Space exploration is all the rage right now, so here are the best songs inspired by the stars (and satellites and moons) above…
Whether it’s Christopher Nolan’s game-changing epic Interstellar blasting off in cinemas, or the fact that humans have just successfully landed a robot probe on a comet (yes, a comet!), we’re all getting pretty excited by things that are out of this world.
So for all the aspiring Captain Kirks and Chris Hadfields amongst you, here’s our pick of the finest songs about space.
David Bowie – ‘Space Oddity’
Bowie is, of course, obsessed with anything space or alien-related, and we could have included a host of songs here. But the 1969 single ‘Space Oddity’, with its famous countdown, was our first introduction to Bowie’s fictional astronaut Major Tom, long before he was a “junkie, strung out in heavens high, hitting an all-time low” in ‘Ashes to Ashes’. More on a certain cover of this song later…
Richard Strauss – ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’
OK, not technically a ‘song’, but with Stanley Kubrick’s own sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey getting a cinematic re-release, what better time to replay the Richard Strauss composition that’s now almost inseparable in the mind from the grandeur of futuristic space exploration.
Muse – ‘Supermassive Black Hole’
We reckon astrophysicists might have a few issues with Matt Bellamy’s scientific knowledge, but it mentions a black hole and it’s got a killer riff. So there, boffins.
The Tornandos – ‘Telstar’
The original otherworldly pop hit, ‘Telstar’ was named after one of the first ever satellites to be launched into space, and is synonymous with that sense of early ’60s optimism in the future. The recording of the hit song features in the 2008 film Telstar: The Joe Meek Story – and the aforementioned Matt Bellamy is the son of The Tornados’ rhythm guitarist, George Bellamy, fact fans.
Devo – ‘Space Junk’
From the early optimism of the ’60s to the more mundane reality of the 1978, by which point (in the mad post-punk world of Devo at least) the satellites and rockets are falling back to earth in this song as “space junk”.
REM – ‘Man On The Moon’
Written as an homage to Andy Kaufman (the cult performer played by Jim Carrey in the 1999 film of the same name), REM’s early hit concerns itself more with conspiracy theories than the actual moon, but we won’t split hairs.
Lou Reed – ‘Satellite of Love’
The fact that he loosely used the language of space technology to write a wistful love song only underlines the late Velvet Underground man’s genius. It’s also one of his most poignant, and most covered, songs – and has the stamp of co-producer David Bowie all over it.
Beastie Boys – ‘Intergalactic’
All together now… “Intergalactic, planetary, planetary, intergalactic; another dimension, another dimension…” It’s no surprise that the Beastie Boys’ sample-heavy, space-themed 1998 track is also one of their most popular hits. Suitably, it also featured in an episode of Futurama.
Babylon Zoo – ‘Spaceman’
Chances are, if you were a teenager in the UK in 1996, you owned a copy of ‘Spaceman’. Shifting 420,000 copies in its first week of release, it was the fastest-selling single since The Beatles’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – in part thanks to its use in a Levi’s advert. Let’s just not mention the rest of Babylon Zoo’s career.
Radiohead – ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’
Featuring on their landmark 1997 album OK Computer, ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ is a dreamlike, ethereal number, in which Thom Yorke invites an alien abduction. Perhaps he’d just been watching too many Steven Spielberg films, or perhaps it was an expression of the twitchy, existential angst that typified this phase of the band’s career? Our money’s on the latter.
Elton John – ‘Rocket Man’
Partly inspired by Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, to which it bears some similarities, ‘Rocket Man’ also doesn’t exactly make a secret of its drug references: “I’m gonna be high as a kite by then”. Elton John’s writing partner Bernie Taupin apparently penned the lyrics after spying either a shooting star or a distant plane.
The Kinks – ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’
Space was a running theme for rockers in the early 1970s. Ray Davies penned the reggae-influenced ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ in 1972 and, like ‘Apeman’, the song has been read as an expression of his desire to escape the falsities of the rock star life and go back to a simpler time: “nobody has to be hip” on his rocket ship.
The Prodigy – ‘Out of Space’
Now for something completely different. The Prodigy’s bonkers 1992 hit mashes rave beats with the reggae song ‘Chase the Devil’ by Max Romeo and the Kool Keith line, “I’ll take your brain to another dimension”. It’s one of the few early songs they still perform live, and was a top 5 hit for the Essex band. Pay close attention.
Frank Sinatra – ‘Fly Me to the Moon’
A 1964 recording of this Frank Sinatra hit was played on a portable cassette player by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin after he stepped onto the surface of the moon. It doesn’t get more out-of-this-world than that.
Clint Mansell – ‘Moon’ soundtrack
Reprising our lunar theme, Clint Mansell’s eerie theme music for the 2009 film starring Sam Rockwell is a sublime composition that sets the tone perfectly for one of the finest modern sci-fi movies. Not bad for the Coventry-born former singer of Pop Will Eat Itself.
Chris Hadfield – ‘Space Oddity’
In another neat link, we jump from a film directed by Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) to the most famous cover of the song that started our playlist – a complete orbit, if you will. When he was about to bid farewell to the International Space Station last year, superstar astronaut Hadfield made this fantastic tribute before jumping on the Soyuz spacecraft and returning to earth. It doesn’t get cooler than that.
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