Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Science Fiction Music

Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

SCIENCE FICTION MUSIC


With designated contributions by Katie Johnston, Spring 2006.

Brain in a Box: The Science Fiction Collection. Rhino, 2000. R2 79936.

Disc 1 — Movie Themes

The first track, “Science Fiction / Double Feature” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, effectively sets the mood or ‘tude of this collection: one of sincere fondness for the material despite the inevitable campiness. Then follows a generous series of 27 more tracks from Them! and Forbidden Planet to Mars Attacks! and The Matrix, with inclusion of familiar material from 2001 and Close Encounters. The Forbidden Planet overture sounds like Varèse, but more often the signature Theramin is included in music as orchestral though rarely as inspiring as Star Trek music. Such Theremin inclusions among the traditional instrumentations offer what amounts to alien invasions taking place in the sonic realm (The Day the Earth Stood Still, It Came From Ouer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man).

Disc 2 — TV Themes

You can probably guess most of these: themes from The Twilight Zone (with Rod Serling’s narrations), Lost in Space, The Jetsons, Star Trek, The X-Files. But we are reminded also of My Favorite Martian, The Time Tunnel, The Outer Limits, the chromatic lushness of One Step Beyond, Astro Boy, Land of the Giants, and others.

Disc 3 — Pop Songs

Although Jefferson Airplane, Nilsson, Spirit, and They Might Be Giants are included here, so are the justifiably obscure Jimmie Haskell and his Orchestra and Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones. Is “Cheese Rock” a recognized genre?

Disc 4 — Incidental/Lounge Music

The mixture of ’60s lounge orchestration with attempts at eerie or tense outer space effects, especially alongside incidental music from various venues such as the Seattle World’s Fair, renders this disc a far cry from easy listening. And yet the disc can function as not-too-distracting music when you’re working. Included is “Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets, the piece referred to in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Leonard (“Mr. Spock”) Nimoy narrates “Alien.” Sun Ra and Ferrante & Teicher are featured, as is “Theremin Solo.”

Disc 5 — Novelty

Naturally, “The Purple People Eater” is on here, but it comes as a surprise how widespread was the god-awful Purple-People-Eater-Wannabe phenomenon. Happily, the pre-Beatles period material is broken up by delights such as Jimmy Durante’s “We’re Going UFO’ing” and the B-52s’ “Planet Claire.”

Brain in a Book.

With a brief introduction by Ray Bradbury and contributions by Arthur C. Clarke, Bill Mumy, Matt Groening, and Dr. Demento, this image-rich collection of essays on science fiction features a long, impressively encyclopedic essay on “Space Age Sounds” by David Garland.

Clutch. “Droid.” Clutch. Atlantic, 1995.

This song also raises the question of what reality is in its lyrics. The lead singer consistently attempts to make his voice sound robotic; whether he actually pulls it off or not is a matter of opinion. In a mix of early ’90s metal and a hint of electronica, this song interestingly touches on SF topics. [Katie Johnston]

Lyrics:
Scientific progress
All too real
Dialectic nonsense
All unreal
Dial in the sands
Droid on the Moon
Lead into gold
One cousin removed
God names man
Man names ape
Flight of Icarus
Down into flames
Scientific progress
A circle revealed
Perfect as always
As all ways are real
Begin phase one again.

Clutch. “Escape From the Prison Planet.” Clutch. Atlantic, 1995.

This song, although not exactly SF in style, is definitely SF in its lyrics. As with many Sci-Fi novels, this song addresses the notion of Earth being too confining for humans, thus: “The Prison Planet.” With reference to alien technology, harvest of people on Mars, and the famous Bob Lazar who claimed to have performed reverse engineering on crashed extraterrestrial spacecraft in Area 51, the song is a perfect addition to an SF music collection. [Katie Johnston]

Lyrics:
Then against my better judgment I went walking out that door.
I smiled at one person then I nodded to three more.
One man asked me for a dollar, I asked him, “What’s it for?”
He said, “I have seen them.” I said, “O.K., it’s yours.”
And as featured on the MTV, the local high school lets out,
And the town becomes anarchy.
Parties are crashed, skid marks are measured.
The story’s in the paper, you may read it at your leisure.
Get out.
Eject.
Escape From the Prison Planet.
Get out.
Eject.
Escape From the Prison Planet.
And to the tune of a billion dollars, I supplied to the D.O.E.
Some tasty little nuggets of alien technology.
And as one might expect, I’ve been harassed for years.
The Men In Black have been bending my ear.
As a matter of fact, they were just here today,
But I escaped them through a secret passageway.
Once I lived there for one thousand days.
Get out.
Eject.
Escape From the Prison Planet.
Get out.
Eject.
Escape From the Prison Planet.
I have plans for the future, guess they’re futuristic plans.
Move out west and buy some desert lands.
Maybe up North, just past Alaska.
You know nothing of this if they ask you.
Red Rover, Red Rover, Bob Lazar’s coming over.
So honey clear the airstrip and light up that stove.
By Jove, I think it’s started. Oh yeah,
Escape From the Prison Planet.
Billion people harvest on Mars.
Rebuild the remnants of the obelisk,
One mile from the pyramid.
Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
Go forth, ad infinitum.
Return the relics to the Elephant.
And Atlantis rises.
Get out.
Eject.
Escape From the Prison Planet.
Ejector seat ignite.
Billion people harvest on Mars.
Rebuild the remnants of the obelisk,
One mile from the pyramid.
Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
Go forth, ad infinitum.
Return the relics to the Elephant.
And Atlantis rises.

