20 Albums of my life

I've decided to do something personal here. I'm going to look at each decade of my life and which five albums were the most important.

Decade 1: 1970s

1. The Beatles - The Essential Beatles - 1972

The first musical memory I have, apart from my mum singing to me, is being enthralled by Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. I would listen to it all the time when I was around 4 or 5. As I got older and began to learn how to use the record player in our lounge room in Cheltenham, NSW. I naturally picked up this album and listened to it a lot. It was the only Beatles album we had and although it didn't contain Yellow Submarine almost all the songs on the album are stuck in the part of my mind that I have filed under childhood memories. The album itself was an Australia-only compilation. In the last ten years or so I have managed to buy about two-thirds of the Beatles official releases, purchased in their release order more or less. The next Beatles album I am due to buy is "The White Album".

2. Abba - Arrival - 1976

Abba were like the Justin Bieber of the 1970s. They were immensely popular yet there was a groundswell of hate towards them. In Australia Abba were hugely popular, with Fernando staying at the top of the charts for what seemed like months. I remember being in 2nd grade at Beecroft Primary School and being asked whether I liked Abba or not, only for the person asking me to say they didn't like them when I said I did. The album itself is full of songs that I remember. When I Kissed the Teacher seemed an odd song for an 8-year-old boy but I just ignored the problems posed by the song and kept going. There was something sad about My Love My Life that I felt but couldn't understand, and Tiger seemed to be a great song about a Tiger. In the 80s I grabbed my copy of Abba Arrival and defaced it with nails saying "Abba is dead", ashamed as I was to own it. These days I'm more tolerant towards "other" music but I don't listen to Abba. At all.

3. Hey Hey It's Daryl & Ossie - 1975

Daryl and Ossie were the stars of a 1970s Australian children's show called "Hey Hey It's Saturday" which eventually turned into a Saturday night entertainment program in the 1980s. I used to watch Hey Hey on Saturday mornings on TV. The first memory I have of watching colour TV for the first time was being entranced by the fact that Ossie's fur was pink. The songs I remember from the album include a song about purple people eaters, I Love Micky Mouse (but Donald Duck's so hard to find) and Puff the Magic Dragon. There was a song where Ossie became really sad and cried so Daryl cheered him up. The Micky Mouse song, if I remember, seemed to be a wistful reflection of lost childhood, something like Puff the Magic Dragon (and the end of Toy Story 3 for anyone who remembers).

4. Kraftwerk - Autobahn - 1974

My Dad was an engineer and probably a nerd in his day. For whatever reason he and one of my brothers began listening to electronic music. I remember listening to this album a lot when I was a kid - mainly side one, which was very much a song about a car driving along a German highway called an autobahn. I remember as a kid hearing the sounds of the car go by along with the catchy "autobahn" refrain and being hooked by the synth-riff. I was also interested in the fact that someone would make a 23 minute song that covered the first side of an LP. I bought this album as a CD about 8-9 years ago, and I also have "The Man Machine".

5. Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong - 1974

My Dad was a big fan of Aunty Jack, an ABC TV comedy in the early 70s. I was never allowed to watch the show because its contents were "A.O." as my mum used to say (short for "Adults Only", a 1970s TV rating used in Australia a lot). I was able to listen to this record though and remember songs about Fish milkshakes, some song about two people trying not to rhyme, with the winner being congratulated by someone who says "congratulations Errol, you're free and you're happy", with the loser then singing about how desperately he wants to be happy (whose name, appropriately, was Neil). I might end up getting this album again one day as a CD was released in 2005.

Decade 2: 1980s

6. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon - 1973

I never listened to the radio when I was a kid. I still don't, although there was a brief period in the late 1980s when I listened to 2MMM and early 1990s when I was a 2JJJ listener. In the early 80s, though, I spent hours upon hours poring over 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons books. The soundtrack for this period of life was Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". I had no idea who the band were or what other records they released. I listened to it because my brother was a huge fan of the album. I also remember Mr Jones, my hippy guitar-playing 3rd Grade teacher at Beecroft Primary School ("in knowledge we grow"), having a Pink Floyd poster up in his classroom in the 1970s. While it was released in 1973, I was experiencing it most intensely around 1981-1982 (12-13 years old). For me, DSOTM was a journey. It was a confusing story told through music. It evoked images of people running through streets, or crazy people mumbling incoherent phrases; of a room full of clocks all going off at once and then, at the end, a song about heads exploding. Almost every time I listen to this album it reminds me of hunching over in my bedroom, rolling 20 sided dice, reading descriptions of monsters and paladins.

