Fifty years ago today, three NASA astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins) left the Earth on the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, and four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first men to step onto another body beyond Earth – pretty much the crowning moment of what became known as the Race for Space. A probably unique set of circumstances enabled the Race for Space – World War Two had created the conditions for the technology to be developed, and then the Cold War created the “reasoning” for the US and Soviet Union to proceed – to be better than the other, to do more, to go further.
/Tuesday T(w)en(ty)/376/Man on the Moon
The speed of advancement across this period is astonishing. In less than twelve years, humanity went from sending it’s first object into low Earth orbit (Sputnik 1, on 04-October 1957), to humans landing on the Moon (Apollo 11 on 20-July 1969) – perhaps a period of technological development and enhancement that may never be matched again.
In honour of this momentous anniversary, I reached out, as I often do, to my friends for song suggestions, and they came up with an awful lot more songs than I did when I did this the first time around in 2009. Intriguingly only five of the songs I used last time were suggested again, and there were no less than 228 suggestions overall (with nine more previously used elsewhere) with 177 unique songs.
With so many great suggestions, too, I took the rare step (it takes a long time to write!) of expanding this week to twenty songs, partly because I had more to say, and partly because, well, this is a momentus anniversary that deserves the additional time. Thanks of course to everyone who took the time to submit.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
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/The Race for Space
We start with an appropriate song for this week’s anniversary, from one of the most intriguing bands of recent times. If you’re not familiar with their modus operandi, let me recap – this is a band who don’t generally use live vocals, instead picking out samples and themes from public service films of the past to tell a wider story. Easily the most effective so far has been their second album, The Race for Space, where they picked out a number of stories – and not generally the most obvious ones, either – from the Space Race of the fifties and sixties. While a number of the songs were more downbeat, as they dealt with some of the crushing failures that in other times might have ended the entire programme, other songs were utterly joyous, and Go! is the most forthright of all. It celebrates those behind the scenes of Apollo 11 (and when played live is almost always dedicated to Gene Kranz, the Lead Flight Director at the time), those unsung heroes who were the people on the ground that created the early computers that allowed space travel, that managed every possible element and acted as additional pairs of eyes to those Astronauts thousands and thousands of miles away.
/Welcome to Lunar Industries
This was a popular suggestion in the thread for this a few weeks ago, and I must confess that I’ve never seen the film it comes from. But having watched the trailer, I get the gist (I will watch the film, I promise!): Sam Rockwell is out on the moon, on a three-year contract to mine for an energy source for the Earth, and things go awry psychologically. This concept of isolation in space has been one that has taxed a great many minds for many years – both in fiction and in reality, as how could or would you deal with it? Covering vast, almost unimaginable distances – and with potential Mars missions the likelihood that it’s a one-way trip – you’d have to be mentally very strong indeed to deal with that.
Clock DVA have long remained one of the most enigmatic of the older generation of industrial bands, as Adi Newton and his cohorts have doggedly looked to the future rather than ever standing still – which is why their recent shows concentrating on Buried Dreams and Man-Amplified were such a surprise. That’s not to say that it wasn’t welcome – it was an utter joy to hear material I never, ever thought I’d have the chance to hear live – it just seemed unexpected. By the time of Sign in 1993, though, they were fully into experimental territory, with an emphasis on space, and this track is a mellow, almost melancholy piece that allows quotes from NASA astronauts about their feelings when in space to take centre stage, and the beauty of it is overwhelming.
/Another Space Song
The glorious album that this song is part of shares a title (or, at least, the translation of) with an early seventies Sci-fi film, and another song (Solaris) nods to Tarkovsky’s classic film, and generally, Failure had their minds on space at the time as a need for escape from their messy lives at the time (which swiftly sunk this most brilliant of bands for nearly two decades, before their triumphant return with The Heart Is A Monster). The only song, though, with literal space references on the album is this song, a pretty, sad song that entwines the concept of isolation a long, long way from home with the human concept of loss, and needless to say is somewhat devastating as a result.
/Trappist-1 (A Space Anthem)
TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool red dwarf star some forty light years away, was discovered to have seven planets orbiting it in 2017, an event that caused quite some excitement at the time and has inspired quite the art in various forms. One of those inspirations has resulted in this taut, anthemic track, where vocalist Ryan Swift looks to the skies, and wishes to find himself leaving Earth and reaching that star system – and that wonderlust has birthed a quite great song (and one where friends of mine are in the video!).
/Space Is The Place
/Space Is The Place
Sun Ra wasn’t like other jazz bandleaders, pioneering afrofuturism and a starry-eyed, space-led gaze amid music that sometimes sounded like other artists, and at others sounded like no-one else at all. That said, if you don’t like jazz, some of his experimental work will really push your patience – although trying to know where to start with his material is an interesting point, as with countless releases and over one hundred albums, there’s a lot to get into. This song – or at least of the versions of it – features in the film Sun Ra made (here’s the opening titles) of the same name, where he and his Arkestra head off to outer space to colonise a new planet. I really must track down the whole film at some point, as this sounds mad…
/Is That You Mo-Dean?
