Since there are so many classic rock songs about space, I am splitting this into two posts. If you want to read part 1, click here. On The Diversity of Classic Rock we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing with a list of songs about space and there are way more than I thought, so it’s a mini-series.
Part 1 has some information on the history of the space race, an intro to space rock, and space themed songs from Atomic Rooster all to Kraftwerk. In part 2, we’ll go from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to Yes. Lots of great stuff here, including some albums about space.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band:
Solar Fire (1973): An album with a space theme. The first track, “Father of Day, Father of Night” is a Bob Dylan cover. You’ll notice that throughout Manfred Mann’s career, his various groups have covered Bob Dylan songs (“If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, “Just Like a Woman”, “Mighty Quinn”, and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”).
The rest of the tracks on the album are space themed. Definitely an enjoyable listen if you like harder prog rock like King Crimson. Just know this isn’t your 60s Manfred Mann.
Space Station #5 (1973): A song about living in space. Vocalist and co-writer Sammy Hagar claims that his mind was infiltrated by aliens.
Starliner & Spaceage Sacrifice (1974): Two songs from the album, Paper Money. “Starliner” is an instrumental and “Spaceage Sacrifice” is about space travel at the expense of people being sacrificed.
Galaxy Song (1983): A song that was in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, in the sketch “Live Organ Transplants”. In the song, you’ll hear various statistics about the galaxy, most of which are quite accurate, but there are a few inaccuracies/creative liberties, but remember it’s just a song.
- The Earth doesn’t revolve at 900mph, but rotates on its axis at about that speed.
- The sun isn’t the only source of power, although ultimately most power comes from the sun. Geothermal and nuclear power do not come from the sun.
- The stars, sun and our planet are moving way more than a million miles a day.
- 100 billion stars in the Milky Way could be an underestimation
- We don’t know exactly how many galaxies there are, but maybe we’ll find out in the future.
Love the ending that basically says that your existence as a person is unlikely because the Earth is in that sweet spot distance away from the sun. Favourite line at the end:
“And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space ’cause there’s bugger-all down here on earth”
What makes this song even cooler is that there was a remake of the song with actual physicists! In the video, below Stephen Hawking performed the song and you can see Brian Cox in the video. Epic!
The Moody Blues:
To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969): A concept album about space travel. I’d call this album an under appreciated one. It didn’t sell as well as their other late 60s psychedelic albums. It’s hard to follow Days of Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord, and On The Threshold of a Dream. A very chill, mellow album. Can see myself looking at the stars listening to this album.
Pink Moon (1972): The title track from his last album, inspired by the Dictionary of Folklore. Pink refers to the colour of the moon during an eclipse. Nick Drake was the only one who played on this simple track (and the whole album), just vocals, guitar, and piano.
Mothership Connection (1975): In the song, “Mothership Connection”, George Clinton’s alter ego, Star Child, a messianic alien is introduced. On the cover of the album, George Clinton is popping out of a spaceship. Star Trek was an inspiration for this album.
Space Monkey (1978): Mentions a banana shaped UFO. Love the keyboards in this song.
Pearls Before Swine:
Rocket Man (1970): Before Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, there was this song by Florida psychedelic band, Pearls Before Swine. Bernie Taupin said that this song inspired his songwriting for “Rocket Man”.
Major Tom (1983): His twist on “Space Oddity”, but in German. Some call it a sequel. He recorded an English version, but I think the original German version is better. I remember hearing this song as a kid and really enjoying it, but when I heard someone playing this song in an Instagram story, I was reminded of this beautiful song.
The story: The rocket takes off, Major Tom looks out the window seeing the Earth getting smaller, and he’s floating in orbit around the Earth. He is working on collecting data, but Ground Control have lost contact with him. Major Tom is going to come home, and he tells Ground Control to tell his wife that he loves her before going back to space, what he considers his new home. People assume Major Tom died trying to come back to Earth.
“4, 3, 2, 1 Earth below us Drifting falling Floating weightless Calling calling home”
Planet P Project:
A sci-fi/space rock music project started by Tony Carey. Before Planet P Project, he was in a band called Blessings and was a keyboardist for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. His most popular song is “Why Me?”.
Walking on the Moon (1979): Sting wrote this reggae rock/new wave song in a hotel room while he was drunk, singing “Walking ’round the room”, but thought that title was dumb so he changed it to “Walking on the Moon”. The music video for the song was shot at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Spaceship Superstar (1977): Hard rock + space = awesome! Did you know that in 2011, this song was chosen as the wakeup song for Discovery crew members? Pretty cool!
