Year of Release: 1966
The Cold War is responsible for producing some very interesting pop music. The eighties thrived on it, and even if it wasn't often explicitly mentioned in songs and videos, its looming shadow could be felt within the chilly production and bombastic arrangements. And similarly, back in the sixties the folk movement would have been less abrasive and packed less of an urgent, defiant punch had it not been for two giant opposing countries with piles of idealism (the romanticism of common ownership versus the powerful idea of capitalism being a conduit for meritocracy and enabling Freedom). Expressed in such simplistic terms, it was pure propaganda on both sides, of course - left without the right checks and balances and existing in a pure, unchallenged form, any system will eventually go to rot.
This single turned up in a job lot auction recently, and is odd to say the least. Divorced of its original context, it sounds like a faintly futile gesture. The A-side "Hammers and Sickles" sounds bizarrely hysterical, like the last ever Capitalist campfire singalong in defiance of the advancing Red Army. The lyrics seem to be suggesting that Communists were encouraging children to play with the Little Red Book rather than "crayons". "I like walking through fields of flowers knowing that I can own it all" the band also declare haughtily, which if you want to interpret it literally seems to suggest that a slice of American soil can eventually be anyone's if they earn it - something which still doesn't apply to any public land so far as I'm aware. You can walk back and forth across Yellowstone Park on some sort of sponsored anti-Commiethon until you collapse, The Charades, you're still not going to win the opportunity to buy it one day.
Anyway, "Hammers and Sickles" is a bit limp-wristed in the way a great many songs inspired by panic or public hysteria are ("Candle In the Wind '97" being the biggest selling example). It mostly contains quite hackneyed imagery and blunt ideas, and while there's no doubt the hearts of the band and Lee Emerson the songwriter were in it, it just doesn't sound like they are. It just sounds like a well harmonised youth campsite singalong populated by people you'd cross the street to avoid a conversation with.
The B-side "Left Wing Bird" is considerably more interesting in that it seems to be aping folk rock, which makes the fact it was buried away on the flip baffling. If you want to convince the cool kids there's a better way of life, you need to sound like the cool kids. The lyrical topic is inevitably the fable of a left wing bird (a sparrow, for some reason) being destroyed by the American Eagle. Again, at this distance it's far too difficult to take it seriously, though the use of the phrase "left wing" rather than "Communist" makes me think that The Charades were perhaps broadening their sights to include people like me. But melodically speaking, this is about on a par with most of the non-charting folk rock of the period, and is a cute and snappy curiosity - and by and large, history proved the band right, and we're now panicking about a completely different and less easily targeted enemy instead. Hey, don't you just love progress?