Sci-Fi in rock music

Since Apollo Eleven’s moon landing in the historic summer of 1969, Science Fiction themes have invaded their way into popular music. Unsurprisingly, the years following Neil Armstrong’s giant leap were saturated with songs concerning space exploration.
Perhaps the most prolific of Sci-Fi loving musicians is the epic David Bowie.

Ziggy Stardust

Released just a few days before the moon landing, Space Oddity pokes around the headspace of lonely astronaut, Major Tom. Despite Tom’s early promise, he sadly meets his demise whilst floating round his tin can: “Ground control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong, can you hear me, Major Tom?” However, Bowie revives the character again in the classic Ashes to Ashes and lesser known Hallo Spaceboy.

David Bowie’s love affair with Sci-Fi continues on his 1972 concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. With just five years until the end of the world, decadent glam-rocker, Ziggy Stardust tries to instil society’s faith into an alien Star Man who will save them all. Sadly the aliens tear Ziggy apart during the emotive Rock and Roll Suicide, but it was a valiant effort.

Arguably the most epic of Sci-Fi inspired music is Jeff Wayne’s 1978 concept album, The War of the Worlds. The album retells H. G. Wells’ novel of the same title; written in the late nineteenth century, it is considered one of the earliest examples of Science Fiction literature.

The War of the Worlds artwork

The winning combination of 70s obsessions with concept albums and Science Fiction helped Wayne’s masterpiece become the 38th bestselling album of all time. The album’s prologue features Richard Burton reading the opening of H. G. Wells’ masterpiece before the iconic violin phrase takes over. Undeniably, the best part of this album is the electric guitar solos which play the part of the heat ray; visualising the alien destruction is effortless.

Clearly, something would have been amiss if 70s pop darling, Sir Elton John, had not jumped on the musical, Sci-Fi bandwagon. 1972 saw the release of Rocket Man, a track similar in tone and theme to Bowie’s Space Oddity. Like Major Tom, Elton’s astronaut is just a lonely, average man who misses his better half: “And all this science I don’t understand, it’s just my job five days a week”.

Sir Elton John

Although the cultural interest surrounding space travel makes sense in the Cold War context of the mid to late twentieth century, the influence of Science Fiction in popular music is still present. The Killer’s Spaceman offers up another possible insight into the psyche of astronauts; though not as memorable as Bowie’s or Elton’s classics, it’s sufficient for bopping along too. Muse do much better; Supermassive Black Hole is almost always played at any indie night.

Katy Perry, however, has a lot to answer for. Not even the presence of the super-cool Kanye West can redeem the shockingly awful E.T.: “Wanna be a victim, ready for abduction, boy, you’re an alien”. Not only are the lyrics poorly worded to a cringe-worthy degree, it goes against everything Science Fiction has tried to teach us. Did you not watch Signs, Katy?


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October 2021
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