Space Playlist for BABYmouth
Many great songwriters write best about what they know. Some, on the other hand, abandon the familiar and look to the stars for musical inspiration. The mystical chaos of the great beyond has influenced many a composition over the decades, from the classical suites of pre-WW1 to the Space Age of the sixties, and the cosmic alt-rock of more recent years. Encompassing jazz to electronic sounds, musicians have found a muse in the planets, aliens and stars of our universe. From obvious classics to lesser known gems about historical events, conspiracy theories and the outright fantastic, here is a mere handful of the galaxy’s best tracks inspired by things out of this world.
Hallo Spaceboy // David Bowie featuring Pet Shop Boys
No space-themed playlist would be complete without David Bowie, and lots of him. In fact, he almost warrants an entire space-themed playlist himself. His breakthrough hit ‘Space Oddity’, released at the height of the Space Race, created the enduring character of astronaut Major Tom, and he went on to pen galactic anthem ‘Life on Mars’ only a few years after. Bowie’s most iconic persona Ziggy Stardust sparked rumours that he was a Martian himself. Space travel had such a profound effect on the Starman’s discography that he released tracks ‘Loving the Alien’, ‘I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spacecraft’ and ‘Dancing Out in Space’ right up until just before his death, and even played The Man Who Fell to Earth. However, an often overlooked expression of Bowie’s love of all things extraterrestrial is 1996 track ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, a deliciously weird alt-dance-meets-industrial collaboration with Pet Shop Boys.
Satellite of Love // Lou Reed
Firmly making his mark on this compilation, this Bowie-produced number went on to become a staple for the ex-Velvet Underground frontman. It tells the tale of a man who watches a satellite launch on TV as he is consumed by the hurt and jealousy caused by his cheating girlfriend…
Spaceman // The Killers
Whilst the Babylon Zoo song of the same title may spring to mind first, this chronicle of alien abduction from the Las Vegas rockers details one man’s enlightenment from extraterrestrial knowledge and his struggle for the mass media to believe his claims. It’s also super danceable.
Venus // Shocking Blue
Most famously covered by Bananarama in the eighties, the banjo-driven original from Dutch band Shocking Blue evokes the Greek goddess Venus — the namesake of the planet of love — in her human form. A true forgotten gem.
E.T. // Katy Perry featuring Kanye West
In this poppy love song, romantic obsession takes the form of desire for alien abduction, cosmic kisses and love in different dimensions. Coupled with its futuristic video, elements of human emotion and the supernatural collide in this 2010 hit (and that’s only Kanye’s verse).
Supermassive Black Hole // Muse
This riff-heavy banger, like its namesake, packs the power of millions of suns (albeit into three and a half minutes). Having also penned the likes of ‘Starlight’ and ‘Neutron Star Collision’, the song reflects frontman Matt Bellamy’s fascination with outer space, so much so that he’s even stated that he’d love for Muse to perform there one day.
Fly Me to the Moon // Frank Sinatra
Although not written by Sinatra himself, his version of this jazz standard is the best loved. His rendition became the first music heard on the moon, played by Apollo 11 astronauts on a portable cassette player. As it turns out, spring on Jupiter is always stormy and on Mars, it lasts about seven months and involves the thawing of solid carbon dioxide at the seasonal polar caps. Not as poetic as the song would have us believe.
Intergalactic // Beastie Boys
“Intergalactic, planetary, planetary, intergalactic; another dimension, another dimension,” a robotic voice repeats over the track’s beat. ‘Intergalactic’ is the hip-hop trio’s biggest UK hit to date and pays homage to the strange creatures who may share our galaxy.
Neptune, the Mystic // Gustav Holst (Richard Hickox: London Symphony Orchestra)
As the seventh and final movement in British composer Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets, it differs slightly from those of the solar system’s other inhabitants (which are also definitely worth listening to). It is played on an organ with beautiful harp and string melodies, accompanied by a choir. Scored to reflect the mysterious and otherworldly quality of the planet Neptune, Holst paid great attention to the astrological qualities attached to this gas giant.
Space Age Love Song // A Flock of Seagulls
This synth-infused eighties classic got its name for no reason other than lead guitarist Paul Reynolds “thought it sounded like a space age love song”. I’ll not argue with that.
Out of Space // The Prodigy
The spliced electronic beats and reggae samples of this early Prodigy release promise to “take your brain to another dimension”. If the unearthly theme doesn’t, then the amount of drugs involved in the making of this track certainly will.
Clair de Lune // Debussy (The APM Orchestra)
Coming from the French word for ‘moonlight’, the most famous movement from Debussy’s 1905 Suite bergamasque is a stunning ode to our closest celestial body. This hypnotic piano piece calls to mind the beauty and serenity of the lunar landscape and has featured in films as diverse as Oceans Eleven and Twilight.
