Spaced

Hot PantsIt’s interesting to think about how certain types of songs cluster chronologically. For example, virtually every song ever recorded about hot pants came out in 1971 (with one notable exception: “Hot Pants Explosion” by the B-52’s…but then, they’re all about throwbacks).

There was a whole slew of songs about adultery right after that, peaking with “Me and Mrs. Jones” at the end of 1972. Are hot pants to blame? I don’t know. Maybe. I think I’ll do a separate blog post just about that era.

Talking about “Rocket Man” last week got me thinking how the big burst of space-related songs came not in 1969, when you might expect, what with the world glued to their TV sets for the Apollo 11 moon landing, but a few years later, around the time of the last manned moon launch in 1972.

Apollo 11 launchConsider the wealth of hit records bracketed by Billy Preston’s two biggest instrumentals, “Outa-Space” (released April 1972, one of my first 45s and still a favorite) and “Space Race” (late 1973):

  • “Star Man” by David Bowie, from the Ziggy Stardust album
  • “Space Truckin'” from Deep Purple’s Machine Head
  • Elton John’s “Rocket Man” from Honky Château
  • “Spaceman” by Nilsson
  • “Space Oddity,” David Bowie’s first big hit in the US (originally released in 1969 to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing, but didn’t make a splash on this side of the pond until re-released in January 1973)
  • “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” a jazzed-up remake of the 2001 movie theme by Deodato
  • Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

There are probably others — let me know what you come up with. What’s interesting is that most of these have a kind of alienated feeling, as though everyone was so over space travel by then. (In 1969, space travel was hot stuff and Major Tom was pissing on everyone’s party; he was right at home a few years later.) Several of them are sung from the point of view of the “space man,” who pretty much no one thought of as a real astronaut so much a spaced out drug addict. I know I’m not breaking any new ground with that revelation. I hope.

45 sleeve for Calling OccupantsSure, space-related songs came out before and after that period. The incredible, bizarre “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by the Carpenters is one of my favorites. Justin Bond does a wonderful cover of it. The song was originally by Klaatu, a Canadian group rumored by stupid people to be the Beatles in disguise. And, of course, the B-52s could fill an album with their retro space hits.

But there has been no equivalent concentrated group of musical gems in the Space Shuttle era. Maybe now that it’s ending, it’ll inspire some alienated spaceman hits…but I kind of doubt it.

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11 thoughts on “Spaced

  1. Thought of another one this morning: “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed. From the album Transformer, it was released as a single around the same time as the re-release of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie…who, as you may know, sings back-up on the Lou Reed song. Like Bowie’s song, this one was also written some years earlier, in the Velvet Underground days (according to Wikipedia), but didn’t really see the light of day until Transformer came out in 1972.

    • Right you are! And, interesting that Steve’s space cowboy made a reappearance in the opening line of “The Joker,” released when? Late 1973.

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