Top 10 Space Songs
Space songs blasted off in the 1960s, when psychedelic rockers used cosmic lyrics and the ethereal sounds of synthesizers, electronic organs and otherworldly sound effects to take us to the final frontier. Today’s classic rockers still let their mind wander across the galaxy, perhaps wondering when they’ll be able to buy that Jetsons flying car. Until then, check out our list of the Top 10 Space Songs.
When Sammy Hagar first heard guitarist Ronnie Montrose play in 1973, he was impressed. Told that Montrose was looking for a singer, Hagar says he went straight to Ronnie’s house: “I showed him the lyrics to ‘Space Station # 5’ and he started playing that riff. We wrote the song together that day.” That monster riff helped make ‘Space Station’ a concert staple of their new band, Montrose. The lyrics seem to foreshadow Ronnie’s death in 2012, a suicide after a battle with depression and prostate cancer: “Oh what a time we had / Living on the ground / I’ve moved to Station #5 / See you next time around.”
David Bowie said he wrote ‘Space Oddity’ after watching ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’: “I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.” The tale of Major Tom floating ‘round his tin can was Bowie’s first Top 20 hit in the US. “And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear” is a British expression; the news media wanted to know Major Tom’s favorite soccer team. The epic track certainly qualifies as one of the Top 10 Space Songs.
Covers of Dylan songs like ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ earned the Byrds their rep as a top folk-rock band, but ‘Mr. Spaceman’ gave a hint of what was to come. Roger McGuinn’s appeal to aliens to “please take me along for a ride” was the Byrds’ first country-rock tune, a style they’d fully adopt by 1968’s ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo.’ McGuinn hoped the song, beamed into the skies on AM radio waves, would attract ETs to Earth. Despite Marilyn Manson, it’s not clear if the strategy worked.
Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’ helped define heavy metal. Though ‘Smoke on the Water’ dominates the LP, ‘Space Truckin’’ has become a staple of the band’s live shows; driven by Ian Paice’s drumming, the tune can run 20 minutes. The space song has more galactic references than ‘The Big Bang Theory': “We’ve rocked the Milky Way so far / We danced around with Borealis / We’re space truckin’ ’round the stars.” Caution: William Shatner recorded a cringe-worthy cover of ‘Space Truckin’’ in 2011 that will haunt your dreams.
John Lennon explores the spiritual cosmos in ‘Across the Universe’; written in late 1967, the song reflects the Beatles’ interest in Transcendental Meditation. Its chorus is the mantra ‘Jai guru deva om,’ or “Glory to the shining remover of darkness” — which sounds like an ad for OxiClean. The inspiration for the song’s opening line, ‘Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,’ was hardly spiritual; it was his first wife’s nagging that gave John the idea: “I was a bit irritated and I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than, ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’”
Since 1965, Ray Davies of the Kinks has penned calypso-style tunes like ‘I’m on an Island,’ ‘Apeman’ and ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship,’ which invites the listener to escape the pressures of the modern world: “On my supersonic rocket ship / Nobody has to be hip / Nobody needs to be out of sight / Nobody’s gonna travel second class / There’ll be equality / And no suppression of minorities.” Despite its positive message and the growing popularity of reggae music in 1972, this cool space song couldn’t break into the Top 100 in the States — but it did land in our list of the Top 10 Space Songs.
Who knew Van Halen were tree huggers? In ‘Outta Space,’ David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen want to leave the planet’s environmental problems behind: “No dolphin needs to tell me / No starving kid to make the case / Need no polar bear to scare me / No Eskimo to share with me his fate / Whoa! We outta space.” Eddie reworked the 1977 VH demo ‘Let’s Get Rockin’’ into ‘Outta Space’ and sent it over to Dave, which Eddie says, “got him totally excited. He said, ‘Let’s get going!’” It ended hungry fans’ 28-year wait for Roth to reunite with the band.
Sting performed his best work on electric bass on ‘Walking on the Moon.’ The reggae-flavored tune came to him after a long night in Munich drinking schnapps: “I was drunk in a hotel room… when this riff came into my head. I got up and starting walking ‘round the room singing, ‘Walking ‘round the room, walking ‘round the room.’ But ‘Walking ‘Round the Room’ was a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid, which was ‘Walking on the Moon.’” Next time you’re stumbling around drunk, tell people you’re busy writing a song.
Lyricist Bernie Taupin credits sci-fi master Ray Bradbury’s short story ‘The Rocket Man’ as the chief inspiration for Elton’s celestial story of an astronaut lost in space. “It’s common knowledge that songwriters are great thieves and this is a perfect example,” Taupin admitted. Hardly an adventurer, Elton’s ‘Rocket Man’ is just as bored with his gig as the rest of us: “And all this science, I don’t understand / It’s just my job, five days a week / A rocket man.” Sure, but think of all the frequent flyer miles.
Steve Miller has assumed different roles in his career, including the Gangster of Love and Maurice, who speaks of the pompatus of love. Though most people know the Space Cowboy from a reference in the 1973 hit ‘The Joker,’ the character first took off for the cosmos in ‘Space Cowboy’ four years earlier. The song is so cool that it tops off our list of the Top 10 Space Songs. Miller said he quickly wrote the song while “goofing around” with keyboardist Ben Sidran.