Welcome to the Interstellar Jukebox, a new feature here at Sci-Fi Songs where I ask a bunch of great writers, bloggers, musicians, and podcasters to weigh in on some Sci-Fi related music topic. First Question:
That's what I wanted to be
But now that I am a spaceman
Nobody cares about me...
One of the great pleasures of being a dedicated fan of cover songs is that the constant pursuit of coverage leads me to originals unheard, and from there, to canons undreamed of.
Take Harry Nilsson's "Spaceman", a song even older than I, from an artist discovered - like so many other great musical prophets of frail and stupid humanity - via a posthumous tribute album, a now out-of-print disc entitled For The Love Of Harry, which I originally purchased for Aimee Mann's cover of "One", and Marc Cohn's cover of "Turn on Your Radio", back when the two pianofolk popstars were top of my personal charts, and I was 22, and still aiming for completism with all the confidence of youth.
Like many Nilsson songs, Spaceman is a candy-coated cherry bomb. The song kicks in playful from the "bang bang shoot-em-up" get go; the first few times you listen, it stays flippant and smooth, a mystical ride to the stars throughout. But dive in past the swinging chorus, and there's a subtly-treated sentiment here, a secret sentimentality for Earth, community, and culture over space itself - and after all, isn't it in the name of Earth as much as ego, exploration and glory that we aim for the stars in the first place? - coupled with that conviction, once they've helped push you past the boundaries of the gravity well, the world will play true to form, proving themselves more interested in watching your flights and follies than in ever helping you come back down again.
Ah, hubris. It's how I feel about space travel, myself, deep in my secret unsure heart: eager to go, thrilled of the ride, and yet secretly sure that, once aloft, I'd be easily forgotten, and terribly lonely. And even as they trade the majestic orchestral bombast of the original seventies production for a drum-driven janglepop thrillride, the weird, otherworldly sister harmonies of folk trio The Roches, in combination with the earnest lead vocals of an otherwise-unknown Mark Johnson, make an especially apt vehicle for this duality, creating something silly and gleeful and beautiful from start to finish, yet softly spooked, too, a marvelous poprocket ride to the stars replete with all the hidden emotions we feel when we look up, and shudder, trying to picture our real selves stuck out there alone among the stars.
Z. maintains a nerd music and culture blog (and related podcast) at hipsterplease.com. He's also a regular contributor to the GeekDad blog at wired.com and bides his time between the two swearing delightfully at twtter.com/hipsterplease.
As someone's who's devoted the past few years of his life to chronicling nerdy music and musicians, the term "space" appears quite regularly in my personal playlists. From the danceable, industrial grind of Dr. Steel's "Spaceboy" to the drug metal of Monster Magnet's "Spacelord," the rapid-fire sci-fi name-dropping of MC Lars's "Space Game" to the alluring indie pop of Those Dancing Days' "spaceherosuits," my collection is… well, *spacey*.
Still, of all the space jams at my disposal, the one that always keeps me coming back is "Space Party Anthem" by New York chiptune duo Starscream (http://www.myspace.com/starscreamnewyork). A true standout track from their phenomenal 8bitpeople's EP Future, And it Doesn't Work (http://www.8bitpeoples.com/discography/by/starscream), it's a stirring electronic instrumental that builds slowly, triumphantly across the breadth of a blissful 3 minutes.
Powered by little more than Nintendo Game Boys, Commodore 64s and the band's own urgent brand of retro-futuristic genius, Starscream has made an indelible mark on the chip music scene in the scant two and a half years since their formation. Within a genre that is often denigrated as being simplistic, sterile and atonal by outsiders, Starscream crafts exactly the kind of engaging, emotionally resonant tunes that stop such criticism dead.
"Space Party Anthem" is a fine introduction to chiptunes, and, as Future, And it Doesn't Work is a freely downloadable release, it's exactly the kind of track that should work its way into your own collection.
Neil Austin is One Inch Man, a maker of indie, psychedelic, electronical space music. He also likes to take photographs of stuff with a camera.
The first thing that struck me when I searched my collection for "space" was the number of 'spacey' songs I had to choose from. Well over a hundred different titles, all jostling for my attention, including two of my own songs (14 if you count album titles!).
