7 legendary Russian songs people sing all over the world

Julia Volkova and Lena Katina of t.A.T.u.

Julia Volkova and Lena Katina of t.A.T.u.

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Each of these tracks has an interesting backstory, from ‘Kalinka’ to ‘Trololo,’ and had an impact outside the USSR. Check out Russia Beyond’s list and if you think anything is missing, write a comment.

1. Kalinka

Arguably, the most famous Russian song is Kalinka. It’s often used in movies when the action switches to Russia, or when Russian characters enter the scene - similar to the way the Eiffel Tower is sometimes shown when a film touches on a French theme.

Kalinka was composed by folklorist Ivan Larionov more than 150 years ago, back in 1860.

2. Kazachok

Like Kalinka, Kazachok (Little Cossack) is also a fine backdrop to anything Russian: bears, bandits, fur hats, vodka...

The song, with its unsophisticated rhythm, was composed by Bulgarian singer Boris Rubashkin after he defected to the West. It soon became popular and he also choreographed a dance for Kazachok. Despite the number’s Bulgarian origin, it is considered to be a typical Russian tune influenced by the Cossack dancing traditions. 

3.Dorogoi Dlinnoyu

Dorogoi Dlinnoyu (By the Long Road) was originally composed in Russia by Boris Fomin in the 1920s, but became famous in the West in the late 1960s under the title Those Were the Days. Performed by Mary Hopkin and produced by Paul McCartney, the song shot to number one in the UK. However, the track’s Russian origins were not mentioned, having been lost along the road.

4.Podmoskovnye Vechera

Podmoskovnye Vechera (Moscow Nights) is one of the best known Russian songs abroad. Originally, it was called Leningrad Nights but the title was changed after it was used for a documentary.

At first, the song was not particularly popular but suddenly - and much to the surprise of those who wrote it - the USSR couldn’t get enough of it. Soon after it started making waves abroad when young American pianist Van Cliburn (who won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958) became a symbol of the thaw in Russian-American relations at the time. 

5. Katyusha

Katyusha (a diminutive from of Katerina/Catherine) was written in 1938 but it wasn’t until WW11 that people went crazy for the song. It’s about a girl longing for her lover who joins the army and is sent to a distant outpost.

Some believe its success is down to the fact that a famous Russian rocket launcher used by the military was also nicknamed Katyusha - the weapon played an important role in WWII.

6. All the Things She Said

The track All the Things She Said by t.A.T.u. was released in 2002 and is perhaps best known for its music video: the two female singers lock lips in the rain while wearing school uniforms.

The song reached number one in many countries and is the only Russian track to make the top 20 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

7. Trololo

Trololo made its mark on the music scene in 2009 largely thanks to YouTube. It was written back in 1976 and the vocals were belted out by Eduard Khil - fresh life was breathed into his celebrity status after his heyday pittered out more than 30 years before the song’s second wind.

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