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History of Russian Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (4/8/13)

The hits of Russian pop music have been documented since 1977 when Moskovsky Komsomolets hit parade issued the nation's first charts. Then in the 1990s the trade paper 2M ( began issuing national music charts. The magazine also helped pave the way for other trade publications in Russia. 2M provides Russian hit music information to the international music industry organization IFPI. 2M compiles charts from music retailers while Tophit compiles airplay charts from radio stations. Russian still has an earlier history of national music tracing back to the early days of the recording industry. Leon Theremin (1896-1993) invented the early electronic instrument, the theriminvox. He was also an early pioneer in RFID technology. In his teens Theremin experimented with manipulating high frequencies. Moscow was where sound began to be drawn on electronic graphs starting with experiments by Pavel Tager.

Russians embraced jazz music in the 1920s as artists such as Valentin Parnakh, Leonid Uteosov amd Eddie Rosner became popular. In the late 50s the Soviet Union was an early supporter of electronic music as Vyachesiav Mescherin formed the Orchestra of Electronic Instruments. The orchestra included theremins and other electronic instruments. The group became a mix of folk covers and original compositions. Mescherin ultimately won many state awards for his popular music that ushered in space age pop. Several songs by the group were used in films such as Battle Beyond the Sun. The orchestra remained active for several decades, issuing over 1,000 recorded tracks.

The roots of contemporary Russian pop music grew in the 1960s and 1970s. Union of Composers members crafted the radio songs in pop, rock and folk styles. The bands that emerged from this development were known as vocal-instrumental-ensembles (VIAs). Some of these popular artists included Poiuschie Gitary, Pesnyary, Verasy and solo artists Valery Leontiev, Sofia Rotaru and Yuri Antonov. The state owned monopoly label was Melodiva. The censors of this label supported family-oriented songs that stayed away from political messages. Folk artists fueled the Bardic scene of the sixties, driven by singer-songwriters. Some of the first rock and roll heard by Russians was by The Beatles, although the state censored their 1968 song "Back in the USSR."

Popular bands of the 70s included Aquarium and Autograph (not the same band who had the hit "Turn Up the Radio"), who were also considered underground. In the 80s new wave and punk infiltrated the country and was popularized by Kino, Aria and DDT. A rock festival called Nashestvie, put together by Nashe Radio, has been held every year since 1999 in Moscow. The festival is so huge it is referred to as the "Russian Woodstock," attracting as many as 100,000 concert goers. Some of Russia's top recording acts who have played the festival include Alisa, Agatha Christie and Splean. In the early 2000s several musicals became popular, such as Notre-Dame de Paris, Nord-Ost and We Will Rock You.

The first American recording artist to perform in the Soviet Union, as granted by the government in 1977, was the Dirt Band, who earlier were known as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The band had been playing a mix of country, folk and rock since the mid-sixties. They played concerts and were seen by millions on Russian television. In 1988 the German band Scorpions toured the Soviet Union, marking the beginning of hard rockers from outside the iron curtain making musical visits. While visiting Moscow in 1989, the Scorpions wrote the song "Wind of Change," which became a worldwide hit a few years later. The song became an anthem that musically documented the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Earlier in the decade British artist Sting released a song called "Russians" that commented on Soviet life during the cold war.

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