7. Keith Green - No Compromise - 1978

I became a Christian in 1982 and, as I grew older, I began to listen to Christian music. I still have a huge soft spot in my heart for this album by Keith Green. It's an album full of black and white, of anger, of cries of sadness and despair. Keith Green's best album in his short life (he died in a plane crash) he was not afraid of using his songs to cut into the lazy spiritual life of himself or others. Asleep in the Light was just as pertinent to me then as it is now. Much of my early theological understanding came from Keith Green lyrics, and infused both emotion and Bible passages together. Although one of the few Christian albums in my collection (Steve Taylor's I Predict 1990 being a notable other) I still listen to it and meditate upon the zealous knowledge it contains.

8. Petra - Beat The System - 1985

The 1980s was full of synthesizers, mullets and pastel colours. Petra, a 1970s Christian-hippy rock band, re-badged themselves for a younger audience more in tune with New Romanticism. I often describe the 1980s as "the decade that music died" and am very much convinced that popular music reached a real nadir during that period. Christian music, which reaches embarrassing nadirs pretty much every year, was no different in the 1980s - same style of music as the non-Christian world, same dress as the non-Christian world, same lack of creativity as the non-Christian world, significantly lower standard of musical ability than the non-Christian world. For about 1-2 years in the mid-1980s, I was ready to embrace Christian music and Petra's Beat The System was the best example of this. The opening track was nothing I'd ever heard of before, though, to be honest, I hadn't really heard much up to that point. BTS was big on living a Christian life in rejection of the world - an important belief that meshed with Keith Green's entry (above). Yet there was something shallow about it that I didn't know at the time. The LP is sitting somewhere in my garage, unlistened to for a long time.

I remember going to a Petra concert at the Sydney Entertainment Centre sometime in the 1980s (one of a few Christian music gigs I went to, including Randy Stonehill and Leon Patillo with his bevy of white women unbelievers as his backing band) and being very disappointed that they had a new singer who sounded nothing like Greg X. Voltz. They had a few jokes about backmasking which went down well.

9. U2 - The Unforgettable Fire - 1984

I became a huge fan of U2 in 1985 when Greg, a Christian friend of mine at school introduced me to them via a cassette of "The Unforgettable Fire". U2, I was told, were a Christian band who were making it in the non-Christian world. I remember poring over lyrics and seeing the huge influence that Christianity had over Bono's writing and thinking. Bono eventually became my hero and I grew a mullet because he looked so cool. For a while I wore tight black jeans and motorcycle boots (obviously because I had a motorbike but because it was so cool). I wrote poetry and songs and Greg and I began a writing partnership that grew into an interesting collaboration, even though no one bought the albums. Since then I've reassessed my views on whether Bono is really a Christian or not and, if he is, he's not the sort of Christian that I want to become.

The Unforgettable Fire hit me with its mellowness and lack of focus. It was like looking at a soundscape with blurred vision. Eno and Lanois put a lot of effort into creating a wall of sound filled not with loudness but with subtlety. Synth was present but not dominant, neither in the good 1970s Who-like way or the bad 1980s New Romantic sort of way. Edge's guitar echoed everywhere. How many guitars was he playing? This was the first Compact Disc I bought and is still in my collection. The original 1987 Compact Disc was what I copied onto my hard drive, so I'm not listening to any hopped up victim of the loudness war. This remains my favourite U2 album.

I saw U2 three times in 1989 during their "Lovetown tour" in Sydney. They remain the only U2 concerts I have been to.

10. Led Zeppelin - I - 1969

After leaving school in 1987 I began working as a purchasing officer for Ausonics, an Australian manufacturer of medical ultrasound devices (sadly now gone). One of my jobs was in goods inwards, where I would enter parts sent to us by suppliers onto the computer. It was a tedious job and so I began listening to 2JJJ. I also had a portable cassette player and headphones, so I began to put my LPs onto cassettes. People at work encouraged me to check out Led Zeppelin and so I did. I bought IV first and I second. While I could've included IV here (along with the songs Stairway to Heaven and When The Levee Breaks, the latter my favourite Led Zeppelin song), I include I instead because it represented everything I was trying to explore in my journey away from 80s music. Like many Christians I had been warned away from Heavy Metal and the backmasking craze convinced me for a while that Satan was using Led Zeppelin songs. God gave me a clearer head, though, and I eventually saw through this hyper-spiritual garbage enough to actually buy Led Zeppelin music myself.

