Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published June 6th 2020
Outer space not having space
In a recent column I wrote about science themed songs, I mentioned that in my research for the initial list for the student son of a friend of mine I found a lot of space-themed songs, so they were going to form a list of their own.
Before I hit the list, one thing amazed me: I have everything recorded in the studio (and a lot of the live recordings) by Queen and yet could find nothing that was really, blatantly about space. Why is this amazing? Well, Brian May, lead guitarist has a real, actual doctorate in astrophysics! Oh well…
So, anyway, here is my list. I decided on a few rules: 1) one song per artist… which does mean David Bowie is here once (and yet represented twice… hmmm…), 2) no songs about dreaming about going through space; and 3) the space has to be actual space stuff… so all those songs about the moon as a metaphor for night-time love or love, in general, do not count! Everything else is fair game… and only one of these songs is more recent than the 1980s (and that a cover). Sorry; my list, my likes.
Here we go! Space songs!
'Mr. Spaceman' by The Byrds (1966)
A song about wanting to be taken away by an alien who visited the singer at night. No, that's it. There is nothing else to it. No deep metaphors, just wanting to get away from it all via alien abduction. But the jangly guitars, wonderful harmonies and sense of fun about the song lift it from just another weird album-filler to a great track that is one of the best non-cover songs from the Byrds canon. The Byrds are an under-rated band, from turning Dylan into pop and making him more accessible to the public, to essentially inventing country-rock, and with this song they pre-dated psychedelia and prog rock, which would take themes like these and extend them to triple album sets. But the Byrds were there first.
'Across The Universe' by The Beatles (1969)
From the Let It Be album, the last released, this is a pleasant little song, it is about consciousness being set free and travelling across the universe. Very transcendental meditation-y and trippy. Not one of my favourite Beatles' songs, it is still a decent enough track (let's be serious, very few of their tracks were rubbish) and it definitely has the feel of travelling. "Nothing's gonna change my world…" even moving away from Earth. Oh, and Fiona Apple did a wonderful cover.
'Space Truckin'' by Deep Purple (1972)
A song about basically cruising around outer space is a weird little song, but it's by Deep Purple, it's got a great, heavy guitar riff and it was the early 70s, so the drugs probably made it all make sense at the time. When I first heard this song (I was in my teens at high school having my music education from my peers), I could not believe it and kept rewinding the cassette to listen to it again and again. It has stuck with me ever since. It has also been covered many times, but Iron Maiden's cover is the best. Not as good as Deep Purple, but still fine.
'Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)' by Elton John (1972)
This song about space travel being nothing more than a job was almost science fiction in 1972; now we 'd go, "Meh." But there is no denying it is one of John's best songs, with a chorus that seems to have been ingrained into everybody who grew up in the 1970s. This is such a glorious track… and the cover by Kate Bush is just as superb. But let us not talk of William Shatner's version.
'Starman' by David Bowie (1972)
Well, 1972 looks like the year for space songs, huh? And why this song and not the more obvious one by David Bowie? Because I could only pick one Bowie song. Anyway, this song about a man from the stars who wants to help the human race is a wonderful track that has such glorious vocals and sweeping music behind it. This song was a part of the Ziggy Stardust mythology and it fits that concept brilliantly. And it's Bowie. That generally means it is damn fine.
'Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft' by Klaatu (1976)
What? I hear you ask. What happened to the Carpenters? Well, much to most people's surprise, the Carpenters' version is a cover of this song, but they have really taken over its ownership in the public consciousness. Still, I find their version twee and I do prefer the original which is a lot more trippy and weird. The Carpenters' cover was by the numbers and just lacked the weirdness. And this song? It's about… well, trying to contact those who might be in ships crossing vast galactic distances. That's it. I wonder what happened to Klaatu (named, it must be remembered, for an alien word in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still)…
'Walking On The Moon' by The Police (1979)
I'm not sure exactly what this is about, but the imagery of the person taking those slow, looping steps on the moon along with the dreamy, reggae-lite music is definitely the feel of a being in space. Or tripping. Either/or. Still, it is about walking on the moon and not looking at the moon wishing for a lost love. A good Police song… and there were quite a few of those, let's be honest.
'Major Tom (Coming Home)' by Peter Schilling (1983)
Yes, this song was initially released in 1982 in its original German-language version (yes, I own that, too), but we'll call it 1983 with the release of the one I actually understand. This song is basically a sequel to Bowie's 'Space Oddity', and I first heard it on one of those TV music video shows, and went out and bought the 45. I heard this before I heard Bowie's song, because, well, I was 12 years old in 1983. It captured my attention by the countdown and the way the voice soars and I loved the sci-fi feel of the lyrics. This could be a guilty pleasure, but I still love this song.
'Galaxy Song' by Monty Python (Eric Idle) (1983)
From the film The Meaning Of Life, this song about how insignificant the Earth actually is has become one of the classics of Monty Python's musical output. It has even been performed by the late, great Stephen Hawking! Ostensibly a comedy track, it is actually quite a good one and very little else portrays the vastness of space so succinctly. And in the film, coming after Terry Gilliam gets his liver removed with Terry Jones as his wife being accosted by a man who comes out of her refrigerator… yeah, it's Monty Python. What you gonna do?
'Space Oddity' by Chris Hadfield (2015)
And we finish with a cover of a David Bowie song, from 1969. Told you he'd be here more than once. Now, why would I put a cover in here? Well, Chris Hadfield first recorded this song on the International Space Station! The guy is a real-life astronaut, recording a song about a guy who decides to stay in space. The album he released in 2015 Space Sessions: Songs From A Tin Can is shockingly good, but this song stands out so much as the best on a really strong collection. He delivers the song well, and his guitar playing is not too shabby either. And what better way to finish this list – a song about space by a spaceman recorded in space.
And there we have it – songs about space. All because a student wanted something special for a school assignment. I've said it before. I'll say it again – it is amazing just what artists will record songs about.