Space Rock is a music genre I hold dear. I like to call it Psychedelic Rock immersed in space atmospheres.
That’s the kind of feeling I have whenever I listen to Space Rock songs: sounds that make you forget gravity and lift you up – above the clouds, beyond Earth’s atmosphere, into the darkness of space lit up by millions of stars. They make you believe you’re travelling far away, faster and faster – sometimes your ship flies by planets and moons, other times you have the impression of floating in space in absolute silence, except for the music in your ears.
To temporarily leave Earth, press play.
1. Astronomy Domine – Pink Floyd (1967)
Definitely one of the most iconic Space Rock songs. It’s the opening track of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, my very favourite Pink Floyd album (yes, I love it even more than The Dark Side of the Moon).
If the song hadn’t come out in 1967, I would’ve said it was written for the interstellar journey of the two Voyager spacecrafts, while they actually left Earth to fly by Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon Miranda and Titania ten years later, in 1977.
Actually, to be precise, Voyager 2 was the only one flying by Uranus and its moons Oberon, Miranda and Titania.
2. Space Oddity – David Bowie (1969)
I owe my passion for astronomy to Space Oddity.
It’s such a beautiful song, and I mean universally beautiful, not just related to the Space Rock genre. In my opinion it would have been a perfect addition to the Golden Record.
Space Oddity came out on July 11th, 1969 – just in time for the BBC to use it as a soundtrack for the first Moon landing on July 20th, 1969. Just perfect.
Did you know that astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover was the first video ever shot in space? He recorded it while he was aboard the International Space Station. Here it is!
3. Interstellar overdrive – Pink Floyd (1967)
I can’t think of a more appropriate title: I can easily imagine myself aboard a spaceship travelling at warp speed!
I suggest listening to it while driving at night, possibly on a road with no lights, even better if during a snow fall with headlights on full beam… It happened to me once and I believed I’d jumped to hyperspace.
I think the band mastered beautifully all of those apparently chaotic sounds: I don’t know about you, but I really have the impression I’m on my own interstellar journey whenever I listen to this song.
Like Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive is part of The Piper at The Gates of Dawn – as far as I’m concerned, these two songs would be enough to make it an epic album, but the other songs really add to it.
4. 2000 Light Years from Home – The Rolling Stones (1967)
You wouldn’t really say The Rolling Stones make Space Rock music, however this song is definitely part of the genre.
I think space atmospheres and the psychedelic universe are nicely intertwined and this track fits well in Their Satanic Majesties Request.
It was also released as B-Side of a song that makes me happy every time I hear it: the marvellous She’s a Rainbow.
I read Mick Jagger wrote 2000 Light Years from Home while he was in prison after being caught with some kind of… stuff.
I can almost picture him all alone in his cell, dreaming of the freedom that must have seemed 2000 light years away.
5. Echoes – Pink Floyd (1971)
I really love Echoes and its continuous changes, but there’s one thing I find particularly intriguing: it can be easily synchronised with that part of 2001: A Space Odyssey named “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”.
Seeing is believing:
And no, apparently Pink Floyd didn’t do this on purpose.
I did some research on the matter and found this interesting blog post: Investigating the myths around the ‘2001’-Pink Floyd connection.
So, it surely is a peculiar coincidence, especially if we consider the film came out in 1968 and Echoes was released just a few years later.
However, even though Stanley Kubrick and Roger Waters had been in contact for other projects, there’s no proof to say Pink Floyd were asked to cooperate for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nor was the song meant to be synced with “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”.
6. Spacelab – Kraftwerk (1978)
I was sure I would find quite a few videos of the ISS with Spacelab as a soundtrack, but sadly I found none!
Actually, there’s a video with real footage taken during the first Spacelab mission aboard the Space Shuttle – the real Spacelab!
The song is a perfect fit, isn’t it?
7. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun – Pink Floyd (1968)
I know, there’s plenty of Pink Floyd in my playlist – the truth is they made so many beautiful Space Rock songs, I had to include at least the ones I love the most.
Every time I listen to Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun I genuinely imagine myself aboard a spaceship on its journey towards the Sun for an important mission. And I laugh at myself.
8. Master of the Universe – Hawkwind (1971)
This song was a lovely surprise – I wasn’t aware of its existence before listening to it just a couple of days ago.
I’ll have to find out more about Hawkwind and see what they’ve got in repertoire.
In a way it reminds me a bit of Interstellar Overdrive, but with darker tones.
9. Rocket Man – Elton John (1972)
I love this melancholic Space Rock song.
It follows Space Oddity’s same thread – actually both songs were produced by Gus Dudgeon, who also produced Elton John’s whole Honky Château, his 1972 album which includes Rocket Man.
Even though this song is about feeling alone in space, it brings me peace to think of that lonely astronaut – somehow I envy him!
Also, I’m particularly attached to this song because it brings back memories of the good time I had with some lovely people: it was played each night after U2’s ‘360° Tour’ show – I attended quite a few gigs with some good friends and met new ones.
I think concerts have the power of making us feel like we’re all part of one global community – and we are, but sometimes we forget it.
I wish we could feel the same way in our everyday lives, too.
10. Across the Universe – The Beatles (1970)
I suppose this song doesn’t really fit in the Space Rock genre, however it evokes such a sense of infinite, I had to include it in my playlist.
Somewhere I read that John Lennon believed this song was the most poetic lyric he’d ever written.
Dear John, I don’t know if this is the most poetic of them all, but I’ll tell you I’m in love with these verses:
Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe…
They always come up to my mind whenever I look at the stars through my telescope.
To me, it’s the best song from Let It Be. I simply adore it.
And there’s one thing that makes me happy: Across the Universe is indeed travelling across the universe right now!
The song was transmitted by NASA on February 4th, 2008 and directed at the North Star.
This date was not chosen randomly, as it marked four important anniversaries: 40 years of the song, 50 years of NASA and the launch of the first US satellite, Explorer 1, and finally 45 years of Deep Space Network, the array of antennas used for deep space missions. The two Voyager spacecrafts I mentioned earlier still communicate via DSN. Their signal is 20 billion times weaker than a digital wristwatch and DSN is able to catch it!
Even Sir Paul McCartney himself sent a message to congratulate NASA on the initiative:
“Amazing! Well done, NASA! Send my love to the aliens.”
– Sir Paul McCartney
So, Across the Universe is indeed a Space Rock song after all!
I love when Art and Science meet.
Before writing this post I’d never realised how much the space race influenced the 60s and 70s music.
That sense of fast-approaching future and progress must have been a true inspiration to many artists of the time.
There would be so many more songs to take into consideration still – think about David Bowie! He deserves an essay.
I’m wondering if I’ve left out too many Space Rock songs…
Have you got a Space Rock playlist too?
If you have and you’d like to share, let me know in the comments!