The Astronaut's Playlist: Groovy Songs for Space Travelers
Some album covers with space themes.
CREDIT: Columbia, Factory, MCA, RCA, Virgin, Warner Bros.
This story was updated at 11 p.m. ET.
With NASA's space shuttle fleet retiring, the space agency has turned over the jukebox buttons to the public to choose at least some of the wakeup songs to rouse astronauts during the final space shuttle missions.
So we thought we'd weigh in, too. The staff at SPACE.com has put its collective heads together to come up with some serious wakeup tunes, space music for astronauts aboard the International Space Station and the space shuttles — and not just the same old "Space Oddity," "Rocket Man," or "Dark Side of the Moon."
Here's a look at some our favorite songs with space themes, suitable for any cosmic occasion (and thanks to all of you who've added your own in the Comments section):
"We're All Made of Stars" — Moby
This track represents a no-brainer from the bald, bespectacled maker of many dance hits.
"Looking for Astronauts" — The National
The popular band presently based in Brooklyn sings of going out looking for astronauts and other topics less associated with astronauts. (Warning: It contains adult language, so don't play it on NASA TV!)
"Pluto" — 2 Skinnee J’s
The nerdcore group raps from the point of view of Pluto, hilariously asserting that "Pluto is a planet!" Damn straight!
"Space Junk" — DEVO
The yellow-suited Akron, Ohio, spudboys came up with this catchy number back in the '70s. The ever-growing problem of space junk is even more alarming today than back then.
"I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" —"Sesame Street" (sung by Ernie)
The beloved Muppet character (voiced by Jim Henson) sings plaintively of the many sacrifices he would have to make should he reside on the moon, then decides such a life would be too burdensome to bear. What's sadder is that we are no closer to having a moon habitat for Ernie today than when the song premiered decades ago.
"Space Baby" — The Tubes
From the eponymous debut album by the theatrical S.F. rockers who created "White Punks on Dope" comes this epic mid-70s song of interstellar questing. "I dig my atmosphere machine" is an appropriate lyric, though "burning green like a rhomboid sun" suggests a heretofore undiscovered stellar form (or possibly just too much of those Fog City drugs).
"Spacelab" — Kraftwerk
The German synth-gods who usually sing about the autobahn and robots took a side trip to space in this electronic ode to a space station on their "Man-Machine" album, likely inspired by then-current Skylab.
"Fly Me to the Moon" — Frank Sinatra (and many others)
The narrator of the well-known tune not only wants to be flown to the moon, but wishes to "play among the stars" and "see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars." After that first verse, though, the space conceit is dropped in favor of love song boilerplate.
"Valentina" — Komputer
These heavily Kraftwerk-influenced musicians composed an ode to the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.
"There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" — B-52s
The fun-loving party band from Athens, Ga., frequently employed space imagery in its lyrics, as exemplified by "53 Miles West of Venus" and "Planet Claire." In fact, "Song for a Future Generation" features them insistently singing, "Wanna be the captain of the Enterprise," so you know where their sympathies lie.
"It's Not" — Aimee Mann
The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter titled an entire album "Lost in Space." That disc included the tune "It's Not," which featured the line, "Let me fall into the dream of the astronaut / Where I get lost in space that goes on forever," amid other oblique observations.
"Emily" — Joanna Newsom
Delicate-voiced indie/folk darling Joanna Newsom wrote the song “Emily” about her sister, an astronomer. The distinctions between meteors, meteorites and meteoroids are discussed within.
"I Wish I Was the Moon" — Neko Case
The New Pornographer and solo artist sings longingly of being the moon, although no other space terminology appears in the song.
"Space Travel Is Boring" — Modest Mouse
The indie rockers' "The Moon & Antarctica" album contains several songs with obvious space themes: "3rd Planet," "Gravity Rides Everything," "Dark Center of the Universe" and "The Stars Are Projectors." "Space Travel is Boring," a tale of a space tourist, depicts the reality of space travel in a way that perhaps NASA would prefer not to promote. (Another band with a space-themed name, Sun Kil Moon, produced a drastically more pleasant-sounding version.)
"Man on the Moon" — R.E.M.
The indie-rockers-turned-stadium-draw produced this No. 2 hit that vaguely parallels moon landing conspiracy theories with comedian Andy Kaufman's many bizarre personas. ("Andy, are you goofing on Elvis?")
"A Space Boy Dream" — Belle & Sebastian
Over a jazzy music track, the Scottish group's bassist, Stuart David, describes in his thickly accented voice a dream about going to Mars. "When I woke up and I was lying in the darkness, I thought I had landed," he says at the end. Good dream!
"The Galaxy Song" — Eric Idle/Monty Python
This hilarious song scarcely needs description — it's an astronomy lesson set to music! (An analysis of the lyrics determines that the facts stated in the lyrics are largely correct: http://ephemeris.sjaa.net/0312/b.html)
"The Space Race Is Over" — Billy Bragg
The author of many politically charged songs reflects on his childhood memories of watching the Apollo space missions, but bitterly concludes that "Now that the space race is over / It's been and it's gone, and I'll never get to the moon."
"Puttin' People on the Moon" — Drive-By Truckers
The Southern-fried rockers paint a savagely bleak picture of a low-income worker grappling with economic decline in this gritty tune, lamenting, that "over there in Huntsville, even NASA's shut down, too."
