Every newspaper and media outlet over the past week seems to have put out a soundtrack to accompany this week’s anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission. But most of the songs they have chosen (Fly Me to the Moon, Moondance, Marquee Moon, Walking on the Moon, etc) have little relation to the moon landings or even to the moon itself. While the moon landing had enormous impact on popular culture, including music, there are not that many tracks that are specifically about the moon landing, or even about the space race. So, here is a collection of songs much more directly linked to the moon landings. It means that it’s not the greatest of soundtracks (as I’ve omitted many great tracks which reference the moon, but which are not about the space race), but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
It begins with David Bowie’s Space Oddity, a track which perhaps more than most defined the impact of the space race on popular music (it was released on 11 July 1969 – five days before the launch of Apollo 11). The following three tracks are specifically about the Apollo 11 mission – Sun Ra and June Tyson’s Walking On The Moon, The Byrds Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (a slightly strange final track from their Ballad of Easy Rider album) and John Stewart’s Armstrong, which explores both the impact of the moon landing on the human imagination and also the contrast between the resources poured into the space race, and the neglect of poverty and despair on Earth (it was banned on many radio stations). And that contrast was also the theme of two great tracks from two of the great icons of 60/70s black music – Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues and Gil-Scott Heron’s bitter, biting Whitey on the Moon.
The final four tracks come from much later, and show the enduring hold of the Apollo 11 mission on the imagination. Public Service Broadcasting’s 2015 album, The Race for Space, tells (obviously) the story of the space race, from John Kennedy’s famous September 1962 ‘We choose to go to the Moon in this decade’ speech, through Sputnik and Gagarin to the Apollo mission. The track here, Go, is about Apollo 11. Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day is taken from his 1983 album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, which developed out of Eno’s soundtrack for the Al Reinert documentary For All Mankind. The final track, Billy Bragg’s The Space Race Is Over is a lament for lost dreams. Which seems an apposite place at which to finish.
Space Oddity (1969)
Sun Ra with June Tyson
Walking On The Moon (1971)
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (1969)
Inner City Blues (1971)
Gil Scott Heron,
Whitey on the Moon (1970)
Public Service Broadcasting,
Deep Blue Day (1983)
The Space Race Is Over (1996)
The photographs are all courtesy of NASA.