Flyin’ Saucers Rock n’ Roll

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

When I teach SF and Philosophy I include a short bit on SF in different media (before proceeding to devote the semester to short stories, for the most part.) So: SF and popular music. Seems like a thing. And a suitable challenge for the CT commentariat. I would be particular appreciative of intelligent periodization. But unclassifiable curiosities are also always welcome.

My post title come from Billy Lee Riley’s 1957 rockabilly hit. Ten years earlier, in 1947, you have a curious, country-gospel number, “When You See Those Flying Saucers”, from the Buchanan Brothers. Ten years later, in 1966, we’ve got the Byrds, “Mr. Spaceman”, the birth of a hippy-trippy sort of space rock – although folk-y “Spaceman” lacks the cosmic, synth-y atmospherics one associates with later progginess. Then, in 1969, we get “Space Oddity”, flipping the script from aliens to alienation, and corresponding to the work Kubrick does with 2001: A Space Odyssey, graduating out of the B-movie flying saucers era. (I just linked to the 1972 version. The song had sort of a slow roll-out, on its way to becoming a classic.) Glam and Ziggy Stardust. Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (1972) is the other early-70’s pop classic in this category. But let’s not forget Harry Nillson’s “Spaceman”, which was a Top-40 hit in 1972. “Bang Bang Shoot ’em up destineee!” And Genesis, “Watcher of the Skies” (1972). I feel Journey’s 1977 “Spaceman” bookends what the Byrds started a decade earlier. (By the by, Journey finally made it into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame this year. Also, ELO.) After 1977 we are, for a time, in the Styx “Come Sail Away” era, at least when it comes to American SF-themed pop megahits.

In 1971 Paul Kanter’s “Blows Against The Empire” was the first rock-SF concept album (I think), and was nominated for a Hugo Award.

From there: prog. And a Mothership Connection in 1975. And Devo. After that, it spreads. Before 1966 pop-rock SF isn’t really a thing. After 1977, it’s many things. In the early 70’s it’s mostly the “Space Oddity”/”Rocketman” thing.

The 70’s are also the era when special effects sounds, synthesizers and such become much more prevalent. Moog, theramin.

So what do you think? (Classic 50’s Science Fiction film themes? What other angles on ‘the sound of SF’ should be worked?)



Lee A. Arnold 01.02.17 at 1:16 am

Jimmy Durante, “We’re Going UFOing” (1964)


bob mcmanus 01.02.17 at 1:44 am

Pink Floyd: Astromine Domine, Interstellar Overdrive 1967; Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, Saucer Full of Secrets, 1968/69 are I think still considered psych with iffy sf lyrics but what is considered the origin of spacerock sound. SFoS may refer to a flying saucer or a tea saucer (one album cover) and unlikely, to Sturgeon’s short story “A Saucer of Loneliness” but I doubt it.

Lothar and the Hand people, NYC theremin group, had the 2nd album Space Hymn; I would have to dig through my sub-Pebbles for a couple more obscurities

Hawkwind is usually called prog, and 1973


Mike Schilling 01.02.17 at 1:52 am

How could you leave out this classic?


Mike Schilling 01.02.17 at 1:53 am


Cranky Observer 01.02.17 at 1:55 am

I’d argue that Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” album can be interpreted as having a dystopian or post-apocalyptic theme.


bob mcmanus 01.02.17 at 2:01 am

Yesterday’s Folks, 1968, has a long track titled: “2069 A Spaced Oddity”

I would certainly run once through “Astronomy Domine” once (Ummagumma of course), and maybe dip into musique concrete, Forbidden Planet soundtrack, and 50-60s electronic music if you want to explore the sounds rather than just lyrics.


M Caswell 01.02.17 at 2:02 am

Deltron 3030


William Meyer 01.02.17 at 2:07 am

How about Creedence’s song, “It Came Out of The Sky” of 1969? Granted, it is mostly a parody of the political scene at the time, but that hardly disqualifies it as SF.


John Holbo 01.02.17 at 2:10 am

I don’t know how I forgot to mention early Floyd, especially since I was posting about Syd Barrett only a month or so ago.


jayinbmore 01.02.17 at 2:12 am

Silver Machine. Why am I the first mention of this?


Roger Benson 01.02.17 at 2:17 am

Sun Ra?


bob mcmanus 01.02.17 at 2:27 am

Space Music! 1958!

