Farewell, Space Shuttle Program: Five Classic Space Travel Songs
The Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off today in the final mission of NASA's shuttle program. The mission: run supplies to the International Space Station, and bring home as much trash as can fit in the shuttle. Exciting stuff.
To lively up this otherwise dull swan song, here are five tracks to bid farewell to the 30-year space shuttle era, and usher in the new modern age of space travel--the tax-cut/mothball era.
Elton John--"Rocket Man"
Coming out in 1972 at the end of the Apollo program, back when folks still cared about space travel, "Rocket Man" was produced by Space Oddity producer Gus Dudgeon, and people accused Elton John of ripping off Bowie with this song. Nonetheless, it's become timeless in it's own rite, covered by the likes of Kate Bush and, best of all, William Shatner.
Jimi Hendrix--"Third Stone from the Sun"
Starting with a tape-slowed conversation between Jimi (scoutship captain) and producer Chas Chandler (starfleet commander) about stumbling upon Earth, this mostly-instrumental jam on Hendrix' 1966 debut Are You Experienced shows Jimi's interest in the planet from an alien's point of view, which he'd revisit on the first track of his follow-up album Axis: Bold as Love, "Up From the Skies."
The best part of Yes' epic space-rock anthem is the outro, called Würm, a sonic ascent that climaxes like a spacecraft breaking gravitational pull and entering orbit. As with most Yes songs, which employ lead singer Jon Anderson's trademark stream-of-conscious lyrical style, interpretation is up for grabs. Good luck with that.
Spiritualized--"Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space"
Essentially, this is Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling in Love" smashed into Pachebel's Canon chord changes, all lush, layered and tricked-out by Spacemen 3 rocker Jason Pierce. The title is a play on a quote from Sophie's World, something along the lines of how philosophers with their ethos and ideals are floating in space, while the rest of the grounded world doesn't care. Sonically, it's a straight-up spacewalk.
Pink Floyd--"Astronomy Domine"
This song introduced to the world to Pink Floyd, song one, side one of their 1967 debut Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Syd Barrett's use of the Binson echo machine, his incantatory lyrics about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and guitar teases hinting at Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" sets the tone for the space-rock pioneering that characterizes early Pink Floyd.