their most renowned song is a gentle song underscored with some Roger Whittaker whistling.

Wind of Change became the anthem of the end of the Cold War. David Hasselhoff may have sung on the crumbling Berlin Wall, but beyond the confines of the German border, Wind of Change was the theme tune of emancipation from communism.

Scorpions like to rock you like a hurricane, by singing things like

“The bitch is hungry, she needs to tell

So give her inches and feed her well

More days to come, new places to go

I’ve got to leave, it’s time for a show”

But they changed tack with Wind of Change.

“Take me to the magic of the moment On a glory night

Where the children of tomorrow dream away (dream away)

In the wind of change”

Nothing suspicious about that, they are artists. Even the hardest rockers like Lemmy could go from Orgasmatrons to gentle affecting songs about the victims of war or the treatment of children.

But according to Patrick Radden Keefe’s podcast, Wind of Change, maybe the band had a helper with their iconic song.

Why not? Elvis had Leiber and Stoller, The Shirelles had Carole King and Scorpions had the CIA… maybe.

Radden Keefe, a writer for The New Yorker, heard a rumour from a friend that Wind of Change was part of a psy-op by the CIA. With the communist regime in Eastern Europe struggling, maybe what was needed was a whistling power ballad to tip it over the edge and allow a new democracy of oligarchs and arms dealers to rush in. This is a gripping podcast series. When I was first told about it I chuckled at the improbability and the delight of the absurdity, but this brief laugh was soon subsumed by a nagging sense of “maybe”, after all, the revered Anglo-American literary magazine Encounterwas funded by the CIA. Who knew that while they were reading articles about Kenneth Tynan and Thomas Hardy, their opinion of American foreign policy was being gently swayed? According to Radden Keefe, the English-language, French-based literary magazine The Paris Review also benefitted from CIA involvement. Who’s funding Mark Lawson?

As the podcast continues the tentacles of the CIA spread through the most unexpected people. In a time of unpalatable conspiracy theories, Wind of Change seems almost pastoral. It is enthralling, intriguing and rather strange. Will you ever trust your favourite pop group again? What records in your collection are really psy-ops?

Wind of Change is the joint-13th biggest-selling song of the pre-digital era, so if Donald Trump’s bellicose attitude to the CIA remains, perhaps the CIA should record a full album and go on a world tour, they might even win Eurovision one day.

Next up, a podcast that reveals that Cotton Eye Joe was written by the KGB.

The Wind of Change podcast is available now on Spotify

@robinince