Jimmy Page began I with Good Times, Bad Times, a song devoid of 80s cynicism and populated with honestly, joy and brutal guitar licks. Suddenly I no longer cared about John Farnham, INXS, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins and other 80s staples. What I needed was guitars. Loud ones. Loud guitars played by maestros. Loud guitars played by punks. Loud guitars played by weedy nerds. Loud guitars was what the world needed. Little did I realise at the time that others around my age were thinking the same thing and creating a musical revolution.

In the late 80s I saw Eric Clapton and walked away bored stiff. A few weeks later I saw Midnight Oil and realised that energy was what the Oils had and Clapton didn't.

Decade 3 - 1990s

11. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses - 1989

It was in 1990 that I left home after my parents decided to take a year off and live in Scotland. I moved in with a bunch of guys from my church in Carlingford, NSW. It was an interesting time, as I had not yet mastered the ability to cook properly or look after myself. Pete and Simmo were the two guys I remember most. They climbed cliffs, took me to Pogues concerts, cooked curries, made me drink me  flaming sambucca with coffee beans and, above all, introduced me to The Stone Roses. At the same time I had dumped 2MMM and began listening to 2JJJ as both the guys I lived with and the guys at work listened to it. Those were the glorious pre-national days of 2JJJ, when it was a Sydney only station and had not been taken over by more corporate minded individuals.

I have to say at this point that I did not like dance music. Yet here was a band that played music you could dance to. Fool's Gold - all 10 minutes of it - should've been a song for me to dislike. But I didn't. Other songs on the album had loud guitars, notably I am the Resurrection and You are the One, so I was happy. Yet Fool's Gold intrigued me. Why did a song that was so obviously intended as a dance song become a song that I liked? I suppose it had something to do with the fact that the band were actually playing the instruments, that there was no 80s synth, and that you could pretty much vibe out to it.

Like Shaun from Shaun of the Dead, I liked "Second Coming". I thought the guitars were brutal on that album.

12. Pixies - Doolittle - 1989

Living with Pete and Simmo in Carlingford also exposed me to some bands I'd never thought of listening to. One day after work I walked into a record store and, on a whim, purchased Doolittle by the Pixies. I don't remember listening to them before that point, but I knew they were an indy band worth having. Joey Santiago's guitars made this loud guitar lover very happy, and Pete and Simmo took every chance they could get playing the CD at our Carlingford house. But there was something I found disturbing, namely the lyrics. Black Francis was no Bono. Instead of singing about El Salvador or Irish massacres or whatever the feck Bono sang about, Black Francis sung songs about... what exactly? Wave of Mutiliation was not about mutilating anything; Monkey's gone to Heaven was not about a monkey who managed to attain eternal salvation. Suddenly I was exposed to songs which didn't actually mean anything. Since then I've developed a theory that Black Francis simply threw a whole bunch of themes together to form songs, so that a song might contain multiple themes or ideas rather than a single theme or idea. A song might have elements of Black Francis' Pentecostal experiences, UFO experiences, university experiences, relationship experiences, the Spanish language and others. Another song may have the same experiences but using different phrases. Whatever it was, Black Francis created music that was simultaneously meaningful and meaningless that touched me a way that mainstream pop songs simply didn't. He also screamed and played a mean guitar. That helped.

In 1991 I travelled to Scotland to spend a few weeks with my parents. On the way there I stopped off at LA and managed to see the Pixies at the Universal Amphitheater. They weren't too good (they were in the about-to-break-up phase of their existence) but at least I can say that I saw them live. The auditorium was only half full and the LA people I spoke to seemed fairly ambivalent about them. When I reached Scotland the first young adults I met were enthusing about the Pixies. This experience was interesting because, as Pixies fans know, they were much loved in the UK but ignored in the US.

