The West has faced down multiple challenges before, and often optimism grounded in history is the only antidote, argues Paul T Horgan

The Cold War came to an end with the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991. It was previously winding down, without a shot being fired in anger between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In 1989 Gorbachev tore up the interventionist Brezhnev Doctrine. Eastern European communist dictatorships were faced in the streets by the angry populations that they had abused for decades, both sides now knowing that Soviet tanks would no longer be coming to the rescue.

But I suggest that the Cold War had been won by the West by late 1984, and it was not through force of arms or economics, but culture. By late 1984, we in the West felt we were winning. And our culture reflected this subconscious realisation of victory.

I should like you to consider a single music track that was released at the end of that year: 'I Feel For You', by Chaka Khan. While this was a smash hit when it was released, this was not the original version. The song itself was written and recorded by Prince five years previously on his eponymous album in 1979.

You do not have to listen to the entire track to get a feel for it. To me it comes across as too vapidly cute. The track is synthesizer-heavy, but the instruments would appear interchangeable with a Hammond organ for the bland way they were played. This song appeared in the same year that Gary Numan stormed the charts with 'Cars', a track where the full dynamic capability of electronic music to punch through the speakers and reach into people was demonstrated.

Then, in 1980, Düsseldorf-based electronic music band Kraftwerk released one of the most influential albums in popular music. 'Computer World' changed the course of pop in the Western world, laying the major foundations for Hip-Hop. The most influential track on the album was 'Numbers', where treated voices intoned numeric sequences in various languages. Pay particular attention to the percussion.

The first track, after which the album was named, made use of a 'Speak and Spell' electronic toy for some of the lyrics. You do not have to listen to the entire track, but please note the overlapping bass lines plus the motifs, rather than the melody.

Picasso allegedly said "good artists copy, great artists steal", and there was certainly an awful lot of 'homage' to the industrial electronic sound of Kraftwerk in the 1980s, not the least by Afrika Bamabaataa, who was such a 'good artist' that he was obliged to pay $1 to Kraftwerk for every copy sold of his single 'Planet Rock  after he not only lifted the percussion from 'Numbers', but also the melody from Kraftwerk's 1977 track 'Trans-Europe Express'.

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But back to 'I Feel For You'. Here is the Chaka Khan version, released in late 1984.

What seemed to be filler for a debut album – the original was not even released as a single – is elevated to a new level, thanks to transatlantic fertilisation from Düsseldorf. Kraftwerk had influenced numerous artists and bands over the years, but these had mainly been in the niche of electronic music before the genre became widely popular after Gary Numan had two No 1 singles. But 'I Feel For You' was mainstream music. It was a global smash hit, well certainly in the Free World. Only in a culture based on the enthusiastic, free, and open exchange of ideas could there by such a fusion of styles to create something new that could reach into the hearts of millions. It would be impossible for the repressed cultures of the socialist states to replicate this when all popular expression was ideologically regulated into blandness or obsolescence by state officials.

But consider also the music video. It radiates confidence and happiness in what had been an age of fear and uncertainty. There is also a noticeable fashion statement being made. Such music and accompanying video could only be made in a culture that was at ease with itself and sure of what a bright future would bring.

The early 1980s had been characterised by recession, the rising cost of energy, and confrontation with the USSR in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan, martial law in Poland, and the deployment of SS-20 mobile nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe. Tensions had risen in 1983, when the Stalinist gerontocrats had suspected a pre-emptive nuclear strike and mistook a NATO bureaucratic exercise for the preparations for war. The Soviets murdered hundreds when they shot down a Korean airliner that had strayed into their territory. Arms negotiations with the USA had broken down when nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and Pershing rockets were deployed in Western Europe.

But 1984 was different. It was clear that the literally dying leadership of the USSR was moribund and had no good answers to the economic and social problems thrown up by socialist dictatorship and central planning. Worse was on the way for the communists, with the highly avoidable disaster of Chernobyl and the humiliation of a light plane from the West landing undetected in Red Square. These failures of control and organisation validated the opinion that the USSR was less a modern state based on a logical application of scientific socialism and more like Upper Volta, but with rockets.

Ronald Reagan won a second term of office on the back of facing down the USSR, beating Democrat challenger former Vice-President Walter Mondale. The Los Angeles Olympics were a triumph, boosted by corporate sponsorship, lifting that festival of sport from the trough into which it had fallen so tragically in 1972. Prior to 1984, the Olympics were increasingly seen as a curse on the host cities. No more. Capitalism showed the way forward.

In the UK, the Miners' Strike had been on going on for over six months, but a corner had been turned. The lights would not go off that winter, there would be no need for a three-day week. Miners' leader Arthur Scargill would be defeated, and with him militant trades unionism in the productive sector with only the Wapping Dispute ahead to forcefully make the point to the die-hard comrades that their time was over. A new industrial revolution based on information technology was under way, lead to the West accelerating further ahead of the Communism Bloc. Personal computers started to fill office buildings and the bedrooms of teenage boys, creating new career opportunities. Robots were beginning to manufacture cars. In the USSR, some businesses still relied on abacuses.

The mid-1980s was when it became blindingly obvious that the West was outstripping the Communist world by a considerable distance. There would be no Orwellian nightmare. This was reflected in the optimism in the culture of the time, and 'I Feel For You' was at the sharp end of this. It was a track that made people in the West feel good about themselves and this was because they had lots to feel good about. Better days lay ahead. Despite everything today, they still do.

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