“Stockhausen was influential within pop and rock music as well. Frank Zappa acknowledges Stockhausen in the liner notes of Freak Out!, his 1966 debut with The Mothers of Invention. On the back of The Who’s second LP released in the US, “Happy Jack”, their primary composer and guitarist Pete Townshend, is said to have “an interest in Stockhausen”. Rick Wright and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd also acknowledge Stockhausen as an influence (Macon 1997, 141; Bayles 1996, 222). San Francisco psychedelic groups Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead are said to have done the same (Prendergast 2000, 54); Stockhausen himself says the former band included students of Luciano Berio, and the Grateful Dead were “well orientated toward new music” (Stockhausen Texte, 4:505). Founding members of Cologne-based experimental band Can, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, both studied with Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses for New Music (Stockhausen Texte, 3:196, 198, 200). German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk also say they studied with Stockhausen (Flur 2003, 228), and Icelandic vocalist Björk has acknowledged Stockhausen’s influence”

“Stockhausen’s fame is also reflected in works of literature. For example, he is mentioned in Philip K. Dick’s 1974 novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (Dick 1993, 101) and in Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49.”

Tangerine Dream, album Alpha Centauri 1971 but now are we too proggy? Bye.


Richard McGee 01.02.17 at 2:28 am

Aha! Here’s my chance to mention a guilty pleasure: UFO Flying (One Hour Space Rock).


Donald A. Coffin 01.02.17 at 2:33 am

Speaking of Paul Kantner, from Nuclear Furniture we have “Rose Goes to Yale” and “Champion.”|
“And there in the dawn of the nuclear twilight
In the heart of the glowing city
She stood ”
“In the heat of the river
In the heat of the morning sun
I saw Rose
Out on the river
Staring down the city guns
She said
I am the one
I am the champion
Optimum champion
She said

“I am the one
I am the only one
In the aftermath of atomic fire
I’ll be your champion”


Doug O'Keefe 01.02.17 at 2:48 am

I’m proud to add Elton John’s “I’ve Seen the Saucers,” from 1974, at the height of his genius. I’m not sure what the song is about, but it dabbles in Bowie’s artist as space alien theme, with a touch of post-Exorcist diabolism and post-Manson nervousness about freaky occultists. Maybe it’s mostly about feeling progressively “in tune” and alienated at the same time.

Here’s a link to the song:


harry b 01.02.17 at 3:07 am

Deep Purple, Space Truckin?
Purple People Eater (obviously the Barry Cryer version)?
John Cooper Clarke, I Married a Monster from Outer Space

Is Silver Machine really sci fi though? I thought it was about… well, forget it. Great, whatever its about…

Elton John’s Rocket Man?


Alan White 01.02.17 at 3:10 am

Purple People Eater–1958.


Colin R 01.02.17 at 3:17 am

’39 by Queen, on A Night At The Opera (1975)

It was about time dilation and loss.


Val 01.02.17 at 3:29 am

I know nothing ever about this kind but I was going to mention Pink Floyd! However mcmanus has beaten me to it. damnit.


Raven Onthill 01.02.17 at 3:32 am

Martinson’s Aniara, a book of science-fictional poems, and the opera of the same name, though not pop music by any standard, might be of some interest. IIRC, Martinson won the Nobel for literature, in part for that work.


Kiwanda 01.02.17 at 3:36 am

Janelle Monae: Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), The ArchAndroid, and The Electric Lady are a utopian cyborg concept series.

Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic and others are Afrofuturist.

I have to think The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is more Genesis SF, but maybe not.

Third Stone from the Sun and Up From the Skies by Hendrix are SF.

Various others mentioned here, including Muse, Rush, ELP, ELO, Bowie’s Blackstar.


TF79 01.02.17 at 3:39 am

Radiohead “OK Computer” and Modest Mouse “The Moon and Antarctica” if your looking for some albums that are a bit more recent (1997 and 2000).


BruceJ 01.02.17 at 4:02 am

Hawkwind, who had songs written and played by Michael Moorcock… which was heavily cross-pollinated with new-wave SF


ZM 01.02.17 at 4:29 am

Actually I think it was the Parson Nathaniel song (can you delete the 2 comments where I was trying to embed the clip John Holbo please?)



TimT 01.02.17 at 4:29 am

Genesis “The Day The Light Went Out” 1978


JLR 01.02.17 at 4:45 am

Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation is inspired by John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel The Chrysalids.

Foreigner’s first album contains Starrider which is surprisingly proggy and not particularly Foreigner-y.


stevenjohnson 01.02.17 at 4:45 am

It seems to me the dinosaur sequence set to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring was pretty scifi. 1940

It seems to me the theremin theme in The Day the Earth Stood Still was pretty notable. 1951

It seems to me that In the Year 2525 is SF, and was a pretty big hit to boot, even if Zager and Evans were one hit wonders. 1969 I think.

Besides Tangerine Dream soundtracks, Giorgio Moroder, Vangelis and Wendy Carlos got pretty scifi.

Completist trivia: Stockhausen also got a mention in Disch’s Camp Concentration.


harry b 01.02.17 at 4:55 am

ELO — Time (the whole album, which is really good!). Loads of other ELO probably?


harry b 01.02.17 at 4:57 am

Haha! Olivia Newton John, Xanadu!
Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip: I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper!