13. Soundgarden - Superunknown - 1994

It was during Bible College in 1992 that I discovered that music was going through a radical change. Suddenly Metallica had a hit single. How did that happen? Nirvana had Smells Like Teen Spirit which I loved too. 2JJJ also began playing a song called You Can't Touch This by MC Hammer which I surprisingly enjoyed, along with Mr Dobalina. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Give It Away. Musicians were no longer constrained by their genres and were making new ones. Grunge, especially, had a huge impact on me. As I pointed out before, I loved loud guitars. What I didn't say was that I hated Glam metal. On my visit to LA I picked up a free music newspaper and discovered that every second band in LA had big hair and spandex, with ads even promoting hair extensions for metalheads. When Nirvana came along, they were basically a bunch of "weedy nerds playing heavy metal". They punished their guitars like Pete Townshend while poking fun at the establishment like Johnny Rotten. In 1994, just after I got married, a friend named Pete from church (not the same Pete that I lived with, but a Pete with really long hair and a dedicated metalhead) lent me Superunknown by Soundgarden. He assured me that they were just as good as Nirvana. I listened to it and was hooked. I had heard some of their songs on 2JJJ and especially liked Spoonman. I was already a Zeppelin fan so hearing the screams of Chris Cornell was fine in the light of Robert Plant. This was the first grunge band and album I really liked. For a few years Soundgarden had replaced U2 as my favourite band.

14. Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral - 1994

I have an interesting tale about meeting Trent Reznor from the band Nine Inch Nails. Back in the early 90s my girlfriend (she's now my wife by the way) introduced me to some friends at a party in Sydney's North Shore. Among them was a musician by the name of Trent Reznor. Reznor had taken a break from recording after his first album (this was probably around 1992 or 1993) and spent a bit of time in Sydney resting. While there he had attended a Gospel meeting by a Christian mission and had been converted to Christianity. At the party we were all listening to "Pretty Hate Machine", quite a BIT different from the Christian music most of the people have been listening to. When asked about the lyrics (especially the ones pertaining to God), he replied that that was basically him questioning God at the time, and that he was different now that he had become a Christian. He started going out with a Christian girl as well. Then one day Trent disappeared. He had stolen some goods from a friend of ours. His girlfriend was beside herself. Together this friend and the girlfriend contacted the US record company to find out what was going on. The record company pretty much told them that Reznor was not just in America, but had been in America the whole time. When asked about whether Reznor had maybe gone back to New Zealand, his birthplace, the record company replied that Reznor was not from New Zealand but from Ohio. Moreover, he was not of Maori descent either. In short, we had all been duped by some New Zealand guy who claimed to be Trent Reznor and who faked being converted to Christianity in order to mess with the people he was with. It was obviously horrible for the people involved, but I was secretly amused by it all.

Based upon that experience I purchased CDs from Nine Inch Nails. It was full of loud guitars and electronic music that I had heard from my days as a child listening to Kraftwerk. I loved it. At the time that it was released, "The Downward Spiral" was probably not the sort of album that good Christians should be buying, but I did anyway. After ignoring those terrible, horrible, no good cuss words from the song Closer, I discovered that Reznor was pretty much using a persona to write from which, as a poetry/song writer myself, was an interesting technique. The album is full of self-loathing and anger. Reznor subverted the 80s synth and meshed it with sampling and recreated Industrial music. It subverted the whole dance song by having danceable synth beats alongside dark lyrics, angry singing and of course, loud guitar. Nine Inch Nails remains my second favourite band to this day.

15. Ride - Going Blank Again - 1992

While working at Ausonics in the late 80s and early 90s I subscribed to the Australian edition of Rolling Stone magazine. For a while I was enamored with an Australian band called Ratcat who sold a huge amount of EPs entitled Tingles, which were full of proto-grunge fuzzy-pop songs. In Rolling Stone magazine one day I read of a Perth concert in which Ratcat had been supported by a British band called Ride. The RS commentator spoke disparagingly of the crowd of mainly teenagers who were enthused about Ratcat but had no idea that they had been supported by a band that was two or three times better than them. The RS writer had obviously been infected by the British press' assessment of Ride at the time, which was that they were the next big thing. A few years later I read another Rolling Stone article lamenting the band's breakup and their awful final album.

One day in 1994 in Merrylands I passed a second hand record store and purchased my first Ride CD: "Smile" I found out later that this was a compilation of the first two Ride EPs from 1990. Like a lot of new music in the early 90s, Ride was confusing and compelling. On the one hand they seemed to be playing guitar-laden rock heavy with feedback and wah wah pedals, but mixing it with a very muted, almost submerged, vocal track. It was like listening to Ian Brown from the Stone Roses singing for a grunge band. In fact I was simply convinced that Ride were a British grunge band. I lent "Smile" to Pete my long haired friend from church and he returned it saying that it was great.

I moved on to buy a second hand copy of the album "Going Blank Again". The opening synth beat of the song Leave Them All Behind was more like The Who and nothing like Duran Duran. then the rhythm section came in - drums and bass playing along with the synth beat. You could almost hear the fingers being hit against the strings. Then the twin guitars come in. Not like Jimmy Page. Not like Grunge. These guitars come in like blurry angels, drowning out the rhythm section with so much feedback and distortion that you can't work out whether there are two guitars, or just one, or ten thousand, being played. The song went for over 8 minutes.

