Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s Sunday again and hope everybody is doing well. I think I’ve put together another fairly eclectic collection of songs. Like in previous installments of The Sunday Six, I’d like to start things nice and easy, before hitting the accelerator and going a little bit more rough toward the end. I also spontaneously decided to throw in a bonus.

Sting/Fields of Gold

Let’s kick it off with one of my favorite tunes by Sting, Fields of Gold, a perfect song for a Sunday. It appeared on his fourth solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales from March 1993. I’d consider that album to be the Mount Rushmore of his solo catalog. Like most tracks on Ten Summoner’s Tales, Sting wrote Fields of Gold all by himself. The song also appeared separately as a single in May of the same year. Unlike the album, which peaked at no. 2 in the UK and the U.S. and topped the charts in Austria, Fields of Gold only made it to no. 16, no. 23 and no. 85, respectively, on these countries’ single charts.

Lou Reed/Caroline Says II

Why a tune by an artist I admittedly do not know as well as I probably should? Coz I came across it the other day and I like it. Now you know what oftentimes ends up driving my picks for The Sunday Six – hence the subtitle Celebrating music with six random songs at a time. Penned by Lou Reed, Caroline Says II was included on his third solo album Berlin released in July 1973. The lyrics that appear to be about physical spouse abuse are rather grim:…Caroline says/as she gets up from the floor/You can hit me all you want to/but I don’t love you anymore… The album also includes a track titled Caroline Says I. Both of these tunes came out as a single in 1973 as well. BTW, Reed had some notable guests on Berlin, who apart from producer Bob Ezrin (piano, mellotron) included Jack Bruce (bass), prolific drummer Aynsley Dunbar and Steve Winwood (Hammond, harmonium). To the mainstream audience, Reed, who passed away from liver disease in October 2013 at the age of 71, is probably best known for Walk on the Wild Side, his biggest single chart success.

The Jayhawks/This Forgotten Town

I love this tune by American alternative country and country rock band The Jayhawks. In fact, I previously featured it last August in a Best of What’s New installment. The Jayhawks were formed in Minneapolis in 1985. After seven records, they went on hiatus in 2014 and reemerged in 2019. Their current line-up consists of original co-founders Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals) and  Marc Perlman (bass), together with Tim O’Reagan (drums, vocals), Karen Grotberg (keyboards, backing vocals) and John Jackson (acoustic guitar, violin, mandolin). This Forgotten Town, co-written by Louris, Perlman and O’Reagan, is from their most recent album XOXO from July 2020. I still stand behind what I said in August 2020. I dig the warm sound, and there’s some great harmony singing as well. And now that I’ve listened to the tune again, it does remind me a bit of The Band.

Lenny Kravitz/Fields of Joy

Lenny Kravitz entered my radar screen in France in late 1991 when his sophomore album Mama Said, which had come out in April that year, happened to play in the background in a restaurant I was visiting. I immediately liked what I heard. So did my brother-in-law, who asked the waiter about the music. After my return to Germany, I got the CD. I’ve since continued to listen to Kravitz who has faced all kinds of criticism. Some of the clever commentary, especially early in his career, included “not sounding Black enough” (no idea what exactly that’s even supposed to mean!) and being too close to some of his ’60s influences, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles – jeez, how horrible to have been inspired by two of the greatest music acts of all time! Anyhoo, Fields of Joy, co-written by Michael Kamen and Hal Fredricks with musical arrangement by Doug Neslund and Kravitz, is the opener of Mama Said. It also became one of the album’s seven singles.

Alice Cooper/Rock & Roll

“Mr. Shock Rock” is always good for some kickass music. Rock & Roll is the opener of Alice Cooper’s upcoming studio album Detroit Stories scheduled for February 26 – based on Wikipedia, it’s his 21st, not counting the seven records released with the band that had been named after him between 1969 and 1973. Written by Lou Reed (there he is again!), the tune was first recorded by The Velvet Underground for their fourth studio album Loaded from November 1970. I think Cooper does a nice job giving the tune more of a rock vibe. I also like how he’s dialing up the soulful backing vocals. In addition to Rock & Roll, two (original) tunes from Detroit Stories are already out. Looks like we can look forward to a fun album.

The Byrds/Eight Miles High

Okay, admittedly, a pattern seems to emerge for The Sunday Six. After doing five tunes from other decades, it suddenly occurs to me I just cannot leave out the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. Not sure whether this pattern is going to continue, but I just noticed it myself. The Byrds and probably also this tune need no introduction. Co-written by Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, Eight Miles High is from their third studio album Fifth Dimension  released in July 1966. It remains one of my all-time favorite ’60s tunes. I think it’s pretty cool how the band combined their jingle-jangle pop rock a la Mr. Tambourine Man with psychedelic influences – simply a great song!

And just as I was about to wrap up this post, I came across this instrumental live version of Eight Miles High. Did I mention I dig this tune? 🙂 Apparently, this footage was captured at New York’s Fillmore East in September 1970 – kinda feels like The Byrds embracing the jam style of The Grateful Dead. Okay, do we really need an almost 10-minute instrumental of Eight Miles High? I’m leaving it up to you to decide. I think it’s pretty cool, showing the band’s impressive instrumental chops.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies

A trip back to ’60s psychedelic music

While it’s quite possible that more than three weeks of social distancing are starting to have an impact, I can say without hesitation that my interest in psychedelic music predates COVID-19 – I would say by at least three decades. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

I guess a good way to start would be to define what I’m writing about. According to Wikipedia, psychedelic music (sometimes called psychedelia) is a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.

