Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and other out-of-this-world songs for a spacewalk


Any spacewalk is a momentous occasion, one that speaks to the brilliant efforts of generations of scientists, astronauts, politicians and civilians. You can fire up NASA’s TV channel or website and tune into what can be a quiet, long meditation.

Whether you watch it live or on video, there is not much need for sound, given that in space no one can hear you, well, let’s just say, walk.

Instead, open another tab for YouTube and treat yourself to a celestial soundtrack. We’ve curated one for you below that you can add on to.

Listen for the little hints of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” a 1961 song that helped cinch Elvis Presley’s comeback after returning from military service. And why not? Elvis, after all, is somewhere out there, floating in space himself and watching out over us — if he’s not alive and well and living in Roswell, that is.

In a literal vein, here’s Depeche Mode’s celestial ditty “Spacewalker,” from the electronic band’s appropriately titled 2009 album “Sounds of the Universe.”
Spacewalks are happening now, but one day — to trust our futurists and sci-fi writers — we’ll have colonized distant planets, and there will be long-haul truckers (think Han Solo) zipping around the stars, bringing goodies from Alpha Centauri and points beyond to deserving Earthlings. Let Deep Purple tell the story in their chugging, choogling 1972 song “Space Truckin’,” seen and heard here in this chaotically energetic live version from 1973.

One thing’s for sure: With all that hair, no one in the room back then could have fit into a space helmet, no matter how far out into the heavens they may have been projecting down on the ground.

It stands to reason that other critters from outer space are going to get here before we get there. And when they do, to trust Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” they are going to want to drag race with their terrestrial counterparts, a scenario that Joe Dolce’s 1981 song “Ain’t No UFO Gonna Catch My Diesel” takes on with a lively Texas two-step, as served up by Them Fargo Brothers.
To continue in a goofy vein for a moment, here’s a Django Reinhardt-esque jazz exercise by the always tongue-in-cheek singer and guitarist Dan Hicks. Take a ride on an alien vessel? Doggone right, says Hicks in his 1989 ditty with his Acoustic Warriors, aka the Singing Martianettes, in “Hell I’d Go.” Listen for the tip of the fedora to “The Twilight Zone” along the way.
Once upon a time, there was a band called Jefferson Airplane. When sci-fi-obsessed guitarist Paul Kantner took the reins after founding members of the band began to drift away, that band became Jefferson Starship, and Kantner, Grace Slick and company took off for galaxies unknown. Here’s a lovely song from 1970 called “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight,” featuring members of the Grateful Dead, with help from David Crosby and Graham Nash.

Doubtless Kantner and company were steeped in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which blended visual psychedelia with some of the greatest standard tunes in the classical repertoire.

Many survivors of the 1960s can’t hear Richard Strauss without thinking of Kubrick’s classic. Here are two takes on Strauss’ 1896 tone poem “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” one straight-out symphonic, the other a hit under the disco ball back in the day.

Elton John’s 1972 song “Rocket Man” has become iconic to the point nearly of cliché, thanks to its frequent employment in TV commercials. It deserves to be rescued and listened to with fresh ears: Its soaring melody and pensive lyrics are what make it so memorable, after all.

Elton John performs on "Top of the Pops," April 1, 1972.
Here’s the official video, which strangely was not filmed until 2017, a full 45 years after the song was released on Elton’s fifth studio album, “Honky Château.” Then listen to Kate Bush’s lovely reggae-tinged cover, which breathes new life into the Elton John–Bernie Taupin classic.
George Clinton may tell you he’s from North Carolina, Glenn Goins from suburban New Jersey, and Bootsy Collins from Cincinnati, but don’t believe them for a moment. They are from somewhere way out in outer space, and this video proves it. Over the course of 10 funky minutes, Parliament brings its 1975 classic “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” straight to Mission Control in Houston. Hop on for the ride and hang on tight.
A beginner's guide to stargazing (CNN Underscored)
(As a bonus, let’s throw in some Sun Ra Arkestra, too, since Sun Ra, who died in 1993, landed on our planet from Saturn — or so he said — long before the members of Parliament-Funkadelic arrived. This “Tiny Desk” set from NPR ends with one of Sun Ra’s best-known songs, “Interplanetary Music.”)
Speaking of aliens — and thank the stars he chose to fall to Earth — singer-songwriter David Bowie was one of our foremost musical interpreters of the farther reaches of outer space. Very early in his career as a solo artist, just nine days before the lunar module Eagle of the Apollo 11 mission touched down on the moon, Bowie released his 1969 song “Space Oddity,” introducing us to the enigmatic and lonely Major Tom. Just a few years later, tuned to the cosmos, he wrote the wonderful song “Starman,” which appears on his 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”
Finally, thinking of those astronauts and spaceships making their way into the faraway ether, let’s give The Beatles the last word. John Lennon is floating around out there, too…

Want the songs as a Spotify paylist? Here you go:

Gregory McNamee writes about books, science, food, geography and other topics from his home in Arizona.



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