By Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2020. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
ARE YOU READY FOR BLAST-OFF?
Let’s start with my very own composition called ‘Space Pop’. This is my simultaneous tribute to The Ramones and Kraftwerk. I made this using GarageBand when it first came out in 2004.
Let’s blast off with this instrumental masterpiece ‘Telstar’. This was written and produced in the summer of 1962 by the great Joe Meek for The Tornados from England. It’s titled after Telstar Communications Satellite which was launched that summer. The groundbreaking tune with a galloping beat is rife with pre-computer Sci-fi sounds made by electronic keyboards. ‘Telstar’ is also the title of a 2008 film about Joe Meek’s tragic life. The master experimental producer committed suicide in 1967 at age 37
‘The orchestral piece, The Planets was written by English composer Gustav Holst in the early 1900s. It has seven movements – each one named after a planet. ‘Mars’ and ‘Jupiter’ are the most popular. The ‘Mars’ movement was especially effective as the soundtrack to Divine’s final scene in Multiple Maniacs when she becomes monstrous – foaming at the mouth and chasing hordes of people through the streets. The piece is also partly featured in The Man Who Fell to Earth starring David Bowie.
Mott The Hoople effectively used Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ as the opening music before their concerts as they walked out onstage – in the early 1970s, and again for their reunion gigs in 2009 and in 2019.
Listen: Mars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmk5frp6-3Q
Listen: Jupiter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gu77Vtja30c
‘Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30’ is a German tone poem composed in 1896 by Richard Strauss. It was inspired by Nietzche’s novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The introductory section is popular as the soundtrack of Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The fabulous ‘Martian Hop’ by the Ran-Dells is a favorite of Lux & Ivy of The Cramps. This song about Martians hosting a dance party for humans was made in 1963. It is the most joyous song ever, with some do-wap style singing and space noises! This record pioneered the usage of sine waves and of sampling!
The popular American television show Lost In Space aired from 1965 to 1968. The opening and closing theme music was composed by John Williams, who also the music for the film Star Wars.
Lost In Space theme song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBegeVsA48k
The MC5 rocked out spacey 8-minutes+ song ‘Starship’ is based on a poem by Sun Ra. It’s on their debut live album Kick Out the Jams, recorded live at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in 1968.
Starship, starship take me Take me where I wanna go
Out there among the planets
Let a billion suns cast my shadow…….
Leaving the solar system…LEAVING…LEAVING….LEAVING…..
The Dutch band Shocking Blue with their striking lead singer Mariska Veres had a No. 1 hit in 9 countries with ‘Venus’ – the Greek god and planet’s namesake in 1969. The British girl group Bananarama also had a hit with the song in 6 countries in 1986. I also love the Shocking Blue song ‘Love Buzz’
Watch – Original Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LhkyyCvUHk
Pink Floyd‘s ‘Astronomy Domine’ is from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
The country/skiffle style tune ‘Mr. Spaceman’ by The Byrds is a single from their 1966 album Fifth Dimension.
‘After the Gold Rush’ by Neil Young is on his 1970 album of the same title. The lyrics progress over 3 verses in a tale about ancient times, the present and the end of the world – when humans ascend in silver spaceships.
I love Patti Smith’s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgYNPSmM5rM
Tiny Tim joined in the space race in 1970 with ‘The Spaceship Song’. Guess what this self-penned song sounds like – ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips! It’s a ukulele-led vocal waltz by Tiny!
The Kinks released the honky-tonk ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ in 1972 as a single, and on their album Everybody’s in Show-Biz.
Everyone is welcome aboard.
Nobody’s gonna travel second class
There’ll be equality
And no suppression of minorities.
Let me take you on a little trip
On my supersonic rocket ship.
