6 Albums Inspired By Outer Space
Last month, China conducted its first space walk. This week, India launched its first spaceship to the moon. Space seems to be the place for nations to advance science and nationalism, but it's a place for music too.
Outer space muses struck terrestrial musicians long before any rockets left the earth. In addition to creating intergalactic song lyrics and spacey sound effects, a few artists pay tribute to space travelers and share their own extraterrestrial adventures through music. They may not all make it to stardom on this planet, but they share songs, instruments and tales of space with listeners.
Space Travel Tributes
Vostok 6 by Kurt Swinghammer
Singer-songwriter Kurt Swinghammer was only six years old when Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in outer space, but the voyage would later inspire him to create an album about her. He released a tribute album in 1999 and named it after her 1963 space mission. Vostok 6 traces Valentina Tereshkova's journey and includes a love song about her courtship with fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev. Swinghammer used dozens of instruments and effects, including guitars, an electric sitar and a mini-moog. Ballet dancer Peggy Baker choreographed a solo performance called Rocket Girl to music from the album.
Sounds of the Satellites by Laika
In 1957, Russian scientists trained Laika, a stray dog from Moscow, to become the first living creature to reach space on Sputnik 2. Hers was a one-way trip to space. Russia's progress and Laika's fate fueled propaganda on both sides of the Cold War.
In 1993, an American band named after the pooch (whose name means "barker" in Russian) released the album "Sounds of the Satellites."
Band members chose the name because, "it made a good band name firstly because we liked the sound of the word and we liked the association with being 'out there' in terms of experimentation while at the same time being a warm furry organic thing."
With members formerly of the Moonshake, the band created albums evoking space.
Laika has inspired other musical tributes as well, such as Finland's Laika and the Cosmonauts. Also, Arcade Fire references the dog in the song "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)."
Meta Space Tribute
"Bowie in Space" by Flight of the Conchords
David Bowie may not have actually been to space, but to the New Zealand duo Flight of the Conchords, he may as well have. They sang a tribute to Bowie's many albums full space travels.
Bowie sang the story of Major Tom in space for his 1969 album. In addition to journeying to space, the album also bridged Bowie's singer-songwriter material to glam rock. In 1972, Bowie returned to space and traveled much farther for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Into Outerspace with Lucia Pamela in the Year 2000
Pamela was once featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not for memorizing 10,000 songs, but this is her only album released.
The 1969 album tells the story of her space adventures with lunar roosters, Eskimos and an outerspace wedding. She ran into some nuts on the moon too, specifically Mon'seur Walnut and his cashew and pistachio friends.
Neil Armstrong took a few steps on the moon's surface in 1969. Meanwhile, Pamela recorded an album up there. She said the acoustics were poor up there, but nobody had to pay taxes. She also issued a coloring book to go along with the album.
Her time and space travel adventures may have inspired Conan O'Brien's "In the Year 2000" sketches.
In honor of Lucia Pamela's coloring book contest, British band Stereolab wrote the song "International Colouring Contest" for their own space-travel album Mars Audiac Quintet.
I Hear a New World: An Outer Space Musical Fantasy by Joe Meek
In the 1950s and early '60s, the talented British record producer Joe Meek was in high demand at music studios. Wanting to be more experimental, he broke away from the labels to create his own sound. He collaborated with a number of innovative artists as an independent producer. (He is rumored to have worked with fellow space aficionado David Bowie).
In 1960, he recorded I Hear a New World with the "Blue Men," a Hawaiian guitar, and a host of synthesizers and other instruments. He called it an attempt to "create a picture in music of what could be up there in space."
This may or may not have been the first concept album ever recorded, but he was definitely ahead in the space race. However, with only 99 copies of the album produced, few people would have heard it.
In addition to outer space, he took an interest in the occult. Seven years after his album release, he shot his landlady and then himself. A documentary about his life began showing in film festivals this year.
Space is the Place by Sun Ra
While Lucia Pamela and Joe Meeks visited outer space, Sun Ra came from there. Experimental musician Sun Ra took on the name of the Egyptian Sun god and named his record label El Saturn. He was born in 1914 in the segregated south of Birmingham, Alabama, but he said he came from Saturn.
Known for elaborate costumes, unique instruments and parades during shows, Sun Ra and his Arkestra performed live for decades.
Sun Ra released dozens of cosmic travel albums. In 1974, he and the Arkestra also released a movie version of Space is the Place in which Sun Ra explored race issues on earth and the transcendent power of music. In the movie, as the Ambassador from the Intergalactic Regions of the Council for Outer Space, Sun Ra advocated for empowerment through peace and self-determination for blacks.
"I paint pictures of infinity with my music and that's why a lot of people can't understand it," he once said. Sun Ra left the planet in 1993, but the Arkestra continues to tour. For more on Sun Ra, check out John Szwed's biography of his life and music.