Scottish Daily Record 27.08.2009
Revealed: How The Beatles brought down communism
By Graham Keal
AMERICA spent billions of dollars trying to bring down communism. The Beatles managed it with a few dozen songs.
That's the claim of documentary maker Leslie Woodhead, who explored the band who brought us Back In The USSR and ended up cracking the USSR.
Woodhead first filmed The Beatles in Liverpool's The Cavern Club in 1962 when they were still playing cover versions.
Little did he know how big they would become - or how two generations of Soviet teenagers would be turned off communism by their tunes.
The idea is the basis for his contribution to Beatles Week on BBC2 and BBC4, Storyville: How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin.
He first found out about their huge influence behind the Iron Curtain while making a BBC Arena film about "Red Elvis," Dean Reed, in the 1990s.
Woodhead said: "That put me in touch with Russian rock folk, who told me about the importance of the Beatles. At first, I simply couldn't believe it. But they were very insistent that not only were the Beatles colossal from the Berlin Wall to Vladivostok but that they'd played a really significant part in helping to wash away totalitarianism - even though they were never able to play there. They liberated a certain spiritual energy so that two generations of Soviet kids simply gave up on building socialism and started to realise that the Cold War enemy, instead of being a threat, made wonderful music. There was a life out there that was a lot more fun than the one they were living."
Importing Western music was illegal so the teenagers listened to Radio Luxembourg in secret and made fuzzy tapes of the songs.
They would copy them on to the only vinyl they had - old X-ray plates cut into circles - using state recording booths provided for homesick soldiers to send messages home.
Even premier Vladimir Putin's deputy, Sergei Ivanov, must have listened illicitly.
Ivanov confessed to being an out-and-out Beatles fan who was desperate to shake Paul McCartney's hand when he finally performed in Red Square in 2003. He said: "We're happy that we lived to a time when that became possible."
Russian rock commentator Artemy Troitsky says in the film: "They alienated a whole generation of young, well-educated, urban Soviet kids from their communist motherland. The West spent millions on undermining communism but it had much less impact than The Beatles."
John Lennon is Russia's most revered Beatle. Superfan Kolya Vasin told Woodhead Lennon meant even more to them than he does to Brits.
Woodhead said: "He says, 'For us John Lennon is Russian. He's our guy.' He said they feel so intensely about him because his music has pain, 'and we in Russia know about pain'. "
Vasin organises birthday parties for every Beatle. Woodhead said: "I filmed the one he was having for John Lennon on October 9 last year with a dozen tribute bands, all doing Beatles songs."
In Kiev, fan Vova Katzman has a bar called The Kavern where fans of all ages sing Beatles songs.
According to Woodhead, Vladimir Pozner - Russia's Jeremy Paxman - says there is no doubting the role The Beatles played in communism's downfall.
Woodhead added: "Other witnesses say that The Beatles were more potent in shifting attitudes and changing things than all the billions spent on propaganda and missiles."
Woodhead still seems astonished. He said: "Back in 1962, the whole notion that rock'n'roll would finally be a vast force for change in the world was hardly beginning. We still had Dickie Valentine and Ruby Murray. It was another age. And who would have guessed that, apart from America, the most potent rock'n'roll music in all the world would come from funny little Britain?"
Beatles Week begins on September 5. Storyville: How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin, September 6, BBC4, 8pm.