Klaatuu was a Canadian band named after the robot in the classic 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Their 1977 single ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ was a catchy one. It first appeared on their debut album in 1976. A cover version – an orchestrated epic – was released by The Carpenters on their album Passage, and also as a highly successful single! It was also adopted by the UK’s (pirate) Radio Caroline as its theme song. According to the band, the friendly lyrics quote a bulletin sent out in 1953 by the International Flying Saucer Bureau – a call to everyone to simultaneously send telepathic signals to visitors from outer space on a set time and date (called World Contact Day). (I think the only response they got was from P-Funk’s Mothership).
As there were no album credits other than the band’s name on the artwork of their self-titled debut, a DJ started the rumor that Klaatu were in fact the recently split Beatles – recording under a strange new name. True, some of their melodies are Beatlesque (more like ELO) but thankfully NME debunked the rumor pretty quickly. It was good for publicity though!
In another strange connection, Ringo Starr had posed with the spaceship and the robot Gort (Klaatu’s sidekick in the film) on the cover of his solo album Goodnight Vienna. There was a 2005 Klaatu reunion performance in Toronto at KlaatuKon.
WATCH!! The Carpenters: https://youtu.be/gwLY52454EY
Ringo Starr promotional video: https://youtu.be/ZbELJMjklTo
David Bowie assumed that he would be providing the soundtrack for the Nicholas Roeg film he would be starring in, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1977). Instead, after he had begun composing (this material is unreleased) he was told that the soundtrack would be done by various artists. Instead, Bowie went on to finish his album Station To Station and began recording Low – which sounds like it should have been the actual soundtrack, as it complements the film so well.
My story about Low: High On Low
The majority of the film soundtrack is by Stomu Yamashta – a forerunner in the fusion of world music and traditional / eastern and western styles. This music actually appears on his previous releases. The magical ‘Poker Dice’ is an 18-minute piece that begins with ethereal, soothing windchimes and delicate bells. It soon becomes a frantic jazz meandering. This is from Yamashta’s 1972 album Floating Music. The beautiful ‘Wind Words’ appeared on East Wind in 1974. ‘Memory of Hiroshima’ from Yamashta’s 1971 masterpiece Red Buddha (also the name of Yamashta’s theatre troupe*) soundtracks the slimy alien lovemaking scene. The piece is sad yet powerful, evocative of the horrors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima! The Red Buddha album is a bit of everything; ambient, jazz, drone, avant-garde and experimental music.
Yamashta was a founding member of the 1976 supergroup Go with the great Al Di Meola, Steve Winwood (Traffic), Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dream), and Michael Shrieve (Santana).
A 2-CD set of this gorgeous TMWFTE film score (which also features many tracks by John Phillips and others) was released in 2016 – sans Bowie, after his passing.
These are my three favorite Yamashta pieces:
‘Poker Dice’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VOhwvPbezY
‘Wind Words’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TTOEpZzk20
‘Memory of Hiroshima’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5Om21KwXg4
*Performing members of Yamashta’s Red Buddha theatre included renowned taiko drummer Joji Hirota and his wife Michi – who is ‘the geisha on the right’ on the cover of Sparks’ album Kimono My House.
Bowie’s song ‘Space Oddity’ was his first hit – released just over a week prior to first moon landing in July 1969. The spacey sounds were made by a stylophone – an instrument that David had endorsed in 1960s advertisements. The song’s theme is isolation and dislocation. A detached astronaut floats in space, strangely comfortable with his situation. It is highly suggested that he cut the cord himself. Bowie was inspired by the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey (which I refer to as Stanley Kubrick’s space ballet). He also recorded a version in Italian.
Watch – Official ‘Space Oddity’ 1972 video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYYRH4apXDo
Bowie’s freak-out ‘Moonage Daydream’ is powered by the guitar genius Mick Ronson taking us out of the stratosphere. It’s on Bowie’s 1972 Ziggy Stardust… album. Ronson’s live solo during Bowie’s final gig as the Ziggy Stardust character at Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973 is one of the greatest of all time – both sonically and visually!