Clutch. “Spacegrass.” Clutch. Atlantic, 1995. [Katie Johnston]

Lyrics:
Dodge Swinger 1973, Galaxy 500,
All the way stars’ green, gotta go.
Dodge Swinger 1973, top down, chassis low,
Panel dim, light drive, Jesus on the dashboard.
T-minus whenever it feels right, Galaxy 500.
Planets align, a king is born.
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
Dodge Swinger 1973, top down, chassis free,
Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong, or maybe just me.
Don’t worry, it’s coming.
Don’t worry, it’s coming.
Jesus on the dashboard.
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
I turn on the radio.
Hey kid, are you going my way?
Hop in, we’ll have ourselves a field day.
We’ll find us some spacegrass,
Lay low, watch the universe expand.
Skyway, permanent Saturday.
Oh, by the way, Saturn is my rotary.
Hop in, it’ll be eternity
Till we make it to M83.
Once around the Sun, cruising, climbing.
Jupiter cyclops winks at me, yeah, he knows who’s driving.
Hit neutral in the tail of a comet.
Let the vortex pull my weight.
Push the seat back a little lower.
Watch light bend in the blower.
Planets align.
A king is born.
Dodge Swinger.
Jesus on the dashboard.
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
Whenever it feels right
I turn on the radio.
Hey kid, are you going my way?
Hop in, we’ll have ourselves a field day.
We’ll find us some spacegrass,
Lay low, watch the universe expand.
Skyway, permanent Saturday.
Oh, by the way, Saturn is my rotary.
Hop in, it’ll be eternity
Till we make it to M83.

Daft Punk. “Human After All.” Human After All. 2005.

In an extremely technological, non-human voice, Daft Punk sings that we are all “human after all.” The technological voice contradicts the humanistic language. This song is symbolic of the many ways that modern people have attempted to replace humans with technology. This and the following Daft Punk works can be heard on Daft Punk’s MySpace website http://www.myspace.com/daftpunk. [Katie Johnston]

Lyrics:
We are human… after all
‘Atcha’ comin’… after all
[x8]

Human, human, human, human,
Human, human, human, human,
Human, human, human, human,
Human, human, human after all
[x7]

Daft Punk. “Technologic.” Human After All. 2005.

For use in a Science Fiction class this song is best presented with the video to supplement the “music.” This piece is performed with a robotic voice and its lyrics are two-word imperatives. It is well described by Dan Nishimoto, a connoisseur of Daft Punk: “Constructed equally from verbs implying technologic interfacing as it is drum machines, guitars, and vocoded melodies, the track cheerily skips through the discomforting parallel worlds of building finance models — ‘Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, melt, upgrade it / Charge it, pawn it, zoom it, press it, snap it, work it, quick, erase it’ — and making music — ‘Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it, drag and drop it, zip, unzip it / Lock it, fill it, curl it, find it, view it, curl and jam unlock it.’ Be it through pen, instrumentation, or even voice (always filtered), Daft Punk completely incorporates its surroundings, finding harmonies within clashes, melody within mistakes, songs amidst the litter we increasingly produce.” http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/d/daftpunk-human.shtml. [Katie Johnston]

Lyrics:
Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
trash it, change it, melt – upgrade it,
charge it, point it, zoom it, press it,
snap it, work it, quick – erase it,
write it, cut it, paste it, save it,
load it, check it, quick – rewrite it,
plug it, play it, burn it, rip it,
drag it, drop it, zip – unzip it,
lock it, fill it, call it, find it,
view it, code it, check – unlock it,
surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it,
cross it, crack it, switch – update it,
name it, read it, tune it, print it,
scan it, send it, fax – rename it,
touch it, bring it, pay it, watch it,
turn it, leave it, start – format it.

Moby. “If Things Were Perfect.” Play. V2, 1999.