Harry 01.02.17 at 4:58 am

Queen — Flash! Ok. I’m done with this…


Alan White 01.02.17 at 5:06 am

re bob mcmanus above about Forbidden Planet:

The soundtrack of Forbidden Planet is sui generis in the 50s:


Guy Harris 01.02.17 at 5:24 am

And there’s Year 3,000 Blues by Ten Years After and, on the topic of stuff by Jefferson {flying vehicle}, Have You Seen The Saucers?.

Oh, and Wooden Ships, in versions by CSN, CSNY, and JA.


J 01.02.17 at 5:43 am

I’m a little surprised no one has mentioned “2000 Light Years From Home” by the Stones yet.


Tom B 01.02.17 at 5:55 am

Moody Blues’ work. See “Question of Balance” album cover, with image of earth from space, rocket in upper left.


Gabriel 01.02.17 at 6:02 am

The prog metal band Queensryche’s lyrics are rife with SF themes; here are two early songs, both concerning emergent AI:


Scarshapedstar 01.02.17 at 6:26 am

Blue oyster cult – the vigil

Nuff said.


Scarshapedstar 01.02.17 at 6:28 am


Scarshapedstar 01.02.17 at 6:32 am

Heck, scratch that, I submit Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.


oldmunni 01.02.17 at 6:53 am

Deltron 3030. (Rock, rap… same thing, right?)


js. 01.02.17 at 7:02 am

Has no one mentioned Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots yet? Is this even possible?

(Also, I think all of Can is basically sci-fi, even if not explicitly so.)


Chris Bertram 01.02.17 at 9:16 am

The Only Ones, – Another Girl, Another Planet (I saw them live about the time this came out, playing support to Wilko Johnson who had just split from Dr Feelgood)


Neville Morley 01.02.17 at 9:32 am

This may be a bit of a stretch – is the boundary between ‘songs about space travel’ and ‘songs inspired by SF’ basically a chronological one, so that anything that’s technologically possible at the time of release is ruled out (and that would presumably disqualify Space Oddity? Anyway, if only to have something a bit more contemporary, the quintessence of nostalgic futurism (it’s 2017, why haven’t we colonised the moon yet?) is surely Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space, loving recreations of the original Apollo missions using sampled dialogue from the control room. Go!.


Neville Morley 01.02.17 at 9:38 am

Possibly coincidence, but the two ‘future dystopian society’ things that come to mind are both late 1980s: Mike and the Mechanics’ Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) and, ahem, Queensryche (oddly, iPad won’t allow me to put an umlaut on a ‘y’, so I can’t spelt it properly) with an entire concept album, Operation Mindcrime.


Gabriel 01.02.17 at 11:36 am

Also, Rush’s ‘2112’ is literally an SF rock opera.


NomadUK 01.02.17 at 11:57 am

Billy Joel’s Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway), 1976. Post-apocalyptic SF, according to the man himself.


Larry Bruce 01.02.17 at 12:39 pm

Australia’s Billy Thorpe–“Children of the Sun” comes to mind


Fred 01.02.17 at 12:45 pm

Wait, no one has mentioned 2525 by Zager and Evans?


Gabriel 01.02.17 at 12:47 pm

Neville, I have a comment awaiting moderation concerning Queensryche – SF themes are quite popular in their music, especially earlier stuff.


NomadUK 01.02.17 at 1:31 pm

As is Nena’s 99 Luftballon, come to that.

The 2017 thing may be a bit more prescient than Billy had thought….


dave heasman 01.02.17 at 2:30 pm

Klingons on the starboard bow


Databoy 01.02.17 at 2:30 pm

Great songs in a great post and comments—thanks to all!

“Prog” got one mention but it seems that my faves (I mean, the Wakeman played on “Space Oddity, after all), might obviously fit:

1971: Yes: “Starship Trooper” from _The Yes Album_
1977: Yes: “Arriving UFO” from _Tormato_

Speaking of the Wakeman and if you want some connection to SF literature, here’s:

1974: Rick Wakeman, _Journey to the Center of the Earth_
1984: Rick Wakeman, _1984_
1999: Rick Wakeman, _Return to the Center of the Earth_ (@SirPatStew narrates, so much fun…)

This post shows both my limited listening and reading. Speaking of reading: thanks!


dave heasman 01.02.17 at 2:33 pm

Airplane saucers

(maybe it’s about crockery)


Kevin 01.02.17 at 2:57 pm

Rock appears to be the dominant genre here but there are a few examples of this outside of rock.

Before, there was Die Antwoord , there was The Constructus Corporation who released a single concept album (that I know of at least): The Ziggurat.

The opening probably best describes the album:

The Constructus Corporation saw the destruction of the power points well in advance
The Ziggurat already had left the Earths surface and was far out of harms way by the time the chaos began
This goliath definition of comfortable living was fortified by an entirely impenetrable ancient defense system
And soared several thousand feet above the hell-realm below, following the sun
The Ziggurat housed an entirely autonomous society who lived completely harmonious lives and were virtually free from suffering
The airborne megalopolis existed perfectly outside the laws of nature

The other one I can think of is Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon’s “Dr. Octagonecologyst” which is really weird, but also features a lot of strange sci fi themes. The basic story is that Dr. Octagon is an alien doctor who has come to earth. He has been featured on a fair number of projects now, but “Dr. Octagonecologyst” is the debut.


