Born in the USA (Made in the GDR): Anglo-American Music in a Communist Record Market

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 11:10 AM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sven Kube, Florida International University
In the aftermath of rock ‘n’ roll and Beatlemania, popular music became a powerful instrument in Cold War contestation. Under American and British leadership, the capitalist democracies of the West produced a musical youth culture that baby boomers across the world embraced as the soundtrack of their life experience. Communist governments denounced rock and pop as subversive propaganda, but as the era progressed they struggled to curtail the influence of modern popular music in their societies. Proposing that music played a crucial role in Cold War cultural competition, historians have highlighted the importance of cultural diplomatic efforts like radio broadcasting and concert tours in familiarizing Eastern Bloc audiences with Western lifestyles.

This paper demonstrates that cultural diplomacy was, in fact, flanked by large-scale cultural commerce between the music industries of communist countries and record companies in the capitalist sphere. It illuminates how the state-owned music monopolist of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) cooperated with American, British, and West German enterprises to domestically produce and distribute popular releases by Western performers in the period between the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the demise of the Warsaw Pact in 1989. It contends that the Western licensed music program, which East Germany’s music industry had designed to generate lucrative profits for the state and disperse opposition to cultural isolationism, led the country’s market into dependency on the capitalist entertainment industry. Based on the evaluation of exclusive primary source material such as formerly top secret production figures and oral histories by industry insiders, it showcases the first empirical analysis of a communist music marketplace. The paper argues that steady commercialization and, therefore, Westernization of its pop album market exemplified the GDR’s decision to concede the Cold War battle over the cultural preferences and political loyalties of its citizens for economic necessities.

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