It was only in the late 1990s when I got the internet connected that I discovered that Ride were at a forefront of a short-lived musical genre called Shoegazing, and had more in common with Britpop than Grunge, while predating both. Ride remain my favourite band and Leave Them All Behind is my favourite song of all time. I even made a music video using images from Stanley Kubrick films. I run the Last.fm Ride group and have published an interview at this blog with the bass player. I have never seen Ride live, one of my disappointments.

Decade 4: 2000s - today

16. The Charlatans - The Charlatans - 1995

Back in the early 90s I saw the music video for The Only One I know. The Charlatans appeared to be The Stone Roses plus a Hammond Organ. I bought their first album and then for about ten years pretty much ignored The Charlatans. Then one day on Rage in about 2000 I saw a music video showing very much that the band was alive and well. Over the next few years I bought albums and discovered that their original organ player had died.

It was in about 2005 when I bought the self-titled album The Charlatans. Bought ten years after it was released I became aware very quickly the reason why the album went to number one in the UK. The only song that stands out to me is the opening Nine Acre Court (and remains my favourite Charlatans song with Toothache) but the whole album just seems to mesh together really well. The guitars aren't loud but every song just seems to have a place in the order. My brain was often filled with earworms from the album. In the mid-late 2000s I would sometimes play the album in its entirety to my annoyed family.

17. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Methodrone - 1995

Another album I got myself into long after its release, Methodrone introduced me to the work of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and its eclectic founder Anton Newcombe. I discovered this album in around 2007, soon after I joined last.fm. After spending the early 2000s bereft of any knowledge of what was going on in the world of music, last.fm gave me the opportunity to discover old and new music. Intrigued by the Shoegazing genre and its link to Ride, I was able to download the entire album for free from Anton's website. I loved it enough to eventually buy the CD.

The BJM don't have the loud guitars but Anton does use shoegazing often in his songs. Post-Methodrone albums are more like listening to what the Rolling Stones could've achieved if they decided to follow their path of psychedelic rock instead of the path they ended up choosing. I have quite a few BJM albums but none of them hit me as hard as Methodrone, and only Ride's song Leave Them All Behind hits me harder than the BJM's Wisdom, which is a most enjoyable earworm to have when you're driving around Tasmania and is one of the greatest songs in the history of the universe.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre have inspired a huge amount of creative talent over the years with bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Warlocks and The Lovetones being created by former members. Other bands to have their work inspired by BJM/Anton are Dead Meadow, Singapore Sling, Darker My Love and, of course, The Black Angels...

18. The Black Angels - Passover - 2006

I can thank Last.fm for this one. Last.fm allows subscribers to listen to music online, and one of their features is to type in the name of the artist and see what sort of music comes out, the idea being that not only do you have your own unique streaming radio station playing you music from the band you selected but music that is closely associated with the music you selected. So one day I selected "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club" to see what would come out. Two bands immediately hit me. One was The Warlocks, the other was The Black Angels.

Let me say this now - The Black Angels sounds like a darker version of The Doors. This is helped especially by the lead singer Alex Maas who sounds very much like Jim Morrison. If you transported yourself back to 1970 and armed with the Passover LP by The Black Angels and presented it to some pirate radio stations at the time, they would probably be convinced that Jim Morrison had joined an acid rock band. In other words, the album sounds like it could've been released in 1970, not 2006.

This is one of those bands whose career is not as great as I hoped it would be. They definitely need recognition. Here is a video of them playing on the roof.

19. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures - 1979

Put simply I became a Joy Division fan in 2007. Wonderful music. Again thanks to Last.fm because I heard She's Lost Control for the first time and I was hooked. I'd heard Love Will Tear us Apart so many times (I was a 2JJJ listener after all) that I had been inoculated against Joy Division, but Last.fm again changed my mind.

And watch Control. Brilliant movie with some of the best acting I have ever seen from three individuals (Sam Riley, Samantha Morton and Toby Kebbell).