Glen Tomkins 01.02.17 at 3:19 pm

That “When You See Those Flying Saucers” song may or not be curious, but seeing UFOs as a sign of Judgment Day was a pretty standard initial fundy response to the UFO phenomenon. I haven’t heard them make the connection lately, but back before they were making their most recent play for political respectability, it was a thing with them.

Ezekiel seeing those wheels within wheels in the sky is, if not the beginning, at least pretty far upstream, in the apocalyptic literature. And the specifically prophetic setting aside, the “wheels within wheels” idea is what drives conspiracy theories of all stripes.


Layman 01.02.17 at 3:24 pm

Jeff Wayne, War of the Worlds, 1978's_Musical_Version_of_The_War_of_the_Worlds

One of my old favorites. Richard Burton speaks, Justin Hayward sings.


bos 01.02.17 at 3:28 pm

The most unexpected space reference might be Johnny Cash in Highwayman: “I fly a starship across the universe divide.”


stevenjohnson 01.02.17 at 3:38 pm

Good call on Wakeman, can’t imagine why I didn’t think of him when adding Moroder for his version of Metropolis.

If visuals count, isn’t Kiss scifi?


SomeClark 01.02.17 at 3:53 pm

It Came Out of the Sky, by CCR.


John Holbo 01.02.17 at 4:01 pm

Hmmm, here’s what I have learned from this thread, and the inside of my own head, reading this thread.

There is plenty of popular music that is, lyrically, about science fiction themes. Clearly, any song about aliens coming to earth in flying saucers is SF, but often this is pretty superficial. A gospel-country song about saucers seems more gospel-country than SF. A rockabilly tune about flying saucers seems more rockabilly than SF.

Moving to the other end of the spectrum, we have prog rock, very broadly construed. A lot of this is SF themed but it is also fair to say that the whole genre – prog – has a powerful elective affinity with SF as a genre. The venn diagram plotting the relationship between people interested in some form of prog and some form of SF is basically a circle. Prog is just inherently ‘space operatic’ in sensibility, one might say. A chunk of prog that isn’t about any explicit SF theme still seems kinda SF by cultural association.

It gets a bit tricky here separating ‘prog’ from more generic bombastic spectacularity and operatic over-the-top-ness in 70’s rock. I’m tempted to say that rock just tends to turn into ‘space rock’ when it moves away from bluesiness and 3.5 minute-ness. Not invariably. But you want a lyrical bigness that goes with the grandiosity of your stadium sound and SF is a ready-to-hand fit that is the right size and shape. (Or you can just sing about your feelings, that’s ok, too.)

This is related to another variable: atmospherics and/or sound quality. There is music that just ‘sounds spacey’ even if it isn’t lyrically SF. A lot of guitar pedals are kind of SF-sound pedals, for example. Once there is a button you can press with your toe to generate SF, you get more SF.

And then there’s glam, which is atmospherics along a different axis. Shiny. This starts with Bowie and you have that early Genesis make-up thing. Then you get KISS and disco and Parliament-Funkadelic, etc.


djr 01.02.17 at 4:47 pm

Also worth a mention is The Very Things’ album “The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes,” which is Twilight Zone-themed. Definitely not prog or glam.


Ben 01.02.17 at 4:52 pm

Neil Young, After the Gold Rush, 1970 (title track, even)

Here’s an ok article about scifi in rap:

As those beastly boys say:

In-ter-ga-lac-tic pla-na-tar-y pla-na-tar-y in-ter-ga-lac-tic


ScottA 01.02.17 at 4:55 pm

I’m a big fan of the Polka/Latin/punk-ish folk/rock/dance band Brave Combo (if that didn’t scare you off already, but so are David Byrne and Matt Groening, so there).

Among their many fine songs is “Flying Saucer” about the desire to get away from the mundane and be see something “way beyond sex, death, or birth, or playing music in this band.”

It’s not musically or lyrically very science-fictiony, but more about the longing for something non-monotonous.

If you want something more science-fictiony in a polka vein, though, I highly recommend their “Mystery Spot Polka.”

(alas, not on Youtube, but available on spotify. Both songs are from their magnificent CD “Polkas for a Gloomy World”.)


NickS 01.02.17 at 5:59 pm

I agree that there are a lot more examples post-1977, but I’d highlight Warren Zevon’s 1989 cyberpunk album Transverse City.


LM 01.02.17 at 7:37 pm

The 90s saw a couple of indie/garage rock bands that developed rich sci-fi mythologies around them: Servotron, Supernova, Phenomenauts, etc. Their live concerts would very theatrically enact those mythologies. (Now, this is nothing new, I know: Bowie, Kraftwerk, Devo, etc. had all done that, and were certainly inspirational.)

