Science-fiction is a genre that has parallels with the world of music thanks to their shared innate ability to transport a viewer, reader or listener to an entirely new world, offering up the perfect dose of escapism to expand the mind to limits previously unknown.
The boundary-free nature of space and science-fiction makes it the perfect source of inspiration for musicians who’ve allowed their brains to float into the ether. The genre offers up the ideal mechanism for exploring abstract themes, thanks to the metaphysical aspect that has allowed songwriters for decades to delve into the mysterious and untold world of science-fiction in a bid to examine humanity through this distorted lens.
The power of sci-fi is the beauty of interpretation. Space can represent anything you want it to, and everybody has a different elucidation of what it is, a factor that makes it an ideal bedfellow for songwriters. Things can get as weird or mundane as you want them to in space, which provides an intriguing insight into the person who has performed the track.
Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Ridley Scott and fellow iconic directors such as Stanley Kubrick and Fritz Lang who preceded them, often take the praises when it comes to science-fiction. On the contrary, this feature celebrates the artists that created mini sci-fi masterpieces through song.
Check out the list, below.
10 best songs inspired by science-fiction:
David Bowie – ‘Space Oddity’
Where else could we start, really? The track is a vital piece of Bowie’s iconography and, without it, his career could have floundered, which is remarkable to even consider. Though you’d be hard-pressed to get a song like ‘Space Oddity’ on the pop radio these days, its conception, its power and its remarkable cadence would still see it heralded as one of the best releases of the year—such is its timeless nature.
‘Space Oddity’ was the first real brick that Bowie put down in order to create hid larger-than-life persona, an enigma that became beyond enticing. Through the Major Tom character that Bowie created for the track – and one he would later revisit throughout his career – he had the perfect vehicle to tackle a new subject in a way that nobody else has done before. It was somewhat incomprehensible for pop musicians to be as forward-thinking as Bowie was in 1969. He finally caught the public’s attention with this enthralling out-there number.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Science Fiction’
This song epitomises the entirety of Arctic Monkeys’ 2018 concept record Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. The album draws heavily from science fiction and explores themes of consumerism, politics and religion through the idea of a luxury resort on the moon. With this instruction, Alex Turner offers fans a view of a band that had irrevocably changed and not just from his vocals.
Commenting on his attraction to the genre, Turner noted: “Science fiction creates these other worlds within which we can explore our own, and I wanted to write something about that idea. So, through reading sci-fi books and watching films like Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, I began to access that sort of vocabulary – then suddenly we’re talking about virtual reality moon casino experiences.”
Rush – ‘2112’
The title track from Rush’s 1976 breakthrough 2112 album, and a track that was a staple of their live performance until the end, is another voyage into science-fiction and one which had spectacular results. The track ranks among the finest Rush compositions around. While the song’s structure is a joyous mix of all three of the band’s expert players, with Geddy Lee on bass and Alex Lifeson on guitar, it is in Peart’s drumming that we see the real power of the track.
The song is drenched in archetypal sci-fi sounds, which work as a perfect invitation into Rush’s world. Speaking on the dystopian sci-fi novel that inspired the track, Peart commented: “It’s difficult always to trace those lines because so many things tend to coalesce, and in fact, it ended up being quite similar to a book called Anthem by the writer Ayn Rand. But I didn’t realise that while I was working on it, and then eventually as the story came together, the parallels became obvious to me and I thought, ‘Oh gee, I don’t want to be a plagiarist here.’ So I did give credit to her writings in the liner notes.”
Led Zeppelin – ‘Ramble On’
Taken from the iconic sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, one that the quartet released in 1969, the vision for ‘Ramble On’ was one of fantasy from Robert Plant. Like many other artists his age, the singer had become inspired by the work of fantasy fiction writer J.R.R. Tolkein and the track refers to its impact on him.
The singer used moments throughout the lyrics to express his connection; lines like “the darkest depths of Mordor” and “Gollum and the evil one” are both doffs of the caps to the writer. It’s a section of lyrics that Plant later confessed to being embarrassed about in a bid to hide his adoration for science-fiction, but there’s nothing to be ashamed about in our books.
