Space Rock: “I Hear a New World”

Meek – The Beatles – The Rolling Stones – Pink Floyd – Hawkwind – Moorcock

Witness the man who waves at the wall
Making the shape of his questions to heaven
Whether the sun will fall in the evening
Will he remember the lesson of giving?
Set the controls for the heart of the sun

Man’s entry into outer space provided ample subject matter for rock and roll and R&B songs from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s. It also inspired new sounds and sound effects to be used in the music itself.

A prominent early example of space rock is the 1959 concept album “I Hear a New World” by British producer and song writer Joe Meek. The album was inspired by the space race and concerned man’s first close encounter with alien life forms.

Telstar is a 1962 instrumental record performed by The Tornados. It was the first single by a British band to reach number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and was also a number one hit in the UK. The record was named after the AT&T communications satellite Telstar, which went into orbit in July 1962.

The song was released five weeks later on 17 August 1962. It was written and produced by Joe Meek, and featured a clavioline, a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic sound.

The Beatles‘ song “Flying” (1967), originally titled “Aerial Tour Instrumental“, was a psychedelic instrumental about the sensation of flying, whether in a craft or in your own head space.

It was the first instrumental written by the Beatles since “12-Bar Original” in 1965 (Writing credits of Harrison/Lennon–McCartney/Starkey“). Recorded on 8 September 1967 with mellotron, guitar, bass, maracas, drums, and tape loops overdubs on 28 September.

The Rolling Stones’ song “2000 Light Years from Home” (1967), drew heavily on some of the aforementioned Pink Floyd songs, is another early form of space rock.

Sun turnin’ ‘round with graceful motion
We’re setting off with soft explosion
Bound for a star with fiery oceans
It’s so very lonely
You’re a 100 light years from home

Pink Floyd’s early albums contain pioneering examples of space rock:

“Lucifer Sam”,”Astronomy Domine”,”Pow R. Toc H.”and “Interstellar Overdrive“from their 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn are examples.

“A Saucerful of Secrets” contained further examples: “Let There Be More Light” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” with explicit science fiction themes.

And their third, Soundtrack from the Film “More” (1969) had “Cirrus Minor”.

In early 1971, Pink Floyd began writing the song that would become known as “Echoes”, from the 1971 album Meddle. The song was performed from April until September 1971, with an alternate set of lyrics, written about two planets meeting in space. Before the Meddle album released, the lyrics were changed to an aquatic theme, because of the band’s concern that they were being labelled as a space rock band.

A major album in the history of space rock was Hawkwind’s Space Ritual (1973),a two-disc live album advertised as “88 minutes of brain-damage” documenting Hawkwind’s successful 1972 tour of their blow-out show complete with liquid lights and lasers, nude dancers (notably the earth-mother figure Stacia), wild costumes and psychedelic imagery.

The Space Ritual show attempted to create a full audio-visual-cerebral experience, representing themes developed by Barney Bubbles and Robert Calvert entwining the fantasy of Starfarers in suspended animation travelling through time and space with the concept of the music of the spheres.

The performance featured dancers Stacia, Miss Renee and Tony Carrera, stage set by Bubbles, lightshow by Liquid Len and poetry recitations by Calvert.

On entering the venue, audience members were given a free programme (reproduced on the 1996 remaster CD) featuring a short sci-fi story by Bubbles setting the band in a Starfarers scenario returning to Earth.

This hard-edged concert experience attracted a motley but dedicated collection of psychedelic drug users, science-fiction fans and motorcycle riders. The science fiction author Michael Moorcock collaborated with Hawkwind on many occasions:

Sonic Attack” had been written by sci-fi author Michael Moorcock, who often performed with the band when convenient and Calvert was unavailable.

Michael John Moorcock (born 18 December 1939, in London) is an English writer, primarily of science fiction and fantasy, who has also published literary novels.

Moorcock has mentioned “The Gods of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, “The Apple Cart” by George Bernard Shaw and “The Constable of St. Nicholas” by Edwin Lester Arnold as the first three books that captured his imagination. As editor of the controversial British science fiction magazine New Worlds, from May 1964 until March 1971 and then again from 1976 to 1996, Moorcock fostered the development of the science fiction “New Wave” in the UK and indirectly in the United States.

During this time, he occasionally wrote under the pseudonym of “James Colvin”, a “house pseudonym” used by other critics on New Worlds. A spoof obituary of Colvin appeared in New Worlds #197 (January 1970), written by “William Barclay” (another Moorcock pseudonym). Moorcock makes much use of the initials “JC”; these are also the initials of Jesus Christ, the subject of his 1967 Nebula award-winning novella Behold the Man, which tells the story of Karl Glogauer, a time-traveller who takes on the role of Christ.


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