7 classic English songs with Russian roots

Regina Spektor performs at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, June 13, 2010 in Manchester. Source: AP

Regina Spektor performs at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, June 13, 2010 in Manchester. Source: AP

It’s pretty common to hear American pop songs all over the world, including in Russia, but what kind of influence has Russian music had on Western music? Russian classical and traditional music and even literature inspired the songs on this list.

1. All by myself, by Eric Carmen

“All By Myself” is a ballad by American artist Eric Carmen, released in 1975. It became popular after Celine Dion performed it in 1996. The verse is based on the second movement (Adagio sostenuto) of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Carmen initially composed the song’s interlude, then took the bridge from Rachmaninoff. Carmen called Rachmaninoff his “favorite music.”

Eric Carmen - All By MySelf. Source: YouTube


2. The Carnival is Over, by The Seekers

The sixties were a time of rebirth for folk music, and the Australian group The Seekers adapted the Russian folk tune “Stenka Razin” for this song. Upon its release in November 1965, the song was rated number one in Australia and the United Kingdom and sold 1.75 million copies worldwide.

Stenka Razin. Russian Red Army Choir. Source: YouTube


3. Apres Moi, by Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor was born in Moscow and immigrated to the United States when she was nine. She is a pianist and vocalist whose pieces are considered central to the culture of New York City’s East Village. She sings in Russian in several of her songs, including “Apres Moi”, where she quotes poet Boris Pasternak.

Après Moi - Regina Spektor. Source: YouTube


4. Where Have All the Flowers Gone, by The Kingston Trio/Peter Paul and Mary

Pete Seeger wrote the lyrics to this song after reading “And Quiet Flows the Don” by Mikhail Sholokhov. The lines originate from the Cossack folk song “Koloda-Duda”: “Where are the flowers? The girls plucked them/Where are the girls? They’re all married/Where are the men? They’re all in the army.”

The Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1961; Peter Paul and Mary included the song in their highly-popular 1962 album.

Peter Paul and Mary, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. Source: YouTube


5. God Bless America, by Irving Berlin

This song, which you hear during the 7th inning stretch, was written by Irving Berlin. He was born in Siberia and immigrated to the United States in a wave of Russian Jewish immigrants in the late nineteenth century. Knowing his rags-to-riches story adds an extra feeling of soulfulness to the songs that he wrote.

Irving Berlin "God Bless America" - The Ed Sullivan Show. Source: YouTube


6. Prince Igor, by The Rapsody

The Rapsody found its inspiration in Borodin’s opera Prince Igor in this 1997 release (the rap lyrics are unrelated.) The album “The Rapsody Overture: Hip Hop Meets Classic” also included “Schwanensee” by Scoota, inspired by Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake.

Rapsody - Prince Igor. Source: YouTube


7. Those Were the Days, by Mary Hopkin

This popular song from 1968 is an English translation of the Russian romance song “Dorogoi Dlinnoyu” (“By the Long Road”). The original Russian words were written by poet Konstantin Podrevskii and the tune was composed by Boris Fomin in the early twentieth century at the height of the Romance genre’s popularity. It was a number one hit for six weeks after its release.

Mary Hopkin - Those Were The Days. Source: YouTube



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