History in Music: Cold War

Start preparing your interdisciplinary unit study about music from the Cold War and World War 2 with 13 different songs from R.E.M. to Rush – and a whole lot in betweent.

Fought between 1939 to 1945, WWII involved 70 nations and resulted in around 100 million death. Only 14 countries remained neutral as the rest of the world engaged in a battle of good versus evil.

Soon after WWII ended, the Cold War began. While there were military skirmishes, the Cold War was marked by threats of annihilation as the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries raced to create military weapons of mass destruction.

Not surprisingly, musical artists from a wide range of genres produced songs that explored the haunting war memories, as well as the hopes and fears for the future.

If you’re new to listening to music with a purpose and analyzing song lyrics, I encourage you to google “WHAT IS [song title] about” to find loads of easy-to-read reference articles that will help you explore music about the Cold War and WWII.

Looking for more History in Music? Take a look at our other curated lists:

1. Iron Maiden: Brighter Than a Thousand Suns

Read the lyrics to Brighter Than a Thousand Suns

A song of moral reckoning regarding The Manhattan Project and the people who build the atomic bombs.

2. Rush: Manhattan Project

Read the lyrics to Manhattan Project by Rush

A very different song about the Manhattan Project.

3. Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark: Enola Gay

Read the lyrics to Enola Gay by OMD

In 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay bomber dropped the first ever atomic bomb on Hiroshima Japan.

4. Slayer: Angel of Death

A thrash metal retelling about Nazi physician Josef Mengele and his horrific human experiments in the concentration camps.

5. Iron Maiden: The Longest Day

Read the lyrics to The Longest Day by Iron Maiden

A long song about June 6, 1944 and the Allied invasion of Normandy.

6. Disturbed: Never Again

Read the lyrics to Never Again by Disturbed

7. Pink Floyd: Waiting for the Worms

Read the lyrics to Waiting for the Worms by Pink Floyd

As you read through the lyrics keep in mind this song is part of the rock opera movie The Wall. Still, the song mostly deals with Nazi deathcamps.

1. REM: Exhuming McCarthy

Read the lyrics to Exhuming McCarthy by REM

You may need to do a little reading up on the Red Scare and Senator Joe McCarthy’s Congressional communist hearings for this song to make sense, but it’s all there.

2. Nena: 99 Red Balloons

Read the lyrics to 99 Red Balloons by Nena

Musings of what would have happened if balloons had been mistaken for a nuclear attack during the Cold War.

3. Ozzy Osbourne: Crazy Train

Read the lyrics to Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne

I will admit that I never realized this song was actually about the fear of living during the Cold War. Give it a listen. You may hear new depths to the lyrics.

4. Men At Work: It’s a Mistake

Read the lyrics to It’s a Mistake by Men At Work

Sung from the perspective of a junior military officer, the sung ponders the fears of heading to war during the Cold War era.

5. Scorpions: Wind of Change

Read the lyrics to Wind of Change by the Scorpions

A celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the imminent end of the Cold War.

6. Pink Floyd: Great Day for Freedom

Read the lyrics to Great Day for Freedom by Pink Floyd

Another musical retelling about the fall of the Berlin Wall.



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.