My favorite of them all, by far, was Man… or Astro-Man?. They were basically an instrumental surf music band (well, they claimed to sing in every track, but human ears could not listen to their high vocal frequency; in live concerts, they would even mime singing), but boy did they sound SF! Surely, the vibe was B-movie sci-fi – and they added some nice sound snippets which (I assume) were from such movies. They also covered great sci-fi tunes: the Rezillos’ ‘Destination Venus’, the MST3K theme, the Pixies’ ‘Manta Ray’, Talking Heads’ ‘Television Man’… I think they are still around, even if not very active. Fun stuff, highly recommended!


paul barker 01.02.17 at 7:40 pm

Speaking of olivia newton-john (& her grandfather) she did a whole SF Musical /Film – toomorrow, it had aliens but I forget the plot.


Dipper 01.02.17 at 7:58 pm

Chris @41 – I believe “Another Girl Another Planet” is not about Sci Fi, its generally thought to be about drugs. In particular Peter Perrett’s Heroin addiction as in “I always flirt with death. I look ill but I don’t care about it” etc


Dipper 01.02.17 at 8:07 pm

as a few have mentioned above, surely the list starts with Hawkwind.

My understanding is that in as much as Space Rock is about anything, its about isolation, alienation, and loneliness, the feeling of not belonging. Must be a final year project in there somewhere.


Peter Hovde 01.02.17 at 8:34 pm

Commissioned by Wenders for “Until the End of the World.”

“Bought Manhattan for a string of beads
We brought along some gadgets for you to see
Here’s a crazy little thing we call TV
Do you have electricity?”


PatinIowa 01.02.17 at 9:56 pm

Don’t forget Chuck Berry’s flying car–the Flight de Ville:

Hendrix was always trippy, but never more than this:


John Holbo 01.02.17 at 10:57 pm

“I believe “Another Girl Another Planet” is not about Sci Fi, its generally thought to be about drugs.”

Ah, yes, but:

“Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie …”


Gabriel 01.02.17 at 11:15 pm

As an aside: my formative lefty political ideas as a teen came from cyberpunk and Queensryche, and those ideas have held up surprisingly well over the years. I remember thinking at university, ‘This Gramsci guy is pretty punk rock.’


harry b 01.02.17 at 11:22 pm

O?T — but a little known fact about Olivia Newton-John. When Justice for Janitors were organizing the twin towers in Century City (1990) they ran a corporate campaign. The buildings were filled with the offices of famous people. Relatively few were willing to support the janitors. Olivia Newton-John was one of the few who was vocal in her support. It should be part of her biography.


John Quiggin 01.02.17 at 11:42 pm

Relatedly, SF-themed band names: Jefferson Starship and Skyhooks (great Oz band of the 70s) come to mind.


GHG 01.02.17 at 11:52 pm

Strong agreement with Deltron 3030 and Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi.

How about Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space”? Too on-the-nose?


ds 01.02.17 at 11:52 pm

Patti Smith, “Birdland”


kidneystones 01.03.17 at 12:59 am

From the man who brought us: ‘We’re only in it for the money” and other finger in your eye satiric self-mockery: Inca Roads (with bonus Bruce Bickford claymation)


PJW 01.03.17 at 1:25 am

Hypnotized by Fleetwood Mac. Robert Welch had an enduring interest in UFOs, as I recall.


ozajh 01.03.17 at 3:03 am

OK, I know it’s not Science-FICTION, but surely the earliest explicitly Space-oriented hit song would have to be Telstar.


Kurt Schuler 01.03.17 at 4:54 am

The Byrds and David Bowie have already been mentioned, but not specifically their songs “CTA 102” (about a quasar, from “Younger Than Yesterday,” 1967, with some spacey sound effects) and “Starman” (from “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” 1972).


TheSophist 01.03.17 at 5:49 am

Mogwai’s “Take Me Somewhere Nice” contains the lyric “What would you do. If you saw spaceships over Glasgow? Would you fear them? ”

Grimes has an album called Giedi Primes (Giedi Prime was the Harkonnen homeworld in Dune) which contains five separate tracks with Dune-centric titles.


Martin Bento 01.03.17 at 6:11 am

Music threads should have links. Here’s Maldroid’s Heck No (I’ll never listen to Techno), which I find funny, animated by Lite Brite.

“If the robots win, we have to listen to techno”

Here’s the Residents doing Mole Show live, which is a total SF story. Performance begins, following interviews and such, about 8:30.


Bruce B. 01.03.17 at 7:08 am

You could probably do a history of prog dividing it into bands that are basically science fictional and bands that basically aren’t. In the latter category, Marillion and Porcupine Tree, as landmarks for their respective generations, and, oh, Mostly Autumn, and Big Big Train [1], and Martin Orford projects (his “Out in the Darkness” is the only really good atheist anthem I can recall at the moment), and like that.

