“He taught me to play a song. If you’d like to hear it, I will play it for you.”
Too much information about to unfold. That little excerpt of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey was on the turntable when I lurched at my wife-to-be for the first time, having plied her liberally with premium malt whisky left over from some focus groups I’d been conducting. It was sampled by A R Kane on A Love From Outer Space, (it will feature on a future podcast episode, whose theme is also science fiction). She’s still my wife now, many many years later, from which we can conclude it was a lurch that yielded an excellent return on investment.
Up until the psychedelic era science fiction was treated almost entirely as a joke. The Ran-dells, for example, had a hit with The Martian Hop in 1963, a one-off novelty record, if ever there was one. Since then comedy is a theme that’s never entirely gone away. In the late ‘80s, The Firm had a number one with Star Trekkin’, while The Timelords found success with Doctorin’ the Tardis. Spizz Energi’s Where’s Captain Kirk? and Area 52 by Yeah Yeah Yeahs provide our own quota of knockabout interplanetary japes.
In the psychedelic era, space became a Serious Subject for the first time, especially when handled by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd: Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun - all the way through to The Dark Side of the Moon itself. Then there was Bowie, of course. The seminal space songs are his: Ziggy Stardust, Starman, Space Oddity. It helps that he looked like an alien, I suppose, a coincidence he put to excellent effect in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
When I initially thought about this theme I worried that it might prove limiting, but such is not the case. There are genuinely moving tracks here - especially Teenage Spaceship by Smog, Sufjan Stevens’ Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, and Modest Mouse’s Space Travel is Boring in the Sun Kil Moon version. Meanwhile you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for the Roswell alien who ended up in army crates and photographs in files, when all he wanted was a holiday on some friendly star in Pixies’ Motorway to Roswell.
Space travel, UFOs, aliens can all lead to epic artistic statements in the hands of great film directors. There is some wonderful science fiction in literature - I well remember the effect John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids had on me as an eleven year old, though I never penetrated much further into the genre. I’m quietly impressed by my own efforts with this podcast (which is just as well) that could have been either throwaway or portentous, but I hope has managed to be neither. Please enjoy the result.
Motorway to Roswell, Pixies
Area 51, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Where’s Captain Kirk?, Spizz Energi
3rd Planet, Modest Mouse
Every Planet We Reach Is Dead, Gorillaz
Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft, The Carpenters
Concerning the UFO Incident Near Highland, Sufjan Stevens
Space Travel Is Boring, Sun Kil Moon
Teenage Spaceship, Smog
Girl from Mars, Ash
Wings, The Fall
Dr Who Theme, Ron Granger
Ashes to Ashes, David Bowie