20. The Eagles of Death Metal - Peace, Love, Death Metal - 2004

This album surprised me. The Eagles of Death Metal are neither a Death Metal band nor do they sound like The Eagles. Instead it is a combination of inane, adolescent lyrics, an unashamed pop beat, high pitch singing and a fuzzy garage guitar. It works somehow. The drums are played by Josh Homme, who is the guitarist for Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures and about a dozen other bands. Homme is credited with being a pioneer of Stoner Rock and yet the EODM do not play Stoner Rock. The other dude in EODM (it's a two man band) is a bearded nobody named Jesse Hughes who plays guitar, sings and is a rabid Obama-hating Republican.

Every song on their debut album was crafted perfrectly. The two musicians, especially Hughes, interject in the songs with funny lines: in one song Jesse Hughes begs Homme to slow down because he's finding it hard to keep up, while in another song he sings the same refrain so many times that he loses breath and states that he's lost his breath and needs to sit down for a while, all while the song continues around him. There's a real playfulness and fun being projected by the two musicians. They don't take themselves seriously, or their songs seriously, and yet they come up with an album that is enjoyable to listen to and which is quirky enough to remain out of touch with the mainstream. Watch I Only Want You.


Let's end this nonsense: Reagan's military buildup did not cause the Soviet Union to collapse

Let's put this to rest now. The idea that Reagan caused the Soviet Union to collapse has been said so many times over the years but the facts just don't back it up.

The idea goes something like this:

Ronald Reagan increased US military spending. He introduced the "Star Wars" technology to protect the USA against enemy missiles. In response to this, the Soviet Union increased military spending dramatically which, in turn, caused the collapse of the Soviet Union.

No, Sorry. Wrong.

Of course Reagan DID spend up big, no doubt about that.

And he DID introduce the "Strategic Defense Initiative" (SDI) which created some huge problems for the Soviet military and the politburo

But did the Soviets increase military spending? The data says no.

The above graph comes from Arming America: Attention and Inertia in US National Security Spending by James L. True (1998). Link here. Graph is on page 17 of 42 of the pdf file. (Edited 2015-08-14)

. Things to note:
  • This graph measures spending in comparative dollars. Since the US had a larger economy than the Soviets, we can assume that if a 1:1 comparison between the two was made in terms of percentage of GDP, the Soviet Union would have a higher result. If you compare 1985 levels, for example, the US is probably spending around 6-7% of GDP on defence while the Soviets were spending around 13-14% of GDP.
  • The Soviets passed the United States in the early 70s and peaked  around 1982.
  • The US increased spending dramatically under Reagan, with a peak around 1985 and greater than the USSR.
  • Soviet defence spending plateaued between 1981 and 1988.
  • Soviet defence spending collapsed from 1989 onwards.
  • Much ink has been spilled over the years by economists and defence analysts in trying to determine reliable Soviet defence spending figures. If you want to complain about the standard of Soviet data, remember that experts have been dealing with this for decades. In short, if your argument against my position involves attacking the reliability of the statistics in question, please complain to the thousands of experts over the past few decades who have made it their business to work out reliable stats. Appeal to authority? You bet.
The graph clearly shows that, in real terms, the Soviets did not increase military spending much in response to Reagan. In fact the opposite appears to be the case: Reagan was responding to the Soviets. Soviet defence spending in the 1970s was pretty big and Reagan obviously did spend up big in response. But did the Soviets respond to Reagan's spending by increased spending? No they didn't.

Of course the idea that Reagan defeated the Soviets has been around for years. This 1994 article in The Atlantic - only three years after the collapse of the USSR - already contains the facts I am re-stating here:

The Soviet Union's defense spending did not rise or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most SDI shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.

If American defense spending had bankrupted the Soviet economy, forcing an end to the Cold War, Soviet defense spending should have declined as East-West relations improved. CIA estimates show that it remained relatively constant as a proportion of the Soviet gross national product during the 1980s, including Gorbachev's first four years in office. Soviet defense spending was not reduced until 1989 and did not decline nearly as rapidly as the overall economy.

So what did cause the USSR to collapse? In short: the economic stupidity known as Perestroika, a policy so bereft of common sense that it caused factories to produce less and less industrial goods. From 1987 onwards, the economy of the Soviet Union began to collapse with severely reduced output and hyperinflation. The downturn was so severe that birthrates declined - an indication of the personal stresses that Russian households were being subjected to. The economy shrunk significantly for around 4 years before communism was abandoned and the economy collapsed even further. By the mid-90s GDP was probably half of what it had been in 1987. There are more details about this in a previous post I have written.

Some horrible/interesting graphs


Sources: FDHBFIN / GDP

Sources: FYGFDPUN, / POP

Sources: FDHBFIN / POP



Sources: GDPC96 / POP