“I would literally draw out on paper, with a crayon or felt-tip pen, the shape of a solo. The one in ‘Moonage Daydream’ started as a flat line that became a fat megaphone-type shape, and ended as sprays of disassociated and broken lines. I’d read somewhere that Frank Zappa used a series of drawn symbols to explain to his musicians how he wanted the shape of a composition to sound. Mick could take something like that and actually bloody play it, bring it to life.”
– Bowie, Ziggy Stardust… 2002 reissue liner notes.
Album Version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFDj3shXvco
Watch Live, July 1973: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaqMwE5NKaM
Listen to Ronson’s isolated guitar solo:
See my story about Mick’s famous Les Paul guitar: Moonage Daydreaming
And my Ziggy Stardust story:
Bowie takes us over the rainbow on ‘Starman’ from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972). The song was composed at the last minute as the label wanted ‘a hit single’. The lyrics are about some children gathered ‘round the radio when the alien Starman (Ziggy Stardust himself) gives them messages of hope and salvation with an octave-jumping chorus which mimics that of ‘Over the Rainbow’.
Harry Nilsson’s sublime pop hit ‘Spaceman’ is beautifully orchestrated by Paul Buckmaster. It appears on his on his 1972 album Son of Schmilsson. It begins with the thumping bass of solo Beatles’ sidekick Klaus Voormann (who is also stellar on ‘Jump Into the Fire’*). Drums and percussion are by Ringo Starr and Richard Perry, piano by Nicky Hopkins and acoustic guitars by Peter Frampton, jazz great John Uriibe and Chris Spedding. As in Bowie’s 1969 ‘Space Oddity’ the forgotten astronaut is floating endlessly in space – however, this one wants to return to earth whereas Major Tom quite possibly cut his own cord.
*Also see my story About a Song: Nilsson on Fire
‘Satellite of Love’ is on Transformer by Lou Reed (1972). Lou composed a demo of ‘Satellite of Love’ in the summer of 1970 – one year after Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ which was (inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001 – A Space Odyssey). Both songs’ characters are severely detached and lonely. It was recorded with the Velvet Underground for their album Loaded (but was not released at the time). The demo begins with the following lines;
In this world as we know it /Sorrows come and go
Now we see the human race / Has put its footprints on the moon’s face
Whereas Lou is at home watching a satellite launch on TV (a backdrop to his thoughts about his girlfriend’s cheating) bowie’s Major Tom is actually floating in space, quite possibly by his own choice.
This was performed by Beck at the induction ceremony when Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
My story about Lou Reed’s Transformer album: Transformed
‘Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)’ is on the 1972 album Honky Chateau by Elton John. The album title refers to the recording studio Chateau d’ Herouville in France (where countless classic albums were made). The lyrics echo a story called ‘The Rocket Man’ in Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. Again, there is the same theme as Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in which the astronaut’s moment of glory fades once he is shot off into space. Both songs share the same producer, Gus Dudgeon.
Kate Bush released her version as a single in 1991 and directed her own video.
Elton John: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdEe5SpdIuo
Watch – Kate Bush: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5agt0cpxsKU
Kate Bush released the wondrous and magical ‘Rocket’s Tail’ on her 1991 album The Sensual World. The track starts quietly with the unique acapella vocals of the Trio Bulgarka (Bulgarian folklore singers). Then, Dave Gilmour’s guitar glamorously explodes and soars. It shoots like a rocket beginning the song’s second half. (Kate’s cat’s name was Rocket). The lyrics are bombastic! While watching rockets on Guy Fawkes night, the singer, in sheer admiration, straps a stick and fuse on her back, jumps off Waterloo Bridge and leaves a trail of fire behind. All a metaphor for Kate’s enchanting stage performances. This stunning song ignites passion and emotion – it’s a work of art. (Kate also covered Elton’s ‘Rocket Man’)
Listen – Rocket’s Tail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yeimyOsdrA
Watch – Kate – Rocket Man Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5agt0cpxsKU
Watch – Kate – Rocket Man – Wogan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYSCHKmvcIY
The gorgeous ‘Ballrooms of Mars’ with Marc Bolan’s intimate vocal appears on the 1972 T. Rex album The Slider. The stunning first two verses will take you there…
You gonna look fine
be primed for dancin’
You’re gonna trip and glide all on the tremblin’ plane
Your diamond hands will be stacked with roses
And wind and cars and people of the past
I’ll call you “thing” just when the moon sings
And place your face in stone upon the hill of stars
And gripped in the arms of the changeless madman
We’ll dance our lives away in the ballrooms of Mars
Listen: A beautiful cover version – ‘Ballrooms of Mars’ by Kelly Reilly (2020) https://kellyreilly.bandcamp.com/track/ballrooms-of-mars
‘Spaceball Ricochet’ also on The Slider has gorgeous otherworldly lyrics, as do most of Bolan’s songs.