It's not surprising really, I willingly describe my music as spacey or space music or even lo-fi, sci-fi, thrash-hop, doo-wop, metal pop, psychedelic space rock. But seeing the sheer volume of artists in my collection mining a similar spacey theme really brought home to me how big of an influence the concept of space, in both science fiction and science fact, really is for me.
It also made it difficult to chose a song!
Should a choose Souvlaki Space Station by Slowdive and talk about the influence of shoegaze on my work or maybe The Dentures In Space by The Treblemakers and expound upon my unending love for the surf guitar? Kyuss' Space Cadet (or maybe Spaceship Landing) would be an obvious choice, as I record under a name culled from their back catalogue, or I could just pick Space Oddity and gush wildy like the shameless Bowie fanboy that I am.
In the end, I picked Space Maker by Air
In fact I was surprised to find it was the only Air song in my collection to feature the word space in the title. They seem to me to be a very spacey band and, as such, are obviously a huge influence. I can only hope that living in France will mean some of their Gallic cool will rub off on me at some point. It hasn't yet!
I love everything about this band. The sublime mixture of old and new. Analogue, electric and digital combining effortlessly to create a whole far greater than the some of it's delicious parts. The retro-futuristic atmosphere that they create, a vision of the future as seen from the past, or maybe a look back at the past from the future, is exactly the thing I want to conjure in the minds of people who hear my music.
So Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoīt Dunckel I salute you. Perhaps my favourite French Space Cadets.
Stace Johnson is a Colorado writer, musician, and computer geek who enjoys putting all three of those things together. His writing has appeared in ComputorEdge, Rocky Mountain TechLine, GearLive.com, and he can be seen playing coffeehouses and the occasional summer festival gig with his band, Steel River Three. Find out more on the following websites: http://www.lytspeed.com/ http://www.sr3band.com/ http://www.facebook.com/Lytspeed/ http://www.twitter.com/Lytspeed/)
I have to confess that upon reading this prompt the first "space" song that popped into my head was David Bowie's "Space Oddity", but since Bowie was never much of an influence for me, I'll leave that one for others to cover. The search of my non-iPod music library yielded a few results ranging from Pink Floyd ("Empty Spaces") to Kraftwerk ("Spacelab"), but the one title that jumped out at me and made me bust out Winamp was "Space Between Your Ears" by Ozric Tentacles, from 1991's Strangitude album.
Truth be told, the Ozrics have never been a big influence on my musical style, but I find the general combination of Pink Floyd/Tangerine Dream/Rush/Police-esque grooves on their albums from the early 90s to be irresistable. I had barely heard of them when my friend Thom at the famous Zia Records in Phoenix invited me to see them live in 1993 or 1994. (What the hell? A free show, right?) They played at a fairly small club with low ceilings called The Nile, and after that night, I was hooked. Their combination of energy, tight musicianship, and a killer light show me a believer. After the show, I approached the low stage and talked with bandleader Ed Wynne (who called himself "Ed Ozric"). He was personable and polite, and answered all the vacuous questions I asked about his gear, his influences, and the band in general. Unfortunately, his answers went in one ear and out the other, because I was still under the influence of the buzz generated by the music.
The band is still recording, though they have undergone a number of personnel and stylistic changes. These days, their music tends more to electronica, dub, and trance, but for my money, little can touch the music they produced in the early 90s.
John Teehan is a writer, artist, book designer, and some-time musician from Rhode Island. He’s published short stories, poems and nonfiction in various markets and is a regular contributor at Forces of Geek and is the co-publisher of TumbleTap
I was a little surprised not to find more songs with the word “space” in the title in my iTunes library. Are even that many songs with that word in the title? It’s not the most lyrical of words. Plenty of songs here with “star” and some with “universe.” But aside from a Velvet Crush song called “Mr. Spaceman,” I don’t have anything else in the list. (And the Velvet Crush song is okay, but not a fave. I have it more out of a sense of loyalty to the band than for that particular song.)
Then I checked my extensive listing of anime soundtracks compiled years ago. We have a few more songs there so long as you include the Japanese word for space: Uchuu. “Space Is Super Weird!” (a fun song), “Her Space Holiday,” “Beat Space Nine,” “Space Halo” (a sad song), and then there is my favorite: ”Uchuu Senkan Yamato” aka “Space Battleship Yamato,” better known to Western audiences as the original Japanese theme song to the animated show Starblazers.
