Top Seven Rock Songs About Astronomy
For thousands of years humanity has looked up to the stars for inspiration. Those tiny, twinkling lights in the sky have fueled mankind’s imagination and creativity. While the night sky is still wondrous, it’s not getting the ratings it used to. Nowadays, we look down, at little handheld screens, to see stars. And unfortunately by “stars” I mean celebrities, athletes, and musicians.
While heaven’s heyday has long since passed, it still managed to inspire a few great rock songs. Below, are seven of the best songs ever written about astronomical phenomenon. We’re talking stuff like nebulas and pulsars although no one at Musicology-101 could think of song with “nebula” or “pulsar” in the title.
The idea to compose the following list came from Ray LaMontagne. The folk singer just released a single called “Supernova.” The album of the same name drops May 6. Three weeks later, LaMontagne kicks off a 40-plus date tour of North America. Highlights of his trek include Ray LaMontagne in Boston on May 30 and May 31, Orlando on July 11, and Dallas on Aug. 2.
“Across The Universe” by The Beatles
Leave it to The Beatles, John Lennon in particular, to write one of the all-time great spiritual songs. For this song, Lennon was greatly influenced by transcendental meditation as is evident by the phrase "Jai guru deva om.” Lennon thought “Across The Universe” contained some of the best lyrics he had ever written. I would agree. The song has been covered by a plethora of artists including David Bowie, Fiona Apple, and Rufus Wainwright.
“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden
Chris Cornell’s “Black Hole Sun” is Soundgarden’s most popular and successful song. Lead guitarist Kim Thayil calls “Black Hole Sun” Soundgarden’s “Dream On.” You can make the argument that the song shouldn’t be on our list. Cornell’s lyrics have nothing to do with a black hole or even an event horizon. He was just playing around with words because he liked the riff/music so much. According to him, the lyrics really don’t mean anything.
“Gravity” by John Mayer
It’s appropriate that John Mayer, a louder, more douchier version of Ray LaMontagne, calls “Gravity” the most important song he has ever written. Since actual gravity is pretty important to the fabric of the universe. Without it where would we all be? “Gravity” is found on three John Mayer releases: Try! (2005) by the John Mayer Trio; Continuum (2006); and Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles (2008). Mayer performed the song at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards as part of a melody with Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend.
“Life On Mars” by David Bowie
You’ve got to love a song that sounds good when sung by either David Bowie or Barbara Streisand (although Bowie thought her version was “bloody awful”). Bowie wrote “Life on Mars” as a response to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” (well, Old Blue Eyes made the song popular but Paul Anka wrote the lyrics to a tune written in 1967 by Frenchmen Claude François and Jacques Revau). The lyrics to “Life on Mars” are some the strangest and most surreal lyrics ever written in the history of rock and roll. Rick Wakeman played piano on the original recording.
“Star” by Erasure
A bunch of artists have written songs titled “Star” or “Stars” including Bryan Adams, Roxette, The Cranberries, Simply Red