A Moonage Daydream - Science Fiction and Music
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
We may not often make the connection, but the realms of music and science fiction aren't as disconnected as you might initially think. Many times over the years have these two worlds intersected, and in my opinion, it's a perfect pairing. Music and science fiction are the two artistic fields for which I have the most passion, so their combination has led to some of my favourite musical works of all time (including my favourite album of all time, which we'll get to shortly.) Objectively, these two mediums combine beautifully, bringing out the ideals of escapism and heightened reality in one another.
Music is fundamentally an escapist medium, as it represents a heightened level of emotional expression, an “explosive expression of humanity,” as Billy Joel once put it. I have yet to find a better description for how music can defy language, and express emotion beyond what we can with words.
Science fiction is similarly heightened reality, when you look at the core of the genre. Sci-fi exists in order to question our possible future, or to examine a different path human history may have followed. Sci-fi questions, simply put. It often exists in the form of an idealised or corrupted version of our society. These exaggerated forms of humanity can often come with a clear message: this is what we can become. Whether that is a warning or a glimmer of hope depends on the context.
It’s when these media come together that the best of them shine the brightest, in my opinion. So without further ado, some of the best times that music met sci-fi.
2112 - Rush
No list marrying the fields of music and science fiction would be complete without one of Rush's many outstanding pieces, 2112. A twenty minute conceptual journey about a dystopia which has outlawed creativity under the Solar Federation. The piece was inspired by the works of Ayn Rand.
Ending rather ambiguously, its difficult to say whether or not the world in which 2112 is set has a happy ending or not. What can be said for certain however is that 2112 defied all expectations and sold fantastically, and served to solidify Rush as legends of progressive rock.
Mothership Connection - Parliament
The brainchild of band leader George Clinton, known for his work with both Parliament and Funkadelic, Mothership Connection is a masterpiece of 1970s funk, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement.
Part of the P-Funk mythology, Mothership Connection finds itself in an imagined space-age world full of odd characters and designs inspired by Clinton's desire to put African-Americans in roles traditional media would never find them. In his own words, "...nobody had seen 'em on no spaceships! Once you seen 'em sittin' on spaceships like it was Cadillac then it was funny, cool."
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars - David Bowie
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is a magnum opus of glam rock, and coincidentally, my personal favourite album of all time. Considered by many to be Bowie's best work, the album follows a man named Ziggy Stardust, an alien visiting our world in an attempt to save it from destruction, until which it only has five years, per the opening track's telling. From there Ziggy goes on to become consumed in the rock n' roll lifestyle, which eventually leads to his death in the closing track "Rock n' Roll Suicide."
This is Bowie at his peak glam. This album has the glitz you would come to expect from glam rock, but has the innovative edge that only Bowie possessed. The album takes you on a journey from the perspective of a man alien to this world, and it is cosmic jive (in the words of Ziggy) the whole way through.
The ArchAndroid - Janelle Monáe
For a modern example, R&B artist Janelle Monáe brings us a psychedelic concept album heavily inspired by the 1927 film Metropolis. The piece follows an android named Cindi Mayweather, who is sent back from her time in order to save the city of Metropolis from a secret society repressing their love and creativity. The album contains themes of time-travel, androids (as is implied by the title,) and nefarious secret societies, and so has no shortage of sci-fi glory.
Monáe paints a soulful yet glamorous picture inspired by early 20th-century science fiction, and this inspiration shows throughout the album.
The Man-Machine - Kraftwerk
Among the grandfathers of electronic music, German band Kraftwerk delivers an exploratory record on, as the title suggests, the relationship of man and machine. Kraftwerk helped lay the groundwork for the music we know today (and I highly recommend checking out the full scope of their work,) and this particular album asks a lot of questions we ask to this day.
This album is quintessentially German in its themes and sounds, just as the original title of Die Mensch-Maschine, but the album is universal in its questioning of the relationship between man and the technology it creates, calling into question if the Singularity may soon be upon us?
OK Computer - Radiohead
Although denied by the band to be a concept album, Radiohead's OK Computer explores some themes that are seeped in science fiction history, such as technology advancing beyond its creator, and the advanced stages of a capitalist society. The album also references a personal favourite novel, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with the track "Paranoid Android".
From these themes the band brings forward perhaps their best work (although any dozen Radiohead fans will hold numerous different opinions on this matter,) but it is without question that OK Computer is a melancholic cornerstone of the alternative genre, and one that is dripping with meaningful science fiction staples.
This is hardly a comprehensive list of sci-fi inspired albums, so be sure to let us know on social media what your favourite is, whether its on the list or not! Be sure to stay tuned throughout the week for more news and content from the Populus Music network!