1: The first successful use of a rebreathing apparatus, to rescue miners trapped in the Severn Tunnel</a<, is not the usual stuff of prog rock lyrics. But then English Electric is an unusual album, sampling high- and lowlights of Victorian and Edwardian technological and ensuing social changes.

Speaking of images, it seems like Freddie Mercury was really, really conscious of giving a glamorous, futuristic rendering what was often at hard old-fashioned music hall fun and the like. He liked running things together that way – putting together the sound of fingertips on a desk for tap dancing and epic light bridges made him happy.


ZM 01.03.17 at 7:32 am

Stereolab — Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, Mars Audiac Quintet, Emperor Tomato Ketchup


ZM 01.03.17 at 7:40 am

And there is that shoe-gazer sort of electronic band Flying Saucer Attack


Philippe 01.03.17 at 8:26 am

Space – Magic Fly – 1977


Philip 01.03.17 at 8:51 am

I think the stuff referencing sci-fi and stuff sounding sci-fi is a good distinction. And after the prog and glam eras I’d include lot of synth pop which sounds sci-fi but isn’t lyrically.

Ash were a 90s Britpop band, their album 1977 referenced the release of Starwars and starts with a sample of a tiefighter. Songs included Jack names the planets, Girl from Mars (B-side cantina song from SW), and Darkside Lightside. Looking at their more recent releases it seems they’ve kept using SF themes. The same year, 1996, Babylon Zoo released Spaceman, which was no.1 in the UK.

I think the Dr Who theme could be mentioned as a pre-synth electronic music. It’s interesting how it was produced by Delia Derbyshire, apparently she didn’t like it when synthesizers came out as it made things too easy.


Adam Roberts 01.03.17 at 9:31 am

John Clute and David Langford’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a whole tranche of entries on this topic, many of them written by me:

There’s also this overview entry:


David 01.03.17 at 11:09 am

Just to state the obvious, in the 60s and 70s, space exploration was part of everyday life and seen as a great hope for the future. It was a symbol of progress and modernity, and by extension of rebellion as well. It would be astonishing if it had not found its way into popular musical culture in the way that it did.
Incidentally, I think a lot of “space” music really just represents the arrival of electronic synthesized sounds in popular culture. The earliest example is probably from Dr Who (1963) where the effect of the electronic title theme was as mould-breaking as the arrival of the Daleks a few weeks later.


bob mcmanus 01.03.17 at 12:57 pm

Telstar is worth listening to, is it marked by rising notes or ascending chords? I don’t know if anybody has mentioned the Dead’s “Dark Star” yet.

1) I know the course is “Sf & Philosophy” not “SF & Music” so I wouldn’t expect most of the info in the thread to be used.

2) I keep meaning to spend a little time of the Psychology of Music, or the emotional effects, or maybe mimesis, program music, soundtrack theory but I haven’t so I am merely flailing here. What is SF music?

3) In the period 1945-1975 there were other kinds of experiments in music. There was “spooky or scary” maybe horror music: HP Lovecraft’s “White Ship,” Hendrix on “Machine Gun” and CTA 1st album attempt to replicate siren sounds, Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts”, Ornette Coleman, the end of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the end of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” has effects.

And of course various Indian, African, and other World Musics. “Pipes of Pan at Joujouka” is pretty weird but not SF or futuristic. Maybe SF music abandons consistent rhythms, tones, and temperaments…all clicks and whistles and abbreviated drones. Does the theremin work for ghosts or vampires as well as BEMs and raging robots?

I have always thought that electric Miles, of “Bitches Brew,” “Jack Johnson” and “On the Corner” had a somewhat futuristic sound riding over driving rhythms, McLaughlin didn’t use much sustain compared to Mahavishnu work.


Retaliated Donor 01.03.17 at 1:02 pm

Billy Bragg and Wilco, words written in 1950 by Woody Guthrie, “My Flying Saucer”


ed_finnerty 01.03.17 at 1:32 pm

Al Stewart made a song based on ‘Sirens of Titan’ on his Past Present and Future album


Ambrosia did ‘Nice Nice Very Nice’ based on Cat’s Cradle


nastywoman 01.03.17 at 1:33 pm

‘Ground Control to Major John’ how can anybody forget Kraftwerk?


Bruce B. 01.03.17 at 2:35 pm

I see Kiwanda cited Janelle Monae. It’s worth underlining: she’s very popular, has a deeply engaged fandom (which includes a bunch of sf and fantasy authors [1]), and is well-read in sf in a bunch of media.

1. Delany remarked on Facebook last year that it had been a while since he had swooning teenage fans. Monae and her fans get each other reading.

Ry Cooder’s 2005 album Chávez Ravine has a science-fictional streak, along with post-WW2 development in Los Angeles, baseball politics, and such.