‘Interstellar Soul’ appears on the 1974 T. Rex album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow – A creamed cage in August. ‘Venus Loon’ also appears on this album. ‘Space Boss’ was a non-album b-side which ended up on Bolan’s Zip Gun.
While Marc’s mate and sometimes rival David Bowie was diving into his first experience as a Black star in his Plastic Soul phase with girlfriend Ava Cherry, Marc Bolan was experimenting with Interstellar Soul. In fact, this song could be a veiled stab at Bowie. Marc’s new partner was soul singer/songwriter Gloria Jones who took him on this new journey. The album received a very mixed reaction.
‘Interstellar Soul’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8BSU49NArY
‘Venus Loon’ (alternate version) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5PaKQQ5u4k
‘Space Boss’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfTFAWGZbgk
Pink Floyd included this stunning track on Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ is an improvised vocal masterwork by singer Clare Torry, who was only told that it’s a song about dying.
The title track from Wings 1975 album is ‘Venus and Mars’. The ‘spheres’ on the album cover were photographed by Linda McCartney using two yellow and red billiard balls representing the planets. The design was completed by famous album graphic artists Hipgnosis. The album’s first two tracks, ‘Venus and Mars’ / ‘Rock Show’ were released as an edited medley on a single.
Listen: (extended version combined with the reprise): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLYnL7IGx7g
I always loved The Tubes band logo – which was actually squeezed out of a tube! The San Francisco band’s semi-ballad ‘Space Baby’ is on their debut album in 1975. There’s a really nice guitar solo on this, a quiet moment in the Tubes’ outlandish oeuvre. I like this as much as the single ‘White Punks On Dope’ and was lucky enough to see them live in 1975.
‘Space Lab’ is from the Kraftwerk album Man Machine. They take us inside a video game before the existence of video games! It’s from their 7th album released in 1978. Kraftwerk finally won a Grammy award in 2018 for best dance/electronic album, 3-D The Catalogue. They won a lifetime achievement award in 2014.
My stories about Kraftwerk:
‘Space Monkey’ by Patti Smith is on her brilliant album Easter. I love these lines…
Space monkey, sort of divine-vine
Space monkey, so out of line
and it’s all just space, just space
There he is, up in a tree
Oh, I hear him callin’ down to me
That banana-shaped object ain’t no banana
It’s a bright, yellow U.F.O.
And he’s coming to get me.
Here I go. Up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up …
Oh, goodbye mama
I’ll never do dishes again
Here I go from my body. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Help!
Listen – Space Monkey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Iz4_JIP698
See my 1978 review of Patti Smith’s album Easter:
‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ is on the debut album by the English group The Only Ones in 1978 released in 1978. This song is just wonderful…
‘Planet Claire’ by the B-52’s is from their debut album released in the summer of 1979. This song is the essence and the beginning of New Wave with its jaunty space-age noises and eclectic tunes. I’d almost want to visit Planet Claire if it wasn’t for the thing about the heads!
