12 best songs for learning Russian (VIDEO)

One of the best language and culture learning experiences is listening to music, regardless whether it’s tunes from the crooning 50s or contemporary rap. Below you will find the best songs that could help you either enrich your understanding of Russian culture, boost your vocabulary or get some grammar branded in your memory!

1950s 

Леонид Утёсов - ‘У черного моря’ (Leonid Utyosov - ‘At the Black Sea’), 1951. Jazz, romance 

Performed by Leonid Utyosov, the Soviet Frank Sinatra, this song was a personal favorite for many Soviets throughout the 20th century. Beautifully orchestrated with Russian accordions and jazzy brass, this crooning love letter to the singer’s birthplace Odessa (Ukraine) became the unofficial anthem of this spectacular seaside city. And moreover, the slow pace of the song allows you to actually catch the lyrics without stopping the song every five seconds. 

Есть город, который я вижу во сне.

О, если б вы знали, как дорог

У Чёрного моря явившийся мне

В цветущих акациях город,

В цветущих акациях город

У Чёрного моря.

There’s a city I see in my dreams.

Oh if you knew how precious 

Appeared to me by the Black Sea

The city in blooming acacias,

The city in blooming acacias,

At the Black Sea

Take a look at the rest of the lyrics and the translation.

1960s

Владимир Высоцкий -  ‘Я не люблю’ (Vladimir Vysotsky - ‘I don’t like’), 1968. Folk singer-songwriter

Arguably the most famous Soviet singer-songwriter, whose songs, performed with a dramatic, jagged voice, were branded in every schoolboy’s memory for decades. The singer simply describes what he doesn’t like about life, making a social and political commentary that remains relevant today like never before. The song has had a tremendous impact on the broadest Soviet and Russian audiences up until today, allowing many Russians to claim that Vysotsky is not just a singer, but also a great poet of the late 20th century. 

Я не люблю фатального исхода,

От жизни никогда не устаю.

Я не люблю любое время года,

Когда веселых песен не пою.

I don’t like a fatal outcome,

I never get sick of life.

I don’t like any of the year’s seasons

When I don’t sing cheerful songs.

Find more lyrics here.

1970s

Нина Бродская - ‘С любовью встретиться’ (Nina Brodskaya - ‘To meet with love’), 1973. Pop 

The signature song from one of the most beloved Soviet movies - Ivan Vasilyevich: Back to the Future by Leonid Gaidai - will help you fall in love with Soviet movies and the 1970s aesthetic. The song raises concerns about how modern society makes it more and more challenging for people to notice each other and find their true love. Nina Brodskaya, whose memorable voice you can hear in the movie, is still active and performs in the U.S., where she has lived since the late 1970s. 

С любовью встретиться проблема трудная

Планета вертится круглая круглая

Летит планета вдаль сквозь суматоху дней

Нелегко нелегко полюбить на ней

To meet with love is a difficult issue.

The planet turns round, round

The planet flies into the distance

Through the hubbub of the days

It is not easy, it is not easy to fall in love on it

Text and lyrics are here.

1980s

Жанна Агузарова - Старый Отель (Zhanna Aguzarova - ‘Old Hotel’), 1987. Experimental, pop-rock, glam-rock  

The gradual lifting of the Iron Curtain by Gorbachev in the late 1980s resulted in a tremendous cultural response by artists of all genres in the USSR. Listening to Western music for the first time, many underground Soviet singers created artistic responses to their foreign counterparts and became extremely popular among the Soviet audience. One of these new age singers was Zhanna Aguzarova, whose strong and piercing voice and alien-like image pushed its way to a new era of music in the USSR. The song is good even for beginners in Russian because of its very slow pace and simple lyrics that show the basics of verb conjugation and noun genders. 

Полупустой вагон метро, длинный тоннель

Меня везет ночной экспресс в старый отель

И пусть меня никто не ждет у дверей

Вези меня ночной экспресс, вези меня скорей

A half-empty metro wagon, a long tunnel

The night express is taking me to an old hotel

Let nobody await me by the doors

Take me, night express, carry me faster

More lyrics and translation.

Альянс - ‘На заре’ (Alliance - ‘At Dawn’), 1987. Synthpop, rock

This song mainly consists of slowly pronounced nouns and adjectives that will help you catch the poetic lyrics quite easily. Although all the words of the song might not seem essential for your everyday Russian vocabulary, the track’s mesmerizing performance (with its snazzily dressed keyboard player, who likes to be from the year 3000) can’t leave you indifferent. The song didn’t fade away—it has been widely covered by numerous Russian-speaking musicians and is now very well-known.

Солнца свет и сердца звук,

Робкий взгляд и сила рук,

Звёздный час моей мечты в небесах.

На заре голоса зовут меня.

Sunlight and heartbeat,

Timid look and strength of arms,

Time for my daydream to shine in the skies.

At dawn, voices are calling for me.

More lyrics and translation are here.

Кино - ‘Место для шага вперед’ (Kino - ‘Space for a Step Forward’), 1988. Pop-punk, rock, Russian new wave

This laconic and dramatic song by Viktor Tsoi, the Soviet Kurt Cobain, masterfully depicts the sense of confinement and the mood of the youth by the time the Soviet Union was approaching its collapse. Tsoi wrote this song while acting in the Kazakh new wave movie Игла (“Needle”) - the music video on YouTube uses scenes from this movie. For language learners, the song is a great one for mastering the challenging genitive case and to finally learn the way to say “I have ...” (у меня есть) and “I don’t have” (У меня нет + noun in the genitive case) in Russian. See the translation, pronunciation and lyrics here.

У меня есть дом, только нет ключей,

У меня есть солнце, но оно среди туч,

Есть голова, только нет плечей...