Girl from Mars // Ash
Unruly Northern Irish pop punk tune about a long lost love from the Red Planet, which has also been used as the hold music on NASA’s phone lines. Need I say anymore?
Rocket Man // Elton John
Another classic ballad, this time inspired by songwriter Taupin’s sighting of either a shooting star or a far-away aeroplane. It details the mixed emotions of a Mars-bound astronaut leaving his family on Earth to do his work in outer space, with obvious echoes of Bowie’s Major Tom.
Supernova // Mr. Hudson featuring Kanye West
Kanye’s second appearance on this playlist is with English artist Mr. Hudson on this high-charting electro-pop number from 2009. Named after an exploding star, ‘Supernova’ is all about taking off from “a world where we don’t belong”.
Walking on the Moon // The Police
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” proclaimed Neil Armstrong in 1969. “Giant steps are what you take / Walking on the moon,” sang Sting ten years later in this summery love song about “being relieved of gravity”.
Black Hole Sun // Soundgarden
Subverting the happiness traditionally associated with the sun and replacing it with a dense black hole at the centre of our solar system, Soundgarden’s best known track is synonymous with the grunge genre and creates an eerily surreal dreamscape.
Satellite // Lena Meyer-Landrut
German songstress Lena won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010 with this track, a tale of lovesickness compared to an orbiting satellite falling out into the night. Sure, we’ve all been there.
Astronomic Club // Air
Released in 2012 as a part of the soundtrack to 1902 silent film Le voyage dans la lune by Georges Méliès, French electronic duo Air created this galactic epic to soundtrack a trip to the moon in one of cinema’s first sci-fi movies. ‘Astronomic Club’ is an eccentric combination of instruments and sounds over an atmospheric beat.
Spacer // Sheila and B. Devotion
This Chic-produced disco jam laments a star-chasing ladies’ man whose love lasts beyond space and time as protector of the galaxy. With over six minutes of funky grooves, this French-African-American group have firmly earned their place on this playlist.
Black Star // Radiohead
Some of us like to blame astrological mayhem for the things that go wrong in our lives, but we could just make like these seminal nineties alt-rockers and blame it on “the black star… the falling sky… the satellite that beams me home.”
The Planets Bend Between Us // Snow Patrol
Although not much of a commercial success, this heartfelt song from Snow Patrol is pure poetry and examines human longing through the lens of “a hundred million suns and stars”. Taken from the same album, the space-themed ‘If There’s a Rocket Tie Me to It’ is also worth checking out.
Sleeping Satellite // Tasmin Archer
With one of the most underrated melodies in the history of pop music, Tasmin Archer sets to music “man’s greatest adventure”, visiting the Earth’s moon in the Apollo missions. Simply gorgeous.
Subway to Venus // Red Hot Chili Peppers
Let the early Chili Peppers take you a cosmic ride with this riotously tongue-in-cheek rap rock number, complete with heavy funk influences and great trumpet. Space is king, or so they sing.
Alien // Japan
Despite their very un-Google-friendly name, Japan remain one of the most criminally underappreciated bands of the post-punk era. Marrying distorted basslines and synths with David Sylvian’s distinctive vocals, this track is what I imagine extraterrestrials would dance to if they had discos.
Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me) // Train
This track really doesn’t need much of an introduction. As an ode to his late mother, Train frontman Patrick Monahan claims the song came to him in a dream as he felt his mother back in the atmosphere, swimming through the planets, dancing along the light of day, falling from a shooting star, tracing through the constellations and exploring the Milky Way. As moving as it is anthemic.
Moondance // Van Morrison
A real old-school bluesy number, Van Morrison serenades the listener with metaphors about “the stars up above in your eyes”. He croons about a marvellous night for romance and dancing in the moonlight, a phenomenon which has inspired everyone from Thin Lizzy to Toploader.
Contact // Daft Punk
An indescribable closer to the duo’s Random Access Memories. The track samples actual NASA recordings from astronauts over layers of orchestral riffs and synths. The minutes of distortion at the end were said to have blown the speakers in the studio when it was recorded. This climactic track feels like a literal blast off and is amazingly futuristic, if slightly foreboding.
Honorary mentions: Marquee Moon // Television, Pink Moon // Nick Drake, I Believe in Travellin’ Light // Belle & Sebastian, Planet Earth // Duran Duran, Another Girl, Another Planet // The Only Ones, Starships // Nicki Minaj, Cosmic Girl and Space Cowboy // Jamiroquai, Across the Universe // The Beatles, Aliens Exist // blink-182, The Whole of the Moon // The Waterboys, Pluto // Björk, Telstar // The Tornados, The Dark Side of the Moon // Pink Floyd, Don’t Stop Me Now // Queen, On Mercury // Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Final Countdown // Europe, Saturn 5 // Inspiral Carpets.
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