In the 1980s and very early Nineties, every hard-rock and metal act worth their leathers scored big with a power ballad or two. But only Germany’s the Scorpions can say that one of theirs — in this case, 1990’s “Wind of Change” — also served as a soundtrack of sorts to a political and cultural revolution. The song’s sentiments of hope and peace, broadly stated by vocalist Klaus Meine (“The world is closing in/Did you ever think/That we could be so close/Like brothers?”), not to mention an accompanying, Wayne Isham–directed video that employed footage of the construction and tearing down of the Berlin Wall, led to its being inextricably linked to the end of the Cold War and the reunification of East and West Germany.
Interestingly, especially in light of the Scorpions’ background — the band hails from the city of Hannover, roughly 200 miles west of Berlin — “Wind of Change” was about neither the Berlin Wall nor their German homeland. Rather, its origins trace to the former Soviet Union, and specifically the Moscow Music Peace Festival, a two-day “hard-rock Woodstock” staged in August 1989, in the city’s 100,000-seat Lenin Stadium. The event, which saw the Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella and Skid Row perform alongside homegrown bands like Gorky Park and Brigada-S, marked the first time Western heavy-metal acts had been permitted to play in the Soviet capital. Broadcast in dozens of countries and on MTV in America, the festival was a triumph (if not without drama behind the scenes), and it inspired Meine, who had grown up in the looming shadow of the Iron Curtain, to begin writing “Wind of Change.”
Roughly three months later, the Berlin Wall came down. Soon after, the Scorpions — which included guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs, as well as then bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell — recorded “Wind of Change” for their 11th studio album, Crazy World. In early 1991, the song was issued as the record’s third single. And though it climbed only to Number Four on the Billboard 200, “Wind of Change” became a worldwide smash, topping the charts in numerous European countries and giving the Scorpions — then 25 years into their career, and associated more with lewd album covers and loud tunes like “Rock You Like a Hurricane” than gentle, whistling-adorned ballads — their biggest hit to date.
Since then, “Wind of Change” has reportedly become one of the best-selling singles in history. And it is certainly the only power ballad to have been personally performed — and numerous times, at that — for former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (most recently in 2011, at his 80th birthday gala in London). Over the years, the Scorpions have also recorded the song in Russian and Spanish, and played it, in various configurations, with orchestras, children’s choirs and even as a duet with Spanish opera tenor José Carreras. In 2005, viewers of the German television network ZDF named it the “Song of the Century,” while in this country it remains a pop-culture touchstone — it was recently heard in the 2014 comedy The Interview, in a scene in which Seth Rogen and James Franco, the latter cradling a small puppy, flee North Korea by boat as Meine’s serenely whistled melody plays in the background.