Up, up, up and away!
Some songs about the world above us.
It’s Friday, so we’re going with something a little lighter today.
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I’m a compulsive list maker. To-dos, reminders; you name it, I write it down. Part of that is down to having terrible short-term memory and partly to keep the white noise in my head down to a dull roar.
That also means I’m a sucker for any sort of “name your top 5 xxx” sort of thing. Whenever I see them on Twitter, I swear I’ll keep scrolling, even as I type out my “3 favorite songs from The Cure’s ‘Head on the Door,’” or whatever.1
Whenfirst tagged me into sci-fi Friday recently, I thought I was safe. After all, I watch almost no sci-fi shows, and I can’t remember the last time I read a sci-fi book (maybe 12 years ago for a Russian Lit class I took in college?).
I really didn’t think I had anything to add.
But the reality is that I work in the aerospace industry. My job is literally to help machines defy the laws of physics, so why not? I use programs that were developed 50 years ago alongside ones that would’ve felt like something from an Asimov novel just a few short years ago. With a few keystrokes, I can access telemetry at a level that was impossible when I first walked on the property. The future is here, and it resides on my workstation.
All that to say, this list is indexed far more on the Space/science part than the fiction side.
No robots, no lasers. Maybe next time?
Pixies- Planet of Sound (Trompe Le Monde, 1991)
All good things must come to an end, and Trompe le Monde is the last Pixies record in their first run (and to feature bassist Kim Deal). But the band went out with a (big) bang, releasing a record that was as good—if not better—than the ones that came before it. To my ear, predecessor Bossanova was a bit of a letdown (save “Dig For Fire”), and I was leery of picking this up for fear of the same. It took less than 2 minutes for the band to show me those concerns were unfounded.
The title track gets things started, but the record doesn’t really kick off until this one. And it’s a rocket ride that’s all gas & no brakes.
I had a talented wine
That land of classical gas
And on the planet of glass
They send ya skippin' through time
I got to somewhere renowned
For its canals and the color of red
Lots of guys who shook their heads
Rhythmically to resound
This ain’t no f**kin around indeed.
Green Day- 2000 Light Years Away- (Kerplunk, 1991)
Kerplunk is actually a few months younger than Trompe le Monde, but I always think it’s much older. This record has been described as a dry run for the band’s later success, and that’s a fair assessment. Billy Joe Armstrong once named Kerplunk2 as his favorite record by the band, citing its autobiographical nature.
Same here, mainly because this was my on-ramp to the band, and it’s the one I still play the most. I haven’t seen the band play live since just before Dookie was released, and I don’t really listen to anything that came after it.
At the moment, I’m going to say [1991’s] Kerplunk. It’s kind of autobiographical. We wrote that record when I was 18, 19 years old, and it was at a time before punk became mainstream. There’s something about it that feels like a fanzine. All of us were living together, living in bands together. It was a coming of age in a way. A song like “Welcome to Paradise” wasn’t just about teenage heartbreak anymore. It had a lot more to do with life slapping you in the face.
As for this track, few things can send you into the stratosphere like new love. And few separations feel greater than any distance between you and that same person.
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The Pretenders- Space Invader (S/T 1979)
On a record filled with groundbreaking tracks, my favorite is the one most people don’t much care for. I’m not trying to be contrarian here- this entire record is awesome. But what’s the deal here? Was it a filler track meant to invade Side A's empty space? Was it something else? It beats me, but without looking, I’ll bet this is the song I listen to the most.
Atticus Fault- My First Trip to Mars (S/T, 2002)
Rushing to a hospital is not normally the best time to find a new earworm, but that’s what happened here. This always struck me as an early oughts take on earlier work- as if the band had been playing “Rocketman” or Space Oddity and decided to record their own (extremely) early 00s take on it all.
Like a lot of the music from that era, it was a supernova- it burned bright, burned fast, and then was gone for good. I’m not sure I ever heard it on the radio after that one time. Good thing Kazaa was around, I guess. Still catchy, though.
The B52s- 53 Miles West of Venus (Wild Planet, 1980)
Speaking of engagement bait tweets:
I wasn’t kidding. This really is a no-skips record for me. It's fantastic from the opener, “Party Gone Out of Bounds,” to this closing track. And after the wild ride the band just took us on, it’s the perfect way to wrap things up.
They would go on to make several more songs about the cosmos and its characters (There’s a Moon in the Sky, Moon 83, Trism/Stella Corona, Cosmic Thing, etc.), but this one takes us the farthest out of bounds.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these songs. What should be here? Rants, raves, think pieces and hot takes are all welcome! If you happen to remember your last trip to space, feel free to share that, too.
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An earlier version of this article first appeared here.
This one was pretty fun, though, and by and large, the responses have been wonderful. Check ‘em out! If you’ve already done one, please mention it in the comments- I’d love to read it!