’39 (1975): There’s something that stands out about this song that I can’t say about any of the other songs on this list, the fact that an astrophysicist wrote it. Before Queen were successful, Brian May was an astrophysics PhD student at Imperial College, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. He was close to completing it, but he had more important things to do and he came back decades later to get his PhD.
His love of space remained and he wrote “‘39”, a skiffle/country inspired/yeehaw song about time travel and space. In the year of ‘39, a man leaves his family on Earth behind to go to another planet with a group of astronauts to colonise another planet to save humanity. It takes some time to go to another planet, and in the meantime he tries to communicate with his family. The astronauts come home only a year older, but way more time passed on the earth and the guy finds out his wife is dead and he mourns that he has a long life ahead of him and he can’t share that time with his wife.
Not only is space travel the plot line, but the theory of relativity is mentioned, time dilation. I’m not a scientist so I’ll link something that explains it.
The plot of Interstellar, which came out pretty much exactly 39 years after A Night at the Opera (the album ‘39 is on), is very similar. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I definitely think the director was inspired by the song.
Stargazer (1976): This eight and a half minute long epic tells the story of a wizard who tries to fly by building a tower that goes to the stars. However, this endeavour led to many people being enslaved because it takes a lot to build a tower and fly through the stars. There are parallels between the story in this song and Ancient Egyptian history. This song is considered one of Rainbow’s best, showcasing the abilities of Ronnie James Dio, Ritchie Blackmore, and Cozy Powell.
The Rolling Stones:
2000 Light Years From Home (1967): Recording Their Satanic Majesties Request was an experience, lots of roadblocks, so it took longer. During this time in Stones history, they were getting in trouble with the law for drugs so that meant jail time and court appearances, so they often wouldn’t all be in the studio at the same time. On top of that, the band members would bring other people into the studio. That’s enough about the people side of things.
This album was different from the previous albums because it had a psychedelic sound and not an R&B/blues rock based sound. That was the direction music was going in. On the album, you’ll hear electronic instruments like the Mellotron and theremin. This was the first self-produced Stones album (because Andrew Loog Oldham got frustrated and quit) and their first album where the American and British releases were the same.
Mick Jagger wrote this song while in Brixton prison after he was convicted on drug charges. The song has a psychedelic sound and a sci fi theme. You might say this is very early space rock. It reached #5 on the West German charts. This AV Club article talks about the song and the album.
2112 (1976): A science fiction epic song that take some place in the year 2112 and tells the story of our protagonist who lives on a planet ruled by the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, who have a set of computers that run Solar Federation life.
Part of that life means no rock music. He thinks he knows happiness, until he comes across an ancient relic, a guitar. He learns to play it and writes his own music. The protagonist decides to perform his songs in front of the Priests, naively believing that they’ll appreciate that the people are being creative.
Instead, the Priests are not amused and destroy the guitar, telling the protagonist to leave. He leaves and an oracle shows up and shows him what life was like before the Federation. He’s gutted because life without art is meaningless. He goes back to the cave where he found the guitar and thinks about how life under the dictatorship is so cold and empty. In a Hamlet like contemplation of suicide, he realises the only way to live in this world of his dreams is to take his life and pass over into the dream world and know peace at last.
In the Grand Finale, another entity attacks and takes over the Solar Federation. Interpret this as you wish.
Another song on this album that has a bit of a space theme is “The Twilight Zone”. One of the episodes it draws inspiration from is “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
Cygnus X-1 (1977-1978): Named after a galactic x-ray source in the constellation, Cygnus, it’s widely accepted to be a black hole and one of the most studied astronomical objects in its class.
In Book 1, an explorer on the spaceship, Rocinante, flies toward the black hole, thinking that there’s something beyond it. He loses control of the spaceship and the pull of gravity draws him in.
In Book 2, he is in Olympus and sees Apollo (logical) and Dionysus (emotional) fighting over Mind versus Heart. The two ways of life are different. The explorer doesn’t like the lack of balance and silently screams. The warriors unite and the gods name him Cygnus, God of Balance.
Magic Fly (1977): This electronic “space disco” band from France are literally called Space. How could I have forgotten that there’s a band from the classic rock era with that name? Google is a thing. Anyway, there are a few space themed tracks like “Ballad for Space Lovers” and “Tango In Space”.
