They didn’t look like Russians. Several wore bowler hats, two had their hair in Rasta dreadlocks, and all looked distinctly Western, as only being in the Soviet Union can make you look. But just who they were eluded most of the Russian pedestrians going about their business in Red Square at 10 a.m. Monday when rock stars like Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, Peter Gabriel, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, and Tom and Alannah Currie of the Thompson Twins--in town to launch an album to raise money for the international environmental group Greenpeace--went for a stroll.
What happened? “Nothing,” admitted one organizer. Did anyone recognize them? “Well a few looked.”
Half an hour later, however, a dozen of the Western rockers found themselves facing thousands of fans who had lined up from the early hours of the morning for a chance to buy the album and have it autographed.
The album, launched under the name “Breakthrough” features music by 25 groups and individuals who donated their music to help raise money for Greenpeace. Other artists on the record include Sting, Bryan Ferry, the Grateful Dead, INXS, Simple Minds, R.E.M., Sade and Dire Straits.
At one outlet of the state-run Melodiya record company only about a mile from the Kremlin, about 3,000 fans, pushing for position, had already broken a window before the musicians even arrived. All three of the Melodiya stores where the guest artists were due to appear had sold out of the initial 2,800 albums they received well before closing.
In an unusual bit of promotion, viewers had been treated to a commercial promoting the album on Soviet television for several days earlier. In addition, stars like David Byrne of Talking Heads and U2’s the Edge did interviews with Soviet television and radio stations.
As rare as a TV commercial is in the Soviet Union, press conferences to launch albums are even rarer. At Monday’s “Breakthrough” press gathering, a spokesman for the Soviet record pressing company, also called Melodiya, told reporters, “Melodiya sells 120 million albums a year, but this is the first press conference we’re having.”
Of the initial 500,000 albums from the promised 3 million records and 500,000 cassette tapes to be sold on behalf of Greenpeace here, 160,000 were released to Melodiya outlets across the country Monday. Half of the expected earnings of 8.6 million rubles (about $13.9 million) from the sale of the double albums, which are selling for 11 rubles (about $18), will be used to set up a Greenpeace office in Moscow and Greenpeace environmental projects in the U.S.S.R.
The other half will be donated to an independent Moscow-based, East-West foundation called the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity. That foundation was recently set up to promote international scientific projects and public activities aimed at preventing nuclear war and preserving the environment. According to Greenpeace the foundation’s membership includes some of the world’s leading scientists, public servants and philosophers concerned about the future of the planet.
One of the attractions of the album for Soviet youths is the chance to get quality recordings from Western rock groups most of them have only heard of, but never had the opportunity to buy their music. Because Melodiya has refused to pay royalties to musicians and contract holders in the past, most Western music has remained in the West. Occasionally, however, Melodiya has sold pirated versions of Western music, most commonly old Beatles albums.
While musicians at Monday’s press conference expressed delight at being part of the Greenpeace cause, both Peter Gabriel and Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads seemed surprised to see fans bringing copies of their albums to be signed. Neither knew their albums had been released in the U.S.S.R. Said Gabriel: “I’m sure my album has not been bootlegged. I’ll be asking my record company about it tomorrow.”
In answer to reporters’ questions about why they had donated their music to Greenpeace, the pop stars said it was out of concern for the future. “I’ve just had a new baby,” said Alannah Currie of Thompson Twins, “and I’m afraid for her.” Gabriel and Karl Wallinger of World Party voiced the same concern for their children.
Annie Lennox told reporters it was her first time in the Soviet Union, “and I’m thrilled to be here. The fact we’ve been given the freedom to do what we want while we’ve been here gives me a fantastic sense of progress for us. This is an historical occasion.”
Australian singer John Farnham said he asked kids in line at one of the stores why they were lining up. “We’re here to see Peter Gabriel,” they answered. “How long will you wait for him?” Farnham pressed. “As long as it takes,” they replied, in true Soviet style.
Though Greenpeace plans to open its office soon, it is currently working out of space in Moscow’s Academy of Sciences. The Greenpeace album will be released elsewhere in the world April 24 under the name “Rainbow Warriors.” It was released first in the Soviet Union to “celebrate” Greenpeace’s move into the Soviet Union, officials said.