Space Oddity by David Bowie and 8 other songs inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing

The first moon landings (which celebrate their 50th anniversary in July 2019) have had an immense impact on popular culture, inspiring countless filmmakers, artists and more.

One area the landings have had a huge influence on is music, with hundreds of songs dedicated – or at least mentioning – our celestial dance partner.

From classics like R.E.M.’s ‘Man on the Moon’ to cheesier affairs like Britney Spears’… erm, ‘Man on the Moon’, here are nine of the best songs about, or inspired by, the moon and landing upon the surface of it.

David Bowie – ‘Space Oddity’

This was Bowie’s first hit, the track that launched him to interstellar heights, and was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The tale of fictional astronaut Major Tom was released just five days before the launch of Apollo 11, and many have said the track mocks the British space programme, which was severely lagging behind the efforts of the Americans and Soviets of the time.

R.E.M – ‘Man on the Moon’

R.E.M’s second single from their 1992 album Automatic for the People went on to become one of their most famous songs.

Lyrically, it’s not really about the moon at all, and serves as a tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman, and references his career, including his Elvis impersonations and dalliance with professional wrestling.

The track’s title and chorus do refer to moon landing conspiracy theories though – a reference to rumours that Kaufman’s death in 1984 was faked – and the song gave its name to ‘Man on the Moon’ the 1999 Jim Carey-starring film about the comedian’s life.

Radiohead – ‘Sail to the Moon’

This lunar-focused song was reportedly written by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in just five minute for his son, Noah.

That explains the lullaby-like, almost nursery rhyme feel to the track, which actually alludes to the story of Noah’s Ark.

How well its shifting time signatures would help an infant drift off to sleep is up for debate, but Sail to the Moon is one of Hail to the Thief’s most underrated tunes.

Drive-By Truckers – ‘Puttin’ People On the Moon’

Space travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Drive-By Truckers’ 2004 track takes aim at the vast sums of money spent on voyaging to the stars while worse-off folk face crippling unemployment.

“Double-digit unemployment, TVA be shutting soon,” sings the band’s Patterson Hood, “While over there in Huntsville, they’re puttin’ people on the Moon.”

Echo and the Bunnymen – ‘The Killing Moon’

The most famous song by the other Fab Four from Liverpool, Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’ was inspired by Ian McCulloch’s dreams and his childhood fascination with space.

But there are even closer links with space – and in fact space based music.

The Killing Moon’s chords are the same as those from David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, just played backward.

Frank Sinatra – ‘Fly Me to the Moon’

This track precedes the actual moon landings by 15 years, when it was first recorded by actress Kaye Ballard, but it’s Sinatra’s 1964 version we’re all more familiar with today.

The song became closely associated with the Apollo space program; a copy of the song was played on the Apollo 10 mission which orbited the moon.

It also became the first music heard on the moon when played on a portable cassette player by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin after he stepped onto the lunar surface.

Thin Lizzy – ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’

The Irish rock band’s most famous track shouldn’t be confused with Toploader’s cover of a similarly titled song, and it hasn’t really got anything to do with the moon – other than boogying in its light.

But still, that infectious bass line is hard to ignore.

Britney Spears – ‘Man on the Moon’

No, not that deep-cut R.E.M. cover you’ve always dreamed of Spears tackling.

‘Man on the Moon’ is an entirely different song, and one that’s more about space travel that Michael Stipe’s little outfit could ever have dreamed of.

“Houston, I know there’s a problem here,” Spears laments in the chorus on a song that “utilises space and astrological imagery to create a scene of Spears cosmically pining for a lost love,” according to lyrics analysis website, Genius.

But it’s the line “Last night I was in your arms so strong” that really cinches this as a lunar ‘classic’. Ahem…

Elton John – ‘Rocket Man’

Obvious space references here.

Both this and Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ were produced by Gus Dudgeon too.


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