Kiwanda 01.03.17 at 3:54 pm

Bruce B. 82: ““Out in the Darkness” is the only really good atheist anthem I can recall at the moment”

Rush’s “Roll the Bones” might qualify (“Why are we here? Because we’re here”) and Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be” and “My Life” are maybe agnostic anthems.


Another Nick 01.03.17 at 4:14 pm

“atmospherics and/or sound quality”

Leith Stevens: Destination Moon (1950)

Bernard Hermann: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Bebe and Louis Barron: Forbidden Planet (1956)

Iulii Meitus: Nebo Zovyot (The Sky Beckons) (1959) (49:00 – onwards)

Andrzej Markowski: Der schweigende Stern (The Silent Star) (1960) (try 54:20 – onwards)

Delia Derbyshire: Dr Who (1963)

The Astros: Space Walk (1964)

Vibraphone, theremin, hammond, oscillators, filters, tape delay – the electric psychedelia of the 1930-50s :)


Bruce B. 01.03.17 at 4:48 pm

Kiwanda: Thank you for reminders! I put the qualifier on about what I could recall because I’ve got allergies from hell at the moment. :)


stevenjohnson 01.03.17 at 5:15 pm

Whatever can one make of something like Deodato’s disco version of the fanfare from 2001?


someofparts 01.03.17 at 6:02 pm

Zappa, “Inca Roads” –


Jim Fett 01.03.17 at 6:12 pm

No love for the Misfits?

Also, both Zolar X and GWAR were allegedly from outer space.


Harry 01.03.17 at 6:24 pm

Carpenters — Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft


dave heasman 01.03.17 at 6:54 pm

Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft originally by “Klaatu” – the name from a 50s sf fillum ah yes – The Day the Earth Stood Still.


Kate 01.03.17 at 7:01 pm

Yes, Hawkwind.

But also The Spotnicks.


Philip 01.03.17 at 7:03 pm

Also foo fighters took their name from a term used by air force pilots for UFOs, in the not knowing what something is but not necessarily aliens sense. The first verse of This is a call could be aliens.

visiting is pretty
visiting is good
seems that all they ever wanted was a brother
this can be a secret
we can keep it good
even all the ever wanting had a problem


Miss Modal 01.03.17 at 7:13 pm

Rush – 2112
Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time and probably other stuff; maybe more fantasy than sci-fi
Deltron 3030 – album by Del and Dan the Automator explicitly about how music and hip hop can help overcome the stress and oppression of the 31st century
Kool Keith/Dr Octagon – in which the good Doctor returns to the present from the year 3000 to save us
Einstein on the Beach – possibly a stretch, but they do get on a spaceship at then end to escape what humanity had wrought in The 20th century
Joe Satriani?
Sun Ra – I mean, the guy LITERALLY comes from another star system
Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles Pink Robots
Wyld Stallions, I assume
There also may be some potential in the genre of 80s and 90s music videos with Sci-if themes/imagery – I’m thinking of that Tom Petty one where they have futuristic cars in the desert; Scream by Michael and Janet Jackson; the Bjork video w the robots doing it (actually Bjork in general might use Sci-fi in her songs…); Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. Maybe the songs themselves aren’t sci-fi but it could be interesting to discuss why the videos adopted sci-fi imagery and whether that decision has an effect on the interpretation of lyrics.
You also might get some mileage out of comparing notable sci-if film scores and how the different scoring approaches affect the mood and enhance themes present in the script or visuals (I’m thinking here of THX-1138 vs something like Star Wars- same director but vastly different thematic interests as far as script and visuals go and radically different scores. Those scores reflect the rest of their respective films but also do a lot of work in shaping the audience’s response to those films)


stevenjohnson 01.03.17 at 8:23 pm

Did Black Sabbath’s Iron Man get in? 1970


Jack Canuck 01.03.17 at 9:28 pm

Late to the party (thanks, time zones!), but I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned the Church. There’s a strong sf tinge to a lot of Kilbey’s lyrics. The ones that come immediately to mind are Dome

I saw this film about some people who lived in a dome
In a beautiful field next to a river of foam
I fell asleep before it was over
I must have dreamt of the end
They’d be young forever as long as they stayed in the dome
But barbarians came and set fire to their home
Exposed the dome dwellers to the outside
They must have known it was the end
All of their wealth couldn’t save them
All died inside the flames
Destined to make that same old mistake
God that’s such a shame
The barbarians picked through the ashes of the dome
Then went on their way, yeah, continued to roam
But a curse was laid upon them
They must have known it was the end
All of their strength couldn’t save them
All died inside the flood
Destined to make that same old mistake
The way of all flesh and blood
I saw this film about some people who lived in a dome