As one of the quirkiest bands of the past half-century continue what is expected to be their final tour before retirement, they certainly merit a mention here – their strange New Wave sound often had surreal or fantastical elements, almost taking the idea of music as escapism to ludicrous extremes. One of a number of great tracks from their last album for sixteen years (this was released in 1992), Fred Schnieder describes a tale of alien abduction where he’s all for it, and takes it all in as the trip of his life. Well, I guess the idea of seeing other planets really is fucking cool…
/Killing Joke (2003)
Long one of my favourite Killing Joke songs, it was the first song I ever played as a DJ at DJ/tcf/v1/001. A synapse-frying live favourite, too, for a long time now, where it feels like it’s played about three times as fast as the pummellingly-heavy album version (which of course features Dave Grohl on the ‘skins, righting a decade-old wrong after Nirvana rather shamelessly stole from Eighties for Come As You Are) – this is another of Jaz Coleman’s songs considering the apocalypse, taking the point of view of the titular body about to cleanse the Earth and offer the chance to start afresh. There are, of course, relatively frequent news stories warning of the latest asteroid threatening Earth, but thankfully none have come close in these modern times!
/A Night At The Opera
I can’t imagine that there are too many bands who have a guitarist who’s an astrophysicist – particularly bands who’ve had the success and longevity of Queen. His interest in the subject probably inspired a few songs, but especially this one, where Brian May takes the lead vocals on an unusually restrained, acoustic-led song and heads off into space, taking a year long voyage and then, apparently, returning home to find one hundred years have passed (the time dilation effect, so I’m told). Not a Queen song I’ve ever heard before – I was never a massive fan, although it’s impossible not to know the singles, of course – it’s not a song I’d have expected the band to have ever written, especially as it is from the same album as Bohemian Rhapsody…
One thing I was very conscious of with this week’s list was that, especially with it expanded to twenty songs, that I didn’t have it as an unremittingly serious one. So as we approach the halfway point, here is Dave Wyndorf and his band of space-metal travellers to add a bit of glamour and humour into proceedings. By far their biggest hit (partly thanks to it’s gloriously over-the-top video, it hit the top three in the US), it appears to depict an alien lording it over people on Earth, and he’s decided that enough is enough and he’s going to rule the entire damned thing. Either that or it’s an allegory for Monster Magnet hitting the mainstream, but either way, this song fucking rules.
Long one of the more interesting “noise” acts out there, German group S.K.E.T. have a strongly thematic approach to their music, and also a propsenity to lean toward Socialist Realism in their work. Which certainly makes them stand out, but their most relevant work for this week’s post is their album Baikonur, with musical pieces based around work at the eponymous Cosmodrome, a location massively important to the Space Race (both Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, and Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight, took off from here). Zond, by the way, was one of the unmanned Soviet space programs that lost a large number of craft, but Zond 3 did manage to be the second craft to photograph the far side of the Moon. We got an unexpected look at a lot of Russian Space technology of the time a few years ago, at the excellent Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum.
/How to Measure A Planet?
Despite such a title, not actually much of the band’s first move into a more melodic realm is actually fixated on space. But this glorious, dynamic track sees Anneke van Giersbergen’s vocals soar into the stars, as she imagines setting foot on another planet, experiencing weightlessness and generally marvelling at the fact that some people have actually managed this over the course of the past fifty years. I came to The Gathering thanks to their staggering album If_Then_Else, an album that I still return to on the darkest of days to level my emotions – particularly opening track Rollercoaster, as it has a soothing, calming quality that I can’t explain. The past fifteen years have had my head so entwined with that album that I’ve never explored further, as if it might pop the bubble. This track suggests I’ve been missing out.
/Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long Long Time)
I grew up hearing quite a bit of Elton John – my dad is quite the fan of his seventies material, which is undoubtedly his best material – although I’ve never really had too much time for it generally myself. I make an exception for this song, though, for some reason. Perhaps it is because it is one of a select group of songs about space travel (in any form) that concentrates on the human sacrifice of it, as opposed to the romantic wonder of space. The protagonist is an astronaut on his way to Mars, but it’s just a routine job, as he worries about his wife and kids, and what the world might think of him – is he just a boring astronaut? I’ve always thought the people who went into space as inspirational, extraordinary figures. They are people who’ve done something truly amazing, and have been able to see our planet – and it’s place in the universe – in a unique way that we will never experience.
/Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang
/Also Sprach Zarathustra
This would never have been associated with space had it not been for it’s pivotal use in 2001: A Space Odyssey, of course – and initially it was inspired by Nietzche’s work of the same name. This dramatic, short intro piece to the wider work feels like listening to a life coming into being, or a light flooding the darkness – an extraordinary piece of music that would have been remarkable even if it hadn’t ended up in an epoch-defining film.