Just as Science Fiction often questions personal identity, so too does this song by Moby. Many SF movies help us to visualize this “broken darkness” referred to in this song which addresses the question of what reality really is in much the same way that Science Fiction does. [Katie Johnston]

Lyrics:
[sample: “give me summer” x2]
[sample: “give me summer” x2]
broken darkness my cold end
i look for places i’ve never seen
nothing moves but the quiet on the street
now I open my eyes to this
isolated walking long hard hours
winter cold just brings me winter showers
it’s so brutal with the cold sky
wrapped in cold late at night
[sample: “give me summer” x2]
come clean, there’s no sun yet
the only lights here are made
i can’t speak, i can’t hear, but i know i’m real
there’s no warm here anyway
the darkest lights before the dawn
you remember the sun but it sank
in the water that eats the light
wrapped in cold, late at night
[sample: “give me summer” x2]
i open my eyes, it’s cold
the only souls go by
lift the bridge out of the water
the stone black light
living is easy when it’s night
the cold has covered the rain
i can see forever, to the deep
wrapped in cold, late at night
[sample: “give me summer” x4]

Oldfield, Mike. “Sentinel.” Tubular Bells. Virgin Records, 1992.

This song is from the same soundtrack containing the song originally heard by most as the opening track in The Exorcist. The album was also used in 1979’s The Space Movie. The otherworldly feel and mystical chanting of “Sentinel” is what makes it an ideal Science Fiction piece. [Katie Johnston]

Symphonic Star Trek: Music of the Motion Pictures and Television Series. Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Dir. Erich Kunzel. Telarc, 1996. 515642L.

Following an inspiring introductory narration by Leonard Nimoy, the collection offers the lush orchestral arrangements of the Star Trek musical material interspersed with sound effects from the films and tv shows: the transporter noise, warp-eight, a starship flyby, an explosion (of Praxis) that will rattle your car windows, and so on. Tracks that will most likely inspire you to thinking life is okay are the theme from Deep Space Nine, and the Star Trek II sequence (#14-16). The CD ends with the Borg voice assuring us that resistance is futile and that we will be assimilated.

Wakeman, Rick. Return to the Centre of the Earth. Narr. Patrick Stewart. EMI Records Ltd., 1999. 7243 5 56763 2 0.

The progressive rock keyboardist (formerly and currently for Yes), Rick Wakeman, recorded a sort of 36-minute rock opera in January 1974 in London: Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Because of various dissatisfactions, he wanted to return to the material. The resulting 1999 epic is nearly 77 minutes long, alternating between a sketchy narrative by Patrick “Picard” Stewart and rock tracks by Wakeman. Guest artists include Ozzy Osbourne, Bonnie (“It’s a Heartache”) Tyler, and Justin Hayward, backed by the London Symphony orchestra and English Chamber Choir.

The narrative is slightly squirrelly. We quickly hear of (Verne’s) “Lidenbrook” and Axel having discovered in a 12th-century volume an old parchment: the 16th-century alchemist Saknussemm’s instructions for reaching the center of the earth. “Two centuries forward from this discovery, three geologian explorers traversed land and sea … to emulate the journey that had been taken by their forefathers two hundred years previous. For fear of being followed, their identities were known to no-one.” So I think this means that this “return” takes place circa 2063, even though the futurism is not acknowledged. They do take a different route at the bottom of the Sneffels crater than did Lidenbrook, so it is clearly a different team and a different time.

As a narrative, especially one exacerbated by the anonymity of character and vagueness of historical context, the experience is not satisfying. We don’t feel as if we’ve really gone anywhere, and the wrap-up is uncomfortably dutiful. But it’s a terrific way to take a step beyond the concept album, and with harmonically colorful musical material, there are certainly many “thrill-ride” kinds of moments during the virtual trip. Emotions associated with such a journey and reasonably well captured by Verne in prose are here effectively amplified and conveyed in grand musical form. Hard-core Wakeman fans tend to register disappointment, but I’m impressed with the effectiveness of this work as an interdisciplinary extension of the Jules Verne experience.

Wayne, Jeff. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. Featuring Richard Burton. Columbia / Legacy, 1978. 2-CD set, 2005. C2H 94434.

This rock opera is punctuated by narrative bits of the H.G. Wells story, rendered in the sonorous tones of Richard Burton, who “plays” the journalist-witness to the Martian invasion. Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues is also featured as “The Sung Thoughts of the Journalist.” A few tracks, such as “Forever Autumn,” enjoyed some radio popularity in the late ’70s. A stage show version of this work is scheduled to tour in 2007 with a “virtual” Richard Burton.


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Dr. Michael Delahoyde, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of English
delahoyd@wsu.edu
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