When I was a kid, I made sure my day started with the daily adventures of the Argo as its brave crew crossed a hostile galaxy in order to save Earth from deadly alien spores while avoiding the evil, Nazi-like Gamilons, or defend the planet from despotic comet emperors. It was high adventure made for a kid with lots of action and that thrilling sensawunda that fed the science fiction fan in that young soul. Oh yeah, and there were space princesses. You know...like regular princesses, but in space. Gotta love that. Each morning I journeyed with Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar, Nova, Sandor, and the rest—but before we set off, there was always that stirring introduction of horns followed by a crash of more horns, both low and high that could mean nothing but action ahead, and maybe some heartbreak along the way.
Duh, duh, duh (duh-duh-duh!), Dunh, dunh, dunh, DUNH! (duh-duh-duh!)—et cetera
But there were only two American seasons broadcast during the late 70s and early 80s. And it wasn’t something that ever hit video until many years later—and even then it was a hard find and much too expensive for a poor (by then) college kid.
A friend of mine owned a comic book store and was the first person in Providence to have regular selections of anime videos for rent. No, he didn’t have Starblazers, but he had a lot of other fun selections including one that’s still a favorite of mine today—Urusei Yatsura (which featured the song “Space Is Super Weird!” (Uchuu wa Taihen Da!) and which I can still sing a decent portion of today—yeesh). But in addition to rentable tapes, my friend also had a back room stacked with bootlegs—fansubs—tapes with captioned translations did by fans (remember, this was before the WWW and before the big anime boom ten years later. Fansubbing was the Wild West of anime fandom in the late 80s and early 90s).
In this back room was a series I was familiar with by name—Space Battleship Yamato which I knew to be the original Japanese version of Starblazers. I borrowed it, took it home, popped it in the VCR and I swear before the ghost of Teresa of Telezart that tears came to my eyes as I heard those awe-inspiring opening horns. Even the Japanese lyrics were familiar enough as they weren’t far from the English in translation: Sarabaaaa, chikyuu yo tabidatsu fune waaaaaa uchuu senkan YA-MA-TO!
I was a little amused by some of the differences between the Japanese Space Battleship Yamato and the American Starblazers. For one, that jar of milk the doctor was always carrying in the American version was actually sake in the Japanese version—they just removed the symbols for “sake”. There was a little female nudity (what’s called ‘fan service’) in the Japanese version that was cut, and character deaths were much more obvious. In the American versions, fatalities were rare. If someone’s space fighter exploded, there would be a report on the bridge about escape pods and such. Not so with the Japanese version. Boom! Dead pilot. Also, I figure the American producers decided 1979 was too soon to broadcast a heroic kid’s show that featured the resurrection of the Japanese World War II battleship Yamato as one of the heroes of the story. Hence the re-naming of the ship and crew to do homage to the story of Jason and the Argonauts instead.
But this is about the song. Best opening theme ever. Best opening notes ever. When I’m dead and they’re lowering me into the cold, cold ground—I want this played.
Church Hates Tucker
Church is an intermittent videographer, an occasional author, but mostly just one of those guys who seems to pop up everywhere on the 'net. Follow Church on Twitter.
Wow. I get a lot of hits for "space", and most of them I'm not sure why, but whatever, this gem came up:
An almost oneshot Wizard Wrock band (which seems to be a girl with a guitar. And some "clever on the cheap" post production.) The quality is "bedroom plus" but she manages to nail that thing that must have been Tonks' attitude to Harry. It's kinda punk, kinda Joan Armitrading, All awesome. (Also, subtle earworm, so fair warning.)
Mike Ferrante is a reference librarian/webmaster/system administrator at Franklin Township Public Library in Somerset, NJ. You can find his book reviews and musings on fiction, video games, and music at kingofthenerds.wordpress.com
I actually don't have many space songs so, given my limited selection, I'm going to have to go with Darkest of Hillside Thickets' upbeat pop/rock number about cosmic horror from beyond the stars: Space Ghosts off their album Great Old Ones. They are bar none the best Lovecraft-themed rock band in existence.