Planet Claire has pink air
All the trees are red
No one ever dies there
No one has a head
On the same B-52’s album is ‘There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)’
The hip hop party track ‘Planet Rock’ from 1982 is by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. It was inspired by the German band Kraftwerk and uses samples from their songs ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘Numbers’.
‘Lost In Space’ is by Joey Ramones brother Mickey Leigh, who wrote a great book called I Slept with Joey Ramone.
Sparks in Space
The 1981 Sparks album Whomp That Sucker features the regretful ‘I Married a Martian’.
In Outer Space – Sparks’ 12th album released in 1983 includes ‘We’re a Fun Bunch of Guys from Outer Space’.
Composer Ron Mael emulates a stressed Strauss in the waltz – the spectacular ‘There’s No Such Thing as Aliens’ is on the 20th album by Sparks – Hello Young Lovers (2006). We are repeatedly assured that we are indeed alone. This song is a vocal showcase, building and swelling until all of your fears are completely gone!
There’s No Such Thing As Aliens
No Such Thing As Aliens
No Such Thing As Aliens
No Such Thing As Aliens
No Such Thing As Aliens
No Such Thing As Aliens No Such Thing
No, no, no, no
No, no, no, no
No, no, no, no
The Cramps – ‘Mojo Man From Mars’ is from their final album Fiends From Dope Island released in 2003 – titled after the 1959 film.
Peter Schilling – s synthpop artist from Germany created the fantastic 1983 song ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’ placing David Bowie’s problematic astronaut from ‘Space Oddity’ in his own song, but this time he falls to earth.
Back at ground control / there is a problem
Go to rockets full / not responding
Hello Major Tom / are you receiving
Turn the thrusters on / we’re standing by
There’s no reply
Earth below us / Drifting falling
Floating weightless / Coming home
Adam Ant had a hit with ‘Apollo 9’ a year before it appeared on his unsuccessful 3rd solo album Vive Le Rock in 1984.
‘Shonen Knife Planet’ opens the Shonen Knife Happy Hour album released in 1988. The song features lots of spacey noises!
From Czechoslovakia – 1986. ‘I Want to Be a Robot’ – about a girl complaining about her boyfriend spending so much time on his computer.
‘Chtela bych byt Robotem’ Artist: Eva Hurychova from the ablum Dnes na tom zalezi.
Watch the beautifully strange video!!!
Def Leppard’s ‘Rocket’ = ‘Rock it!’ This was the seventh single released from their huge 1989 album Hysteria. ‘Rocket’ is the band’s ode to their heroes, all named in the lyrics. There are also nods to T. Rex (‘Laser Love’), The Sweet (‘Blockbuster’), Queen (‘Killer Queen’) and Paul McCartney’s Wings (‘Jet’), Hawkwind and others. The ‘Satellite of love’ line is the title of Lou Reed’s song on his classic album Transformer from 1972. The song features audio transcripts from the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 The promotional video includes live performance footage of the bands named in the song
The drumming is heavily influenced by the late Burundi Black’s 1971 UK hit ‘Burundi Black’ (who committed suicide in 2002). Black had also inspired the primitive, tribal sounds of Adam and the Ants, and Bow Wow Wow (both bands produced by Malcolm McLaren).
“Jack Flash, rocket man, Sergeant Pepper and the band
Ziggy, Benny and the Jets
Take a rocket, we just gotta fly
(I can take you through the center of the dark)
We’re gonna fly (on a collision course to crash into my heart)…
Rocket baby, c’mon, I’ll be your satellite of love…”
The Claypool Lennon Delirium has a great psychedelic song called ‘Blood and Rockets: Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons / Movement II, To the Moon’. It’s on their album South of Reality released in 2019 on swirly colored vinyl.
The band’s founding members of Les Claypool (of Primus) and Sean Lennon. The song is about bisexual, manic depressive rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons who died while conducting a lab experiment with explosives. I especially like the final movement.
Watch the cool trippy video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcOHiGonWwU
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See more in my Playlist category:
About A Song
Eat to the Beat