It’s no secret we’re fans of space here at Geeks & Beats. With all the attention NASA’s been getting the past week for the incredible images of Pluto sent back by its New Horizons probe, the very successful Kickstarter campaign to preserve and display the space suit Neil Armstrong wore when he stepped onto the surface of the moon—funded in the time it took to land on the moon and come back to Earth, by the way—and some pretty impressive celestial alignments happening with Venus, Jupiter and other planets, it seemed time to put together a list of songs honoring the enduring and expanding universe and its influence on creative types.
Elton John, Rocket Man
A no brainer to kick off the list. “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, in fact it’s cold as hell,” he sings on this track from 1972 from the great Honky Chateau album. “And there’s no one there to raise them, if you did.” The lonely life of an astronaut, who doesn’t really know what he’s doing up in space, it’s just a job. By 1972, NASA had sent men (and only men, as the first woman wouldn’t make a trip to space for another decade, with Sally Ride in 1983) to the moon six times through the Apollo missions. We haven’t set foot on the lunar surface since. Some people might know this more notorious version of the song by someone who’s probably really enjoy an actual trip to outer space.
David Bowie, Space Oddity
Another no brainer. This song predates Elton John’s by three years, released in July 1969 nine days before the successful Apollo 11 launch. It’s not the most cheerful song about astronauts, of course. “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do,” he sings, both wistful and detached. Probably the best known cover of this song was performed by Canadian astronaut and seemingly all around great guy Chris Hadfield while he was literally floating around in space aboard the International Space Station in 2013. His version got millions of views on YouTube before being taken down, but an agreement reached between Hadfield and Bowie’s camp brought it back online earlier this year. I’ll be honest—I love Bowie’s original, and the sequel, Ashes to Ashes, but Hadfield’s version brings me to tears. It’s just beautiful.
I Mother Earth, One More Astronaut
Released in 1996 (good grief!) on the band’s second album, Scenery and Fish, I Mother Earth’s “One More Astronaut” again imagines life above Earth, seeing everyone you’ve ever known and loved miles away, spinning around and around. But the tone of the song changes, from the isolation of “weeks and months alone,” to something more profound, something the first astronauts to float in space grappled with—wondering if they’d ever make it back on Earth, having seen the world from such a privileged vantage point. Edward White, the first American to float tethered to spacecraft, nearly refused to come back in after the first NASA extravehicular activity in June 1965. After spending 20 minutes floating in space, he begrudgingly returned to the craft, calling it “the saddest moment of my life.”
The Smashing Pumpkins, Rocket
Talk about commitment—here’s Billy (or is he Bill? William? now?) Corgan and crew dressed in silvery shiny space suits for the video for this song, the final single from Siamese Dream. It’s a rather adorable video as a group of kids, using something that could pass as a very primitive precursor to the Apple Watch, stumble upon an interstellar transmission of the Pumpkins performing, decide to build their own rocket to find the band, and slingshot past Saturn and Jupiter to land on some unnamed planet, all while Corgan repeats “I will shall be free.” If the song didn’t land on your Pumpkins radar, it’s understandable: Rocket was released in ’94, between “Disarm” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”
Bif Naked, Spaceman
It’s a song about “daydreaming, and escapism and wanting to be rescued from your life,” Bif Naked says in a 2012 CBC acoustic performance of this song. Inspired by her love of the Northern Lights and a dream from childhood of a spaceship appearing and taking her away, the acoustic version of this song is far different from the rocker I remember, originally released in 1998.
Deep Purple, Space Truckin’
The lyrics to this song would make it a must on any interplanetary road trip soundtrack. Released in 1972, Deep Purple references Venus, Mars, the Milky Way, the Aurora Borealis and, back on Earth, Cape Canaveral in this track off Machine Head, the album that also gave us the iconic “Smoke on the Water.” The song was featured in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati and the 2005 skateboard flick Lords of Dogtown, and was included as a downloadable track for both Rock Band, in 2008, and Guitar Hero: Van Halen in 2009.
Frank Sinatra, Fly Me to the Moon
And now for something different. Originally titled “In Other Words,” Sinatra’s version of this song, originally written in 1954 and performed by Kaye Ballard, became closely associated with NASA and the Apollo missions of the late 1960s, reportedly played on Apollo 10 as it orbited the moon. The song also holds the distinction of being the first recorded song played on the moon, as Buzz Aldrin listened to the song in a cassette player during the Apollo 11 mission. The song was also featured on Sesame Street, sung by Tony Bennett in 1998 when Oscar the Grouch’s pet worm, Slimey, took a trip to the moon, which gives me the perfect excuse to end my list with this next song.
Ernie, I’d Like to Visit the Moon
We all remember this song. Don’t pretend you don’t. Sing along. It’s fine. This is a song about wanting to be an explorer, to travel around and see new things and have great adventures, but wanting to go back to the familiar and comfortable before setting out again. It’s an inspiring song for kids of all ages.
Special thanks to my G&B cohorts for their suggestions.