Outer space … other planets … dying stars … these are the musical metaphors of many bands who use said metaphors to either describe something internal (see Muse, Bjork, and Soundgarden), or something external (see Rush). Sometimes using space in songs is, quite frankly, rather dorky, but I enjoy a lot of dorky things like space metaphors in songs, so you can see why I’m pushing this mix on you.
I guess it all started when I was a little kid watching the Apollo missions on TV. Seeing space travel become more commonplace, I really thought we were on course for flying cars by the year 2000, food replicators like on Star Trek that would do away with the need to cook your own food, and vacations in space like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, here we are in 2010, and there are no flying cars, we kind of have food replicators (it’s called microwavable food), and about the only vacation in space you can take is Star Tours at Disneyland — which only lasts about 3 minutes. But hey, we have the Internet where you can do wonderful things like become Facebook fans of deli meats and dipping your fingers in candle wax. We really have come a long way, huh. Okay, I was being sarcastic, but I’m not sarcastic about this week’s mix! So let’s light this candle and see what’s out there in the musical realm of space.
“Supermassive Black Hole,” Muse (Download)
The song featured during the vampire baseball sequence in Twilight. Doesn’t anyone know that the group was into science fiction when they recorded this album back in 2006? Vampires aren’t SciFi, but I’m sure Muse had no difficulty in accepting the money and exposure that came with being on the Twilight soundtrack. But hey, even without the help of Stephanie Meyer’s goth guys with fangs series, “Supermassive Black Hole” is still a solid song.
“Major Tom (Coming Home),” Peter Schilling (Download)
4, 3, 2, 1 … this was a pretty respectable hit for Schilling (thanks in large part to MTV in the U.S.), but the odd thing is that you really can’t find this version as a legal digital download. Sure the German version (which was the original) is readily available at places like LaLa and iTunes, and then there’s a club mix with Bomm Bastic that came out in 1994, but why isn’t this version available for 99 cents? It’s one of those oddities that baffles me (Do you see what I did there? I weaved in “oddities” in hopes you would see the David Bowie reference. Oh man, I’m on fire today). But hey, even though this song tells the Major Tom story in “Space Oddity” from another angle, I suppose Schilling never heard “Ashes to Ashes” and learned what really happened to Major Tom.
“Pluto,” Bjork (Download)
I love Bjork, but she kind of misses the mark in using Pluto as a metaphor for renewal. Okay, so when Homogenic was recorded, Pluto was still considered a planet, but even the most respected astronomers wouldn’t have said that outermost planet/moon/hunk of rock out in space had the capacity to explode and renew itself. Maybe I’m being too literal here, but even if we drift into the realm of artistic license, using a frigid, dark, and (as far as we know) dead planet hardly qualifies as a metaphor for some kind of explosive transformation. Or maybe that’s the genius of this song. It’s a kind of bizarre-o world where dark means light, frigid mean heat, and dead means life.
“Cygnus X-1,” Rush (Download)
If you hate Rush for long ass songs about space ships and venturing through a black hole, and you can’t stand Geddy Lee’s piercing screech, then you’re going to hate this song. Me? I’m such a fan of the band, that I’ll pretty much listen to anything they record (except Caress of Steel). And while this song has some clunky moments, it did lead to one of Rush’s best long-form songs: “Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres.”
“Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden (Download)
For years, I had no idea what this song was about, and it seems Chris Cornell doesn’t either. At times, I thought it had to do with living in the Northwest and wanting the sun to come out, but the lyrics aren’t consistent and after awhile I just kind of gave up thinking there was anything of substance there. But, since we’re dealing in metaphors here, and can freely interpret what a black hole sun is about, I figure the song is describing an emotional state — but in a way that’s very ’90s grunge where wishing for things to change means being morose about it.
“Starship Trooper (Life Seeker),” Yes (Download)
When it comes to prog and space songs, I think Yes has the market almost cornered (for a time they were battling it out with Rush). But what makes a songs like “Starship Trooper” so appealing to the space dork in me is not so much the lyrical content, but what the band does in terms of creating music that really feels like a journey. Sure, go ahead an deride progressive rock for its excesses, but groups like Yes have really pushed the genre of rock in directions that very few had the talent to take it.