/Space Is Deep
/Doremi Fasol Latido
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams]
Let’s welcome aboard the legendary space rock band Hawkwind, who make their first appearance on amodelofcontrol.com, never mind in the Tuesday Ten series. This song suggests that the band were rather overwhelmed with the idea of the size and scope of space and the universe, something that it was impossible to comprehend by mere mortals, and the song goes from a timid instrumental to a mind-expanding rock-out over the course of six epic minutes (a mere pop song for Hawkwind, many of whose songs go an awful lot longer than that).
/Cygnus X-1 – Book One – The Voyage
/A Farewell to Kings
Talking of progressive bands with long, long songs, another debut appearance comes from Canadian prog legends Rush – a much-suggested band in previous threads that I’ve never really had the right opportunity to feature, until now. In fitting with the complexity that this band are famed for, this track was followed by Book Two on the next album, which was another nineteen minutes to add to the ten here – and you need to read the storyline to understand the track. In short, a space explorer gets sucked into a Black Hole and ends up emerging back in time, watching two Greek Gods in conflict – but that’s only the half of it. I have to admit that I’ve only ever dabbled into prog, and so Rush have never especially been my bag, but this monstrous track is at least intriguing…
I always thought that this was a one-hit wonder, but apparently John O’Connor had a number of hits under the name of The Firm in the eighties, all of which were novelty things, references to popular culture in one way or another, but none of them have quite stood the test of time like this barmy track. Reputedly rejected by all labels that he approached, it ended up selling over a million copies, and of course uses a ton of samples and catchphrases from the legendary Star Trek TV series, whose characters are some 250 years in the future, exploring the outer reaches of our galaxy…
/Ghosts of American Astronauts
/So Good It Hurts
It’s remarkable to think that while those first men were standing on the Moon, the US was simultaneously bogged down in an unwinnable, desperately unpopular war in Vietnam that would continue for nearly six more years to 1975. The nearly twenty-year-long war resulted in millions dead (the number varies depending on who is reporting it), and the US lost nearly 60,000 troops in a war that many questioned the point of – and even more so in the years since – for too long. So that “good news” of Armstrong and Aldrin planting the American flag on a more benign location on the Moon – and the extraordinary leap forward that it signified – was much needed in so many senses at the time. I’ve never really listened to the Mekons, either, and I was rather surprised to find this song to be an elegant, gentle indie song with a sweet, wistful melody – something at odds with what I thought I might hear.
/Across The Universe (Live Tate Modern 14-Apr 2012)
Originally, of course, by The Beatles, but it was – like the rest of Let It Be – later repurposed by Laibach. Their reworkings often show the cynicism or totalitarianism perhaps not evident originally, but this song just accentuates the wonder. In Lennon’s hands, it was a nod to his interest in Meditation, but Laibach made it something very different. There is a wonder in the Laibach version, and particularly in this live version that Mina Špiler performed in 2012 – still one of the greatest, most awe-inspiring live shows I’ve ever seen, and this song was the astonishing, jaw-dropping centrepiece. In the gargantuan turbine hall, she sang in front of a screen of stars and the moon, turning it into a paean to hope, that we can do better and make things better, and I still get shivers about it now.
/Last Man on the Moon
We began this week with a concept album about space, and we finish with one too. An album that I know my wife adores, and this particular song suggestion was her’s (and a couple of other people’s, too). Of the twelve men to walk on the moon, just four survive at the time of writing (sadly the last man to walk on the moon in the final lunar mission, Gene Cernan, died in 2017), and this song laments that fact, as the gorgeous ballad unwinds into an emotional five minutes, celebrating those men that made it and saw things we will never see with our own eyes.
A final thing – one of the (many) highlights of our honeymoon was an unexpectedly emotional visit to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the main reason for our visit being that we could see Endeavour, the last Space Shuttle built. It was an awe-inspiring sight, still battered from it’s trips into space, hanging above us as if it were still flying. Around the room, every Shuttle mission was detailed on a series of panels, giving the obvious information and various strange asides and curious details. But also, there was the sadness that the Shuttle era is now long over, and with it a period of extraordinary progress has ended. Work continues in space at NASA, the European Space Agency and others, but in an age where science isn’t exactly front-and-centre in American thinking particularly, will we ever see something like the Shuttles again? Maybe not in the near future, although hopefully we may see another man on the moon, or even another body, again someday.
Space continues to captivate us. It shows us – and younger generations especially – the amazing things that science and education can achieve probably better than anything else, and while the world seems to regress around us by the day, maybe some of those young people who do get inspired can help change and advance the world that little bit further in one way or another in the future.
On the anniversary of those first Moon Landings this Saturday, I will raise a glass to those pioneers and the staggering achievement that it represents.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”