Deeper Zone (1980): “Space Media” is a space disco kind of song. “Robbots” has a sci-fi kind of sound and the voices on it remind me of Kraftwerk.
Voices of Jupiter (1982): Another title with a space theme.
Starcastle (1976): People think of this band as the one with the singer that sounds like Jon Anderson. “Stargate” and “Nova” are futuristic/space sounding instrumentals with space themed titles.
Steve Miller Band:
Space Cowboy (1969): Their hit song “The Joker” references this song and they have a song called “Gangster of Love”. This song can be interpreted to be about the space race and how space and sci-fi replaced westerns of the past. Or that space is another frontier and astronauts are like cowboys in that way.
Saturn (1976): A song about leaving the war torn Earth for Saturn, where it’s peaceful. Though I’m not sure if the air there is clean or if people’s lifespan is 205 years there. It’s just a song and the message is good.
They released a bunch of space themed/space rock albums, here are a few of them.
Alpha Centauri (1971): Album named after the star system closest to the solar system, 4.37 light-years from the sun. There are three stars in that system: Rigil Kentaurus (Centauri A), Toliman (Centauri B), and Proxima Centauri (Centauri C).
Ultima Thule (1971): This album shares its name with a Kuiper Belt object. The name translates to “beyond the known world”. New Horizons flew by it on 1 January 2019, making it the furthest away and most primitive object in the Solar System visited by a spacecraft.
Zeit (1972): The most space rock sounding Tangerine Dream album. It’s considered an early example of dark ambient music. The album cover is of a solar eclipse and the title comes from the philosophy that time is motionless and only exists in our heads.
The 5th Dimension
Aquarius (1969): A song paired with “Let the Sunshine In”, originally in the musical, Hair. It went number 1 in the spring of 1969, so not during Aquarius season. An astrological hippie song about entering the “Age of Aquarius”, an angel of love, light, humanity. People believed that we’d go from the Age of Pisces to Aquarius by the end of the 20th century, but astrologers estimate it could be anytime from the 2060s to the 27th century. Nothing scientific here, but a great hippie anthem.
Ray-Gun (1971): A song written by guitarist Eric Bell from their self-titled debut album. Some lyrics from the song:
“He came from a planet three thousand miles away. Just a short trip. A kind of brief holiday.”
UFO 1 (1970): On the band’s debut album, you’ll see a song called “Unidentified Flying Object”. A great space rock instrumental, from their early era before they went metal with a twin lead guitarn attack. The album didn’t have commercial success in the band’s native UK, but it did better in Germany and Japan.
Flying – One Hour Space Rock (1971): The title track of this album, “Flying”, was one of the longest rock songs recorded at the time. This pre-dates the song “Thick as a Brick” and is longer than Pink Floyd‘s “Echoes”, which came out the same year.
Space Child (1974): From their album, Phenomenon. Could be about someone on drugs reflecting on their life.
Martian Landscape (1976): Mentions aliens in the title.
Albedo 0.39 (1976): A concept album by Greek electronic/prog rock musician, Vangelis. Its theme is space physics, with the title being inspired by the planet’s albedo, the proportion of light which isn’t reflected back into space. At the time, the average albedo of the Earth was 39% or 0.39. In the present, it is 30%. This is explained on the back cover of the LP:
“The reflecting power of a planet or other non-luminous body. A perfect reflector would have an Albedo of 100%. The Earth’s Albedo is 39%, or 0.39“
While it is an electronic, synthesiser heavy album, it has some blues and jazz influences. Vangelis plays all the instruments on the album. On the track, “Mare Tranquillitatis” you can hear audio of several Apollo moon landings.
Excerpts from “Pulstar” and “Alpha” can be heard in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos documentary series from 1980. This album was also Vangelis’s first album to reach the top 20 in the albums charts in the UK.
Astral Traveller (1970): Written by Jon Anderson, this song is one of my favourites from Time and a Word. About a guy who travels through space, leaving his girl.
Starship Trooper (1971): From The Yes Album, this is one of my favourite epics. There are three parts: Life Seeker, Disillusion, and Wurm. The first part of the song mentions a person observing a spaceship in the sky. People in the spaceship get to see more than the people on Earth. My favourite part of the song is the third part, Wurm, great guitar from Steve Howe on this.
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