Terra Nova Cain

Turn down the gravity, this is all too heavy
I’ll show you how the ancients once travelled
They used to call this a chevy
Just before the continents sank, you could still go outside
I was sitting on a hot off ramp
She pulled up and asked me if I needed a ride
Terra nova cain I need you again
Deep space jam on an alien terrain
Terra nova cain I need you again
Some for the little boys who live down the lane
I should have known there was something amiss
She had unearthly eyes
She had a way of sifting through your mind
Like she’d done it to a million guys
She said will you help with our research
I said take me to your leader
She put her foot down on the oscillation pedal
She was a transdimensional speeder
Terra nova cain I need you again
Protect me from the meteor rain
Terra nova cain I need you again
Put your explosion probe right into my brain
They brought me back after thousands of years
I hadn’t aged at all
We used to float around her weightless bedroom
That drove me right up the wall
Terra nova cain I need you again
You dropped me off and you’ve left me quite drained
Terra nova cain I need you again
Help me break these telekinetic chains


js. 01.03.17 at 10:01 pm

GHG @74 — I thought about mentioning Spacemen 3 / Spiritualized / the whole “space rock” thing. But it’s not clear to me how much of that is SF in any real sense vs. how much of it is that we’re floating in space because we’ve taken drugs to make music to take drugs to. So to speak.


thatJim 01.03.17 at 10:59 pm

The other Rocket Man.

The other SF-oriented Airplane-related song would be “Wooden Ships” which is a post-apocalyptic narrative.


Melville 01.03.17 at 11:06 pm

The Stranglers – Meninblack from 1979 is a delightfully creepy take on the “To Serve Man” theme.
We’re not here to destroy
We are here to employ


Melville 01.03.17 at 11:45 pm

Here’s a few more from that era:
The Sinceros – Take me to your leader
The B52s – Planet Claire (
and of course, the entirety of the Rocky Horror Picture Show


J— 01.04.17 at 1:03 am

Lee Scratch Perry, “Alien In Out A Space”


J— 01.04.17 at 1:09 am

Newcleus, “Jam On It”

I’m Cozmo D from outer space
I came to rock the human race


Mike 01.04.17 at 4:42 am

I’ve got to mention from the SF side, not music, Buddy Holly Is Alive And Well On Ganymede, as well as several of the Wild Card novels.


ZM 01.04.17 at 6:55 am

I got called a Teenage Spaceship in a mean song by Bill Callahan of Smog, and Cat Power called her record with mean songs about me Moon Pix like I lived on the Moon. I guess these songs count looking at all the examples. Now I can always say at dinner parties where this topic comes up I got put in sci-fi pop songs :-/

Bill Callahan also did a sci-fi lo-fi song I Am Star Wars on his ’93 Julius Caesar record which features an empty chair on the cover rather than said leader of the Roman Republic…


Paul 01.04.17 at 3:17 pm

No mention of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Karn Evil 9?

Also, consider the band Devo itself, and you could add Kraftwerk here too were based on what might be called (a perhaps unpleasant) sci-fi ideal.

The video for Herbie Hancock’s Rockit is fun.

And sci-fi themes can be found in a lot of Earth Wind and Fire songs–A future utopia with lots of dancing and making out seems pretty cool.


ave 01.04.17 at 3:58 pm

Did a quick search and it looked like nobody’s mentioned Nina Hagen – Flying Saucers.


Fats Durston 01.04.17 at 4:48 pm

Spaceship related (some not exactly popular popular culture) :
Captain Beefheart, “Big-Eyed Beans From Venus” (1972)
Montrose, “Space Station No. 5” (1973)
Larry Young, “Spaceball” and “Moonwalk” (1975)
Spizz Energi, “Where’s Captain Kirk?” (1979)
Peter Schilling, “Major Tom (Coming Home)” (1983)
Shonen Knife, “Space Christmas” (1991)
Kanye West, “Spaceship” (2004)


Happy Jack 01.05.17 at 3:10 am

Telstar – The Ventures
Across the Universe – The Beatles
Bootzilla – Bootsy Collins
Pets – Porno for Pyros
Technological – Daft Punk


J— 01.05.17 at 4:51 am

Jonzun Crew for Afro-futurism in the 80s.


LP 01.06.17 at 4:58 am

I’m including this more for the sake of completeness than because I think it’s all that good, but here’s the eminently forgettable Flash Fearless vs the Zorg Women, Vol 5 and 6 (fortunately there were no first four volumes). Alice Cooper, John Entwistle, Bill Bruford and several others participate, but it’s less than the sum of its parts. You can find most of the songs on YouTube.


Another Nick 01.06.17 at 2:43 pm

Ella Fitzgerald – Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer (1951)

JJ Perrey – Cadmus, Le Robot de L’espace (1959)

The Ventures – One Step Beyond (Fear) / The Twilight Zone (1964 – Ventures In Space)


Another Nick 01.06.17 at 2:46 pm

Moving forward in time – and because it’s Friday night somewhere on Earth:

Cerrone – Supernature (1977)

Blondie – Rapture (1980)

ESG – UFO (1981)

(three of my favourite drummers btw!)

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