Red Russian Army Choir & Leningrad Cowboys – Sweet Home Alabama (90s – 46)

May 5, 2014

The single most exciting New Year’s Eve of my childhood years was at my Grandma’s unit. As a family we did nothing for New Year’s, but my Grandma’s unit that year – where I slept on a trundle-bed in the loungeroom – had something I didn’t have in my home town: SBS television, Australia’s ethnic TV station.

In previous years the ABC used to put on great documentaries on New Year’s Eve – I remember a corker about Mel Brooks one year – but by this time this was being replaced by Cher live.. again…

SBS, on the other hand, easily filled the gap. Firstly there was my first ever viewing of Dinner for One – an SBS tradition on NYE – and the other was the Leningrad Cowboys & Red Army Choir’s Total Balalaika Show. And it was bonkers.

I must have heard of the Leningrad Cowboys because I videotaped the show (and dubbed it onto cassette). I can’t remember my first encounter – I think they were at the 1995 edition of Womadelaide – but this concert on the TV blew away any ideas I may have had that classic pop was boring. The Cowboys – that hair – those boots – showed me pop was there to be fun. You would think this would be obvious, but I was pretty serious about music at this point.

Add to this the Red Army Choir – did they understand the lyrics they were singing? I did assignments on the fall of the Soviet Union. I read Tom Clancy. That this choir – the face of the other side – was singing these tracks with gusto would have unthinkable to me a couple of years earlier – well within my lifetime of political understanding.

Fast forward to 2000, and the night before a first kiss the girl in question and I watched the Leningrad Cowboys Do America after I found it in the video store. Perhaps the least likely romantic lead-up to a (admittedly short-lived) relationship I can think of.


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