7 Soviet superstars who tried their luck singing in English

Speaking another language can be hard enough, but singing in a different tongue is only for the brave. Here are a few musicians from the USSR who tried their luck performing in English, and some even made their mark on the charts.

1. Larisa Dolina, 1984

Larisa Dolina is one of the most famous Soviet and Russian jazz and pop musicians. She also starred in several musical movies. One of them - We Are From Jazz (1984) - tells the story of a Soviet student who forms a band and invites famous singer Clementine Fernandez from Cuba, played by Dolina, to perform.

She also recorded a song for the Soviet-Vietnamese movie Coordinates of Death (1985). The film depicts the events of the sixties and seventies and follows Jane Francis, played by actress Tatyana Lebedeva, as she travels across America to tell the truth about the Vietnamese War. Dolina recorded song The land of Vietnamese.

She often visits the U.S. on tour, performing her songs in both English and Russian. 

2. Alla Pugacheva, 1985

Star of the Soviet and Russian stage, Alla Pugacheva toured Finland and Sweden in 1984 to 1985, where she landed a spot on the popular TV show Jacob’s Ladder. In December 1984, she was awarded a “Gold Disc” from Finland’s Track Music company.

In 1985, she recorded the album Watch Out! with ABBA’s backing vocalists. A year later it was rereleased in the USSR under the title Alla Pugacheva in Stockholm. This is the only English-language album she made.

3. Alexander Gradsky, 1988

Alexander Gradsky was one of the first rock star in the USSR. He wrote the music for two Russian rock operas and the scores for several films. He was also one of the first Soviet musicians to tour the U.S. (1988). The same year he performed the song Let Us Begin in collaboration with American musician John Denver. The video starts with Denver’s words about his friend Sasha (Alexander) and their hope for peace and ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

After this the world stood up and took notice of the Russian, and in 1999 he performed a solo concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York.

4. Igor Nikolayev, 1989

In 1980, Igor Nikolayev was playing in Alla Pugacheva’s band. He also wrote songs for her and other artists. He recorded his first solo album in 1986. The next year he began touring with Pugacheva in Japan, and even performed a song in Japanese.

In 1988, he hosted the Grammy Awards. What’s more, Nikolayev landed a part in the Swedish TV show called Jacob’s Ladder, alongside Pugacheva. In 1989, he recorded the song Aquarius 1999 in collaboration with Lisa Nilsson – the duo was popular in the Soviet Union and Scandinavian countries.

Nikolayev also wrote songs for U.S. singer Cyndi Lauper’s Cold Sky album and Sweden singer Tommy Körberg’s The Kingdom of the Carnival Mirrors. Nikolayev still writes and performs music, but only in Russian.

5. Boris Grebenshchikov, 1989

Boris Grebenshchikov is known as one of the founders of Soviet and Russian rock music. He is the frontman of the band Aquarium, which was formed in 1972 and still performs today. Nevertheless, in 1989, he recorded the English-language album Radio Silence. It only reached 198th in the Billboard 200, despite a cameo by the famous Eurythmics. He even made an appearance on the David Letterman’s Late Show in New York.

6. Gorky Park, 1989

This is probably the only Soviet band that’s famous abroad. Their single Try to Find Me reached 81st place in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989. Their album Gorky Park made it to 80th spot in the Billboard 200 and stayed there for 21 weeks.

In total, they sold around 300,000 copies of the record in the U.S. However, in Denmark and Norway the album was even more popular.

7. Alexander Serov, 1991

From 1988 to 1993, Soviet pop singer Alexander Serov toured Germany (where he sang with the likes of Dieter Bolen), Israel, Canada, and the U.S. He also performed with prominent Soviet jazz vocalist Irina Otieva, sometimes in English.

The song Goodbye - written by composer Igor Krutoy - was sung in both in Russian and English. Its Russian version is known as Wedding Flowers and is sung by Irina Allegrova to this day. Serov performed the English version in 1991.

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