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Music

The Beatles record that was almost launched into outer space

@Russellisation

Voyager 1 is one of the most curious real-life science-fiction projects ever created, with the space probe flying through the universe containing the sounds, sights and wonders of planet earth. 

Sent into the stratosphere in 1977, the capsule carries a phonograph record that includes sounds, images and music carefully selected to reflect the diversity of life and culture of our planet. Gold in colour, the record is etched with the message “To the makers of music – all worlds, all times,” sounding a little like a lyric The Beatles might’ve written back in their 1960s heyday.

As well as various images, sound effects and greetings from the people of planet earth, the disc also includes music travelling through the cosmos 14.5 billion miles away, with the majority of the tracks being traditional world music from across the globe. Predominantly including the works of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Igor Stravinsky, the record also features one piece of rock music in the 1958 classic ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry.

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This iconic dance number was almost joined by the voices of John, Paul, George and Ringo, however, the song ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was selected for the record for NASA by the carefully constructed team of specialists, headed up by Carl Sagan. Whilst the committee was excited to press the song onto the record, it was the record company EMI who withheld the copyright of the track, despite pushback from The Beatles themselves. 

Standing their ground, EMI prevented Sagan and his team from sending the song into space in 1977 due to issues with copyright, much to the dismay of the band and the creative director of the ‘Golden Record’, Ann Druyan. Explaining her annoyance in 2015, Druyan noted, “that was one of those cases of having to see the tragedy of our planet. Here’s a chance to send a piece of music into the distant future and distant time, and to give it this kind of immortality, and they’re worried about money”. 

Further explaining why her team couldn’t go through with the acquisition, Druyan added, “we got this telegram [from EMI] saying that it will be $50,000 per record for two records, and the entire Voyager record cost $18,000 to produce”. 

In spite of ‘Here Comes the Sun’, Voyager 1 was catapulted into the outer reaches of the galaxy, possessing a record with 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, including animal noises and greetings in over 55 ancient and modern languages to represent humanity. Together with these images, the record also includes a printed message from US President Jimmy Carter, reading: “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours”.

Being exactly the kind of project The Beatles would have loved to get involved with, it’s a shame that a settlement was never made between NASA and EMI in order to get ‘Here Comes the Sun’ a little closer to earth’s cosmic lifeline.