"Teenage Spaceship" — Smog
Bill Callahan, a k a Smog, croons rather somberly and unironically about being a teenage spaceship: "I was beautiful with all my lights … "
"The Space Race" — Destroyer
This cheerful ditty features impenetrable lyrics but concludes: "One could say, 'We've lost the space race!' / Another one could say, 'We've won!'" Make of that what you will.
"Wandering Star" — Portishead
The trippy down-tempo proponents of experimental pop make mention of wandering stars, but little else in the way of space imagery appears here.
"Walking On the Moon" — The Police
In this hit number by the '80s megagroup, lead singer Sting howls plaintively about how being in love must feel like walking on the moon. Notably, the video for the song was filmed at Kennedy Space Center.
"2,000 Light Years from Home” — The Rolling Stones
This classic rock chestnut details an interstellar journey that threatens to drown in the psychedelia of the era. Its scientific credibility is restored near the end with a reference to Aldebaran.
"Stellar" — Incubus
In this track, the singer of the California alt-metal band exhorts listeners to "meet me in outer space." Earlier, the group had produced an album, "S.C.I.E.N.C.E.," with a track called "Nebula."
"Space Bound" — Eminem
"I'm a spacebound rocket ship, and your heart's the moon," defiantly declaims the Detroit rapper in this song filled with violence.
"Space Jam" — Quad City DJ’s
The dearth of actual space imagery in this rap probably matters little to fans.
"Space Truckin'" — Deep Purple
This list would remain incomplete without some venerable heavy —HEAVY — riffs. Really, you can't fail to enjoy a lyric like, "We danced around with Borealis."
"Black Hole Sun" — Soundgarden
The grunge-era icon doesn't include much space imagery beyond the "black hole sun." Who cares? It's Beatle-esque!
"We Care" — MGMT
Of more recent vintage, this tune by the currently hot band describes some kind of outer space experience: "When we see your blue planet we feel tingly inside."
"The Planets Bend Between Us" — Snow Patrol
The Irish indie rockers indulge in some lyrical hyperbole here with, "The planets bend between us / A hundred million suns and stars … "
"Galaxies" — Laura Veirs
The thoughtful, bespectacled Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter mentions galaxies as well as the phrase "no gravity" in this song, which appropriately comes from an album titled "Year of Meteors."
"Starlight" and "Supermassive Black Hole" — Muse
Both songs are from an album called "Black Holes and Revelations," so these guys dig space, obviously.
"Space Game" —MC Lars
Nerdcore artist MC Lars raps more about science fiction characters here than about actual space imagery, then wanders off into a discussion of post-modernism.
"Black Star" — Radiohead
It's no secret that the pre-eminent band of the current age enjoys science and science-fiction themes, having recorded an album titled "OK Computer" and songs like "Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky)" and "Subterranean Homesick Alien."
"Mambo Sun" —T.Rex
Glam rock! Where would this list be without some? Marc Bolan's glitter superiority extended to penning songs with space imagery, like this one.
"I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" — David Bowie
No, we haven't forgotten "Starman" and "Space Oddity." This more obscure late-career tune by the Man Who Fell to Earth remakes a Legendary Stardust Cowboy song.
"Tomorrow's Girls" —Donald Fagen
Fagen is better known for singing about bad sneakers or Josie (who prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire) in Steely Dan. However, his solo album, "Kamakiriad," offered a dystopian futurist vision in which "Tomorrow's Girls" invade "from Sheilus to the reefs of Kizmar / from Stargate and the Outer Worlds."
"Satellite of Love" — Lou Reed
Take a walk on the space side with this hauntingly beautiful song in which a "satellite's gone way up to Mars." Uh, what?
"Space Monkey" — Patti Smith
The godmother of punk incorporates a space monkey and a UFO into the lyrics of this song, which also features a large helping of her signature urban violence and societal disintegration.
"Deluxe Men in Space" — Man or Astro-Man?
We would be remiss in listing space-themed songs by not including this band, whose members claim to be extraterrestrials (see also Sun Ra), and whose music is heavily influenced by science fiction (and surf music).
"The Final Countdown" — Europe
All other songs on this list pale before the epic scope and majesty of this song which, after once hearing, cannot be unheard.
"Total Eclipse of the Heart" — Bonnie Tyler
Not really about eclipses.
Honorable mention: Instrumentals
- "Jupiter" — Gustav Holst (Movement of orchestral suite, "the Planets")
Really, Holst's entire suite based on the solar system is worth a listen, but "Jupiter" stands out because of its fun tuba runs and quick pace. Especially after the war-like booming from Holst's "Mars," which seems all charged up for planet domination.
- "The Blue Danube" — Johann Strauss II (but only for spaceship dockings)
This waltz was around long before the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" catapulted it into the science fiction lexicon, but it's stuck ever since. One interesting factoid, in the real-life year 2001, astronauts and cosmonauts — working together - began living long-term on the International Space Station, beginning more than a decade of continuous habitation by revolving crews. (See also "Also Sprach Zarathustra" — Richard Strauss, arranged and adapted by Eumir Deodato, and "2001" — Phish ("Also Sprach Zarathustra" based on the Deodato arrangement).)
- "Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula" — Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention
Zappa, the avant-rock composer, offered these conjoined pieces on his early album "Weasels Ripped My Flesh," and the origin of the title remains a complete and total mystery, as there are no lyrics. Later, the astronomical world immortalized the musical iconoclast by having an asteroid named for him: 3834 Zappafrank.
- "Telstar" — The Tornados
- "Space Invader" — The Pretenders
- "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)" — Flaming Lips
[This story was updated to correct the names of Johann Strauss II and Richard Strauss.--Ed.]
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