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Mission control, play me a song!

While the pursuit of space is filled with stories of historic achievement, the lyrical bond of man and music makes for equally interesting anecdotes.

Long before man undertook crewed missions into space, walked on the moon and landed a rover on Mars, space filled us with awe and intrigue. The universe’s unexplored vastness and its infinite mysteries have inspired generations of songwriters and performers to create music dedicated to space, the moon, extraterrestrial life and even NASA. As for the men who went into space, music played the role of fellow traveller, partner and witness to their every venture beyond Earth’s reach.

Space tunes for eternity

Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie

The album is about Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a fictional alien rockstar who comes to Earth when it’s doomed to destruction in five years. Speaking to an interviewer, Bowie said “it’s just a few little scenes from the life of a band called Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, who could feasibly be the last band on Earth.” Rolling Stone ranked the album 35th on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The iconic Starman is the song that introduces Ziggy to the world.

Walking On the Moon – The Police

“Walking on the moon/ We could walk forever/ Walking on the moon/ We could live together.” Was this track’s writer and singer Sting comparing how being in love is like walking on the moon, or was he being prophetic about colonising the moon some day? Whichever way you see it, The Police’s second No. 1 single is one of the most recalled songs about the moon. It’s fitting that the music video was filmed at the Kennedy Space Center.

2,000 Light Years from Home – The Rolling Stones

It’s said Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics while in prison on drug charges. The single is part of the psychedelic album, Their Satanic Majesties Request. Space exploration was trending when the album released in 1967, and likely served to influence the music. Echoing a lonely and isolating space journey, the song was chosen for the soundtrack of Men In Black 3, and is widely regarded as one of the top science-fiction and space-themed songs. The Rolling Stones released a trippy animated lyric video to celebrate 50 years of this memorable track in 2017.

Spaceman – Harry Nilsson

Spaceman is about an astronaut who longs to come home. The profound lyrics – I wanted to be a spaceman/ That’s what I wanted to be/ But now that I am a spaceman/ Nobody cares about me – create a quintessential ode to an astronaut’s life. Spaceman featured in the recent Netflix comedy series, Space Force.

From the astronaut playlists

Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra

It’s nearly 50 years since man first landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, marking our first significant conquest of space. As Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the surface of the Moon, mankind’s “giant leap” was celebrated with a legendary track by an equally legendary crooner – Frank Sinatra’s 1964 version of Fly Me to the Moon. Aldrin played the song from his NASA issued cassette, etching it forever into the history of moon missions.

And what music did the first man on the moon take with him? Reportedly, Neil Armstrong’s choice was the classic if unusual album, Music Out of the Moon: Music Unusual Featuring the Theremin. Released by Capitol Records in April 1947, the music was an intriguing mix of late 1940’s lounge jazz and orchestral film music featuring Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman’s playing of the theremin, an electronic musical instrument. Listen in to these truly otherworldly sounds.

Delicate Sound of Thunder – Pink Floyd

Here’s some more musical history. Did you know that Delicate Sound of Thunder became the first album to be played in space? Soviet cosmonauts played it aboard Soyuz TM-7, the seventh crewed spacecraft to dock with the Soviet Space Station, Mir. Band members David Gilmour and Nick Mason attended the mission’s launch and made an audio recording of the event, which Gilmour claimed was the first rock music recording in space. The 1998 release has one more first to its credit: it was the first Pink Floyd album to be recorded entirely live.

Rocket Man – Elton John

NASA’s tradition of giving its astronauts a musical wake-up call featured a long list of space-themed songs, and this Elton John hit was a perennial favourite. Where else would you find a music legend lamenting that Mars is not the place to raise kids. Released as a single in 1972, Rocket Man was inspired by a science fiction story, and in turn featured in and inspired the title of a biopic, Rocketman, that recounted the legendary songster’s rise to stardom.

Space Oddity – David Bowie

From being an astronaut-playlist favourite to climbing atop the NASA Moon Tunes official playlist, Space Oddity is a milestone in the history of music devoted to space. First released as a single in 1972, the song featured in Bowie’s eponymously titled album, David Bowie. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Space Oddity is about the launch into space of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut who would be referenced in later David Bowie songs about space.

Run the World (Girls) – Beyonce

Rounding off the list is a song by a pop icon who sits above the generations of black women who graced Western Music before her arrival. Three years after her last album in 2008, Beyonce dropped the smash hit, Run the World (Girls), in a stirring comeback. Carrying a no holds barred message on female empowerment, Run the World (Girls) was the official wake-up song and greeting for the STS-135 crew on day nine of their mission. In an archival article about the mission, which was NASA’s last in the American Space Shuttle program, the agency notes the song was played as a tribute to the final shuttle mission and also to women in space.

Our Space Week theme has more to offer. Try your hand at playing astronaut or decoding mysteries of the universe.

If you’re a music buff with creative imagination, take our Album cover challenge with space music inspirations from this article, or see how people re-created album covers, or do it the TikTok way. While you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the fabulous prizes.

Deetox.com is going to space

Space is the flavour of the week on Deetox.com. From June 8 to June 14, we’ll take you on a virtual voyage into deep space with stories, mysteries, do-at-home projects and fun stuff about humankind’s flight to distant skies.

By Romeo Coutinho

Rationalist, truth seeker, full time writer, part time dreamer.

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