To be clear, I don’t want to judge people using drugs but personally don’t take any and never had any particular interest to explore stuff. With the exception of alcohol, which I occasionally like to enjoy, I guess the furthest I ever took it was to try cigarettes during my early teenage years. Around the same time, I also smoked a cigar, cleverly thinking that just like with a cigarette, you’re supposed to inhale. As you can see, I was definitely young and stupid. And, yes, I did feel a bit funny afterwards! 🙂

Psychedelic Music Collage 2

Psychedelic music has some characteristic features. Again, Wikipedia does a nice job explaining them: Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common. Songs often have more disjunctive song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones than contemporary pop music. Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics are often used. There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental segments or jams. There is a strong keyboard presence, in the 1960s especially, using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven ‘sampler’ keyboard.

Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning the music from one side to another of the stereo track, using the “swooshing” sound of electronic phasing, long delay loops and extreme reverb. In the 1960s there was a use of electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin. Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.

Before getting to some examples, I should add that psychedelic music developed in the mid-’60s among folk and rock bands in the U.S. and the U.K. It included various subgenres, such as psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock, acid rock and psychedelic pop. The original psychedelic era, which is the focus of this post, ended in the late ’60s, though there have been successors like progressive rock and heavy metal and revivals, e.g., psychedelic funk, psychedelic hip hop and electronic music genres like acid house and trance music.

Apparently, the first use of the term psychedelic rock can be attributed to The 13th Floor Elevators, an American rock band formed in Austin, Texas in December 1965. Here’s their debut single You’re Gonna Miss Me. Written by guitarist and founding member Roky Erickson, the tune reached no. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became their only charting song.

Eight Miles High by The Byrds is one of my favorite tunes from the psychedelic era. Written by co-founding members Roger McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals), Gene Clark (tambourine, vocals) and David Crosby (rhythm guitar, vocals), the song first appeared as a single in March 1966 and was also included on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension released in July of the same year. That jingle-jangle guitar sound and the brilliant harmony singing simply do it for me every time!

In May 1966, The Rolling Stones released Paint It Black. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was also included on the U.S. edition of Aftermath, the band’s fourth British and sixth U.S. studio album. Not only did Paint It Black top the charts in the UK, U.S., The Netherlands, Australia and Canada, but it also had the distinction to become the first no. 1 hit to feature a sitar.

One of the hotspots for psychedelic music in the U.S. during the second half of the ’60s was San Francisco. Among the key bands based in the city by the bay were Jefferson Airplane. Here’s White Rabbit, a tune written by lead vocalist Grace Slick. Initially, it was recorded for the band’s sophomore album Surrealistic Pillow from February 1967. It also came out separately as a single in June that year.

After ten paragraphs into the post, it’s about time I get to the band that probably is one of the first that comes to mind when thinking about psychedelic rock: Pink Floyd, especially during their early phase with Syd Barrett. Here’s a tune I’ve always dug: Arnold Layne, their debut single from March 1967, written by Barrett. According to the credits, this video was directed by Derek Nice and filmed on the beach in East Wittering, West Sussex, England in late February 1967.

March 1967 also saw the release of Purple Haze, the second single by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix tunes. The track features blues and Eastern modalities, along with novel recording techniques and sound effects like the Octavia pedal that doubled the frequency of the sound it was fed. The song also marked the first time Hendrix worked with sound engineer Eddie Kramer who would play a key role in his future recordings. Purple Haze climbed all the way to no. 3 in the UK; in the U.S., it only reached no. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Two months later, in May 1967, The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It included the psychedelic gem Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds, the tune that inspired the headline of the post:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

While credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney as usual, the song was primarily written by Lennon.

After the break-up of The Animals, lead vocalist Eric Burdon formed Eric Burdon & The Animals in December 1966. The band subsequently relocated to San Francisco. In May 1968, they released their second album The Twain Shall Meet. Among the record’s tunes is the anti-war song Sky Pilot. Credited to Burdon and each of the other members of the band Vic Briggs (guitar), John Weider (guitar, violin), Barry Jenkins (drums) and Danny McCulloch (bass), the tune also appeared separately as a single. Due to its length, the track had to be split across the A and B sides. Remarkably, Sky Pilot reached no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and no. 7 in Canada and Australia. Chart success in the UK was more moderate, where it peaked at no. 40.

In June 1968, Iron Butterfly released their sophomore album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The 17-minute title track, which occupied all of the record’s B-side, was written by the band’s keyboarder and vocalist Doug Ingle. Separately, a shortened version appeared as a single and became the band’s biggest hit reaching no. 30 in the U.S. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida not only is psychedelic rock, but is also considered to be an early example of heavy metal. Here’s the single edit.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Shotgun by Vanilla Fudge. It was included on their fourth studio album Near the Beginning from February 1969. “Near the End” perhaps would have been a more appropriate title, since by that time, the original psychedelic era was entering the twilight zone. Written by Autry DeWalt, the tune was first recorded by Junior Walker & the All Stars in 1965.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube