On July 20 1969, 44 years ago, man first set foot on the moon via the Apollo 11 space mission. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became living legends. Pity “the other one,” astronaut Michael Collins, who didn’t get to walk on the moon.
The moon and space travel has inspired musicians and writers for many hundreds of years, of course. The influence of the Moon on music can be good, bad or simply strange.
Here’s a “lunatic” soundtrack to mark a legendary day. Please add your own favorites.
10. Inspiral Carpets “Saturn 5”
The U.K. ‘90s combo were always retro. Here’s their homage to Saturn V (Five), the name of the rocket that launched the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 - when the band members were kids. Farfisa organ, Les Pauls, references to JFK’s murder and more are here.
Crew member fact? The Inspiral Carpets’ drum roadie of the time was an aspiring songwriter called Noel Gallagher.
9. Creedence Clearwater Revival “Bad Moon Rising”
CCR’s John Fogerty wrote “Bad Moon Rising” after watching The Devil and Daniel Webster. Inspired by a scene in the movie involving a hurricane, Fogerty claims the song is about “the apocalypse that was going to be visited upon us.” Bad moon!
The lyric of “there’s a bad moon on the rise” has gone down in rock folklore as a commonly misheard lyric of “there’s a bathroom on the right.” Fogerty has even sung the latter in jest in his own live shows. “Bad Moon Rising” is simple to play with A, D, G and Bminor chords only, but…
Tuning fact? Fogerty actually played those chords in an Open D tuning (DADF#AD.)
8. Ozzy Osbourne “Bark at the Moon”
Ozzy’s 1983 song references Moon-influenced insanity (see Pink Floyd at #3) and the same-named album has him pictured as a werewolf. In Balkan folklore, a human-to-werewolf transformation occurs in the Winter solstice, Easter and full Moons. Jake E. Lee plays guitar on the original, but Zakk Wylde took up the baton with some of the most “lunatic” shredding you’ll ever see.
Gibson fact? In the video below, Wylde is playing his Zakk Wylde ZV Custom, a hybrid-body shape of a Flying V and SG.
7. The Police “Walking on the Moon”
It was originally called “Walking Round the Room,” according to writer Sting. “Walking Round the Room was a stupid title,” says Sting, “so I thought of something even more stupid which was Walking on the Moon.”
Even more stupid are the lyrics. “Giant steps are what you take / walking on the moon” is OK. But, “I hope my leg don’t break”? Given the Moon’s gravity is only 17% of the Earth’s, that’s highly unlikely to happen. And to think Gordon “Sting” Sumner was previously a school teacher! The Police filmed the “Walking on the Moon” video at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Lyrical nonsense, but it was a U.K. #1.
6. Neil Young “Harvest Moon”
“Harvest Moon” (also “Hunter's Moon”) is a traditional term for the full moons occurring in September and October. The “Harvest Moon” is the full moon closest to the autumnal/fall equinox. Neil Young’s 1992 album and song of the same name is considered by many to be the sequel to his 1972 classic mostly-acoustic album Harvest. Another song informed by the Moon’s influence on all people.
5. Nick Drake “Pink Moon”
The title track of the mercurial Drake’s final album, recorded mainly by just him and his acoustic guitar with occasional piano. Drake played “Pink Moon” in a CGCFCE tuning (which he often used) with a capo at the second fret.
A “Pink Moon” is a full Moon in April, whose name comes from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the U.K. spring.
Lunar fact? The Moon doesn’t actually appear pink, even during a so-called Pink Moon.
4. R.E.M. “Man on the Moon”
This is not about the Moon at all, really. On the surface it’s about actor Andy Kaufman, but also about urban mythology. The title and chorus refer to moon landing film conspiracy theories - allusion to rumors that Kaufman’s 1984 death was faked, just as movie director Stanley Kubrick supposedly faked Apollo 11’s moon landing. Kubrick didn’t.
Michael Stipe’s oblique lyrics also refer to Elvis Presley – some “lunatics” believe Elvis is alive and well, living on the Moon. The 1999 movie based on Kaufman's life was called Man on the Moon. It’s a complex lyric, for sure.
Songwriting fact? Although credited (as always) to R.E.M’s Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, the main motif for “Man on the Moon” (a C-chord, then shifted up a whole tone) was actually written by “drummer” Bill Berry – in the song’s video, he’s appropriately “driving the truck.” Berry also wrote the music for R.E.M’s “Everybody Hurts.”
3. Pink Floyd “The Dark Side of the Moon”
Not all “moon songs” are about the place or even space, as we now know. Pink Floyd’s biggest-ever album Dark Side of the Moon ponders many themes, but the main one is that of mental illness, or “lunacy”. The word “lunatic” is derived from the Latin lunaticus meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck” (see also “loony.”) Does the Moon send people crazy? Well, the moon’s gravitational-pull controls the Earth’s water tides so the Moon is a powerful thing.
2. Rush “Countdown”
“Countdown” (1982) describes the inaugural flight of STS-1 Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981, with samples of commentary from NASA mission control. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart personally witnessed the launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
Song-inspiring fact? The Rush trio watched from a VIP area called “Red Sector A” – later the name of a 1984 Rush song, but that song is actually about the WWII Holocaust.
1. David Bowie “Space Oddity”
Written and first released in 1969 before the first moon landing, Bowie’s song is perhaps the most-enduring ode to space travel. The title was a pun on Arthur C. Clarke’s book/the Stanley Kubrick-directed movie of 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
When re-recorded and re-released in 1973, “Space Oddity” became David Bowie’s first U.S. hit.
Bowie revived his “Major Tom” character for “Ashes to Ashes” (1979) and “Hallo Spaceboy” (1995). “Space Oddity” recently regained popularity after it was reworked by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who performed the song while aboard the International Space Station in 2013 for the first music video shot in space.
What are you favorite moon or space songs?