I have a house but I don’t have keys,

I have a sun but it's amidst the clouds,

I have a head but I don’t have shoulders...

1990s

Филипп Киркоров - ‘Зайка Моя’ (Philipp Kirkorov - ‘My Bunny’), 1996. Pop, kitsch

Philipp Kirkorov himself has become a meme of Russian popular culture and music, because of the singer’s seemingly endless monopoly on the music stage of state channels since the mid-1980s. The song ‘My Bunny’ shows just how kitschy and over-the-top Russian music videos were in the 1990s, but it is still useful for students who want to practice all possible diminutives and possessive pronouns.

Зайка моя! Я твой зайчик

Ручка моя! Я твой пальчик

Рыбка моя! Я твой глазик

My bunny! I’m your rabbit

My little hand! I’m your finger

My little fish! I’m your little eye

For more highly enlightening lyrics and translation go here.

2000s

Би-2 - ‘Полковнику никто не пишет’ (Bi-2 - ‘No One Writes to the Colonel’), 2000. Rock, grunge

This slow and dramatic song, named after Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, is perfect for those who have just started to learn Russian, but have an ambition to grow their vocabulary faster. The song’s lyrics mainly consist of short, impressionist depictions of places and objects with almost no verbs. Bi-2 performed it for the celebrated movie Брат 2 (“Brother 2”) by Sergei Balabanov, which made the band tremendously popular.

Большие города,

Пустые поезда,

Ни берега, ни дна -

Всё начинать сначала.

Холодная война

И время, как вода,

Он не сошёл с ума,

Ты ничего не знала.

Big cities,

Empty trains,

No shore, no bottom -

Starting all over.

Cold war,

The time is like water,

He didn't go crazy,

You knew nothing.

And once again, this precious website can provide you with the song’s translation and lyrics.

Глюкоза - ‘Снег идет’ (Glukoza - ‘It’s snowing’), 2005. Pop

The gloomy, wintery cartoon clip depicted in the music video tells a story of a rejected girl whose lover doesn’t show up for a date. At the beginning of her career, singer Glukoza only appeared on audio recordings, leaving her appearance a secret. Indeed, perhaps her unusual, electronically altered voice matches the sassy-looking girl and gigantic doberman, animated on a computer, better than the singer’s actual persona. The song is good for all Russian learners, because of its extremely simple and catchy lyrics, which you’ll be able to remember after the first time you listen to it. 

А снег идет, а снег идет

По щекам мне бьет, бьет

Болею очень, температура

Стою и жду тебя, как дура.

And it is snowing, and it is snowing,

It is beating on my cheeks.

I am very ill, I have a fever,

I am standing and waiting for you like a fool.

Here is more translation and lyrics.

Аквариум - ‘Стаканы’ (Aquarium - ‘Glasses’), 2006. Celtic folk, new wave, folk-indie rock

This most accomplished of Russian bands, always led by singer-songwriter Boris Grebenschikov, has been popular in Russia since the early 1970s. The band is famous for their musical experiments, the most amazing of which is the song ‘Glasses’ - a hybrid of Irish folk music and a stereotypically Russian - and Irish - subject matter. The song is good for all Russian language learners, because it’s extremely easy to learn - the singer repeats most of the lines three times.

Ну-ка мечи стаканы на стол,

Ну-ка мечи стаканы на стол;

Ну-ка мечи стаканы на стол

И прочую посуду.

Все говорят, что пить нельзя,

Все говорят, что пить нельзя;

Все говорят, что пить нельзя,

А я говорю, что буду.

Come on, put glasses on the table,

Come on, put glasses on the table,

Come on, put glasses on the table,

And all the rest of the dishes.

Everyone says that one must not drink,

Everyone says that one must not drink;

Everyone says that one must not drink,

But I say that I will drink.

Check out more lyrics and translation here.

2010s

Валентин Стрыкало - ‘Наше лето’ (Valentin Strykalo - ‘Our Summer’), 2012. Retro, electronic, comedy 

Thanks to YouTube, this singer became popular among the broader Russian audience with his deliberately ironic and amateur-style songs, dedicated to popular singers worldwide. In this video, Strykalo was one step ahead of the global trend of 1980s-90s nostalgia, already playing with the era’s kitschy looks and musical style in 2011. Also, check the singer’s humorous interpretation of Russian hard-rock music—its lyrics are even simpler and more hilarious.

Яхта, парус, в это мире только мы одни

Ялта, август и мы с тобою влюблены

Яхта, парус, в это мире только мы одни

Ялта, август и мы с тобою влюблены

The yacht, the sail, there are only two of us in this world

Yalta, August, and you and I are in love.

The yacht, the sail, there are only two of us in this world

Yalta, August, and you and I are in love.

More lyrics and translation are here.

Егор Крид - ‘Сердцеедка’ (Egor Krid - ‘Heartbreaker’), 2019. Pop, rap

Adored by women from 11 to 40, Egor Krid is an extremely popular Russian version of Justin Bieber. This self-ironic video shows us the pop star as he goes to a village in search of a simpler life away from the glamor and stress of the city. Suddenly, though, he meets a village diva, falls in love with her and desperately tries to win her over. Even though the long rap parts might seem a bit too complicated, the chorus is very easy to remember and is quite useful to practice. For example, in Russian, you play IN games and sports, as we can see in the line: “Ты играешь с нами в русскую рулетку.” (“You play Russian roulette with us”), so here you use the preposition “B” and put the game in question in the accusative case.

Сердцеедка, сердце-сердцеедка

Ты играешь с нами в русскую рулетку

Пять заряженных, один — холостой

Сколько женихов уже убитые тобой, а?!

Heartbreaker, heart-heartbreaker

You are playing Russian roulette with us

Five charged up, one - idle

How many suitors have you already destroyed, eh?!

For more lyrics and translation, go here.

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