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Hitler’s Greatest Hits

Dec 05,2012
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I’m fascinated by music and have been making it all my life (everything from church choirs to Rock/Reggae/Folk Bands…). So when I come across regimes that want to ban certain types of music, it makes me sit up and listen.

When I was researching my book Auslander, about a teenager in Nazi Berlin, I was intrigued to discover the Nazis detested ‘Swing Music’ – that lively jazz from the 30s and 40s that people loved dancing to.

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It’s not surprising really, when you consider its principal exponents were American, Black or Jewish. A few brave German teens rebelled against the Nazis by listening to it. They called themselves ‘Swing Kids’ and greeted each other with ‘Swing Heil’ rather than ‘Sieg Heil’. (I’ve got no time for people who tell me Germans don’t have a sense of humour.)

That uber-ugly regime hated Swing so much they even hanged teens for listening to it. (Hamburg 1944 – documented case.) The crime was ‘identifying with the enemy’.

Have a listen to the kind of music the Nazis wanted their youths to listen to:

then listen to some swing. Here’s ‘Is you is or is you ain’t my baby’ by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, recorded in 1944:

I know which one I like best.

I suppose the crux of it is totalitarian regimes like music that has a strongly regulated beat – like soldiers marching – something robotic and unquestioning. Swing music, and the best pop/rock music that followed in its wake, is looser – freer – and has a human sensuality about it.

What do you think?

Dec 10,2012
Thanks for the comments, Dog readers. Ah, band names. The fun we could have. 'New Order' and 'Joy Division' caused all sorts of upheaval with those Nazi inspired names. People thought they were telling their fans they were closet Nazis, which if course they weren't. 'Karl Marx and the Means of Production', there's another band name! Music means a lot to me. It's been there from the start of human existence. Neolithic burial sites have bone flutes, for example. Few things stir human emotions quite like it, which is why totalitarian regimes try to control and exploit it. Paul Dowswell
Dec 08,2012
Music = Mind Control :O Random thought - you know how you say 'Hitler's Greatest Hits'? When we were studying the Russian Revolution, my friend and I decided that 'Lenin and the Bolsheviks' sounded like a band name x)
Dec 06,2012
anonymous's picture
Wow, I'd heard that some totalitarian regimes (such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) has music that was forbidden, but I had no idea they'd take it as far as a hanging. o.o And I guess it would have been something about keeping out Western influences, not wanting your people to 'connect' with the enemy, as you mentioned. I find it interesting though, how often new types of music are met with hostility, like jazz in America...

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