Daft Punk – ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’
As if their experimental musical output wasn’t enough, Daft Punk managed to build an aura of mysticism around their band, donning ornate helmets and gloves with stylish ease. Taking on the persona of robots in public since 1999, Daft Punk will be remembered as one of the all-time artistic greats for their music and live stage presence. In 2013, as part of an interview with Rolling Stone, the duo clarified that the reasoning of the masks was to explore the “line between fiction and reality” and create “fictional personas that exist in real life.”
‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ sees the duo lean into this world of mysticism more than ever before, and the track captures at full-flow their love-affair with futurism. There’s a case to be made that this is perhaps their most iconic song effort and defines who Daft Punk were within three-and-a-half minutes. The track is based around a sampled keyboard riff sampled from Edwin Birdsong’s obscure 1979 song ‘Cola Bottle Baby’, which they completely reimagined into this magical new beast.
Blondie – ‘Rapture’
Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ sees Debbie Harry mess around with sci-fi imagery in a playful way on the first-ever song to feature a rap to top the Billboard chart. Harry raps on the track, “Go out to the parking lot, And you get in your car and drive real far, And you drive all night and then you see a light, And it comes right down and it lands on the ground, And out comes a man from Mars, And you try to run but he’s got a gun, And he shoots you dead and he eats your head, And then you’re in the man from Mars.”
Admittedly, a lot of her rap is a cringe-inducing listen almost 40 years on, but ‘Rapture’ was a groundbreaking moment that helped hip-hop reach the masses. The mantras of both hip-hop and punk share a wealth of similarities at their core, but it was the power of science-fiction that bridged the gap between them in ‘Rapture’.
Elton John – ‘Rocketman’
This track is Elton John’s magnum opus, and one that saw him link up with producer Gus Dudgeon, who worked with David Bowie on his 1969 song ‘Space Oddity’. Both songs feature on this list due to the sci-fi element on the pair of tracks, John and his songwriter Bernie Taupin ardently deny that they ripped off Bowie, but it’s hard to look past how ‘Space Oddity’ made songs like this possible.
Bernie Taupin’s lyrics weren’t directly influenced by Bowie, and instead, the short story The Rocket Man, written by Ray Bradbury, was what made him write the track. The book is written from a child’s perspective, whose father is an astronaut and feels guilty about catching a flight to leave his family for work purposes. John captures the human-side to science-fiction, which the world was obsessed with in the early seventies following the early Apollo missions.
The Beatles – ‘Across The Universe’
John Lennon once handed ‘Across The Universe’ the highest of praise when he disclosed: “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best, I don’t know. It’s good poetry or whatever you call it. Without tunes it will stand.”
The sci-fi influence on his lyrics is clear on the track, as he sings: “Images of broken light, Which dance before me like a million eyes, They call me on and on across the universe.”
Lennon himself even described it as a ‘cosmic song’, recalling: “I was lying next to me first wife in bed, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song… it drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it, but I was slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn’t get to sleep until I’d put it on paper.”
Beastie Boys – ‘Intergalactic’
“It has the song ‘Intergalactic’, and that song is the fucking jam, right?! It’s our best record/cover artwork,” Ad-Rock wrote in the Beastie Boys book about why Hello Nasty is the group’s best album, largely due to the greatness of ‘Intergalactic’.
Creating the record began back in 1995 and took over two years for the Beastie Boys to finish the project. However, the long delay for a brand new body of work by New York’s finest was well worth the wait, and it saw the band break boundaries once more, over a decade since they dropped their first record. ‘Intergalactic’ is The Beastie Boys at their irreverent best and sees them tackle the sci-fi topic in a way that only they could.
David Bowie – ‘Life On Mars’
Usually, it would be sacrilege to put two songs from the same artist in a list, but it’s impossible to leave out one of ‘Life On Mars’ or ‘Space Oddity’, and both deserve their place.
The abstract lyrics, coupled with the thumping music, transports the listener to an out of this world experience which answers the song’s question about if there is ‘Life On Mars’. It is a truly perfect song that epitomises the supernatural lure of David Bowie. It’s the same lure that made him the most fascinating artist Britain has or will ever produce.