Welcome to THE PLAYLIST, where HeadStuff staff and friends siphon through exciting art to craft essential listening experiences you didn’t know you needed. In this instalment, Mark Conroy takes us to infinity and beyond…
Truth to be told, the relationship between popular music and the interminable void that exists beyond our skies is a bit of a rocky one. NASA and other such imperiously important institutions have been beaming songs into the far flung reaches of deep space for decades now, but results have been decidedly mixed.
Sure, they’ve had some decent cracks at it. Chuck Berry’s electric ‘Jonny B.Goode’ was part of a gold-plated record that was sent into the cosmos on the Voyager 1 probe. In 1977, the contents of the LP in question were chosen by a committee chaired by the late, great Carl Sagan. The track list was meant to reflect the diversity of life itself, so I guess that’s why the rest is stuff like Bulgarian folk songs and not anything off Low, Rumours or any other of the great albums that came out that year.
While the egalitarian sentiment of the Voyager record is to be commended, it was a bit of a mixed bag, but I guess that was the point. Other attempts, however, have been downright unconscionable. Rock band and Jared Leto’s musical afterthought 30 Seconds to Mars managed to convince a presumably stone-deaf NASA technician that it would be a good idea to send their then single ‘Up in the Air’ to the International Space Station via rocket in 2013. It wasn’t.
You’ll also be supremely glad to know that the first song ever to have been broadcast on Mars was that ever-enduring hit ‘Reach for the Stars’ by Will.I.Am. It’s not so much a song as it the sound of final moments of a dying synthesizer as it short circuits in a shallow pool. “I know the sky might be high / but baby it ain’t really that high” croons Mr. I AM, in a statement so profound it will surely resonate with Martians for generations to come and ensure their complete lack of interest in our planet. Mission accomplished?
So after seeing all previous efforts I decided I should make my own playlist that will no doubt get its own airing in the cosmic airwaves of the not so distant future. Above are 27 songs that reflect the diverse power that space has in the minds of musicians. For Neutral Milk hotel, the endless universe can provide a fitting heaven for a young girl unjustly killed by mankind’s barbarism. For Porches, the utter vastness of it all can prove a vital respite from the world down here below. But for others, it’s our closer relatives, the ones we can see from our own homes, the ones that we’ve known about for countless generations that appear to garner the most admiration. Diiv and The Waterboys, for instance, both find love and look to the sun and the moon respectively to articulate their emotions.
If I was to make a space playlist and not include any Bowie, there is a good chance people would get wind of it and I would be blacklisted from music sections the world over. After it was used quite effectively in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, ‘Starman’ seemed a shoe-in. There’s even some Gustav Holst because I thought he rather deserved to place, considering he wrote an entire suite dedicated to our solar system.
While varied, the common element among these tracks is clear. For all of them the mythical but yet very real realm of ‘the final frontier’ is an almost unquantifiable source of awe of wondrous inspiration. Look up at the sky tonight, and you’ll see just what they mean.