On this 49th anniversary of the first men on the moon, we’ve put together a list of the best space-oriented rock songs throughout the classic rock album era.
9. “Rocket Man” by Elton John
“Rocket Man” is one of the more famous songs from Elton John, released in 1972. The song, which reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and describes an astronaut’s mixed feelings about leaving his family in order to complete his mission.
Listen to “Rocket Man”:
8. “Countdown” by Rush
“Countdown” was inspired when the members of Rush were invited to view the launching of the first space shuttle mission in 1981. Released the following year, the song describes the launch in detail along with audio clips of some of the radio talk recorded during the actual maiden flight.
Listen to “Countdown”:
7. “Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling
Not to be confused with the David Bowie classic later on in our list, Peter Schilling furthers the story of the main character from “Space Oddity” a decade and a half later. Musically, “Major Tom (Coming Home)” is pure new wave and was originally recorded in both English and German.
6. “Standing On the Moon” by Grateful Dead
This ballad by Jerry Garcia from Built to Last, the Grateful Dead’s final studio album in 1989. While then setting of the song is on the moon, the gaze is upon Earth with political connotations as well as philosophical elements and the classic lyric about the American flag; “Old Glory Standing Stiffly, Crimson, White, and Indigo…”
Listen to “Standing On the Moon”:
5. “Space Truckin'” by Deep Purple
Wrapping up their fantastic 1972 album, Machine Head, “Space Truckin'” features tight rudiments during the verses and some frantic riffing during the choruses. But it is the top-notch drumming of Ian Paice that shines above all else, with a power that sounds like it could escape the atmosphere.
Listen to “Space Truckin'”:
4. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” by Pink Floyd
There are several songs by Pink Floyd which could have made this list. But the surreal 1968 track, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is distinct as the only song in their collection which features all five historical group members. The lyrics of the song were inspired by a book of ancient Chinese poetry.
Listen to “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”
3. “Watchers of the Sky” by Genesis
Beginning with an extended (and spooky) mellotron intro, the main theme of “Watchers of the Sky” employs unusual time signatures through entertaining rock sections with lyrics that speak of an empty Earth being approached by alien visitors.
Listen to “Watchers of the Sky”:
2. “Children of the Sun” by Billy Thorpe
In 1979, Billy Thorpe composed a space themed concept album with a uniquely arranged title track, which slowly but dramatically portrays the sci-fi story beat by beat. The song was reflective of the Star Wars/Star Trek movie craze of the late 1970s and includes some well crafted audio effects.
1. “Space Oddity” by David Bowie
We circle back to the celebration of the moon landing and a song recorded and released in the weeks prior to that fateful event in 1969. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” opened up his debut album with a gently strummed acoustic slowly fading in along with strategic drumming and orchestral elements.
The character of Major Tom reappeared on Bowie’s 1980 album Scary Monsters and Super Creeps as well as in the aforementioned 1983 song by Peter Schilling and several later covers and renditions.
Listen to “Space Oddity”:
With this subjective list we’ve doubtlessly left out scores of artists who may have deserved consideration for this list. Please give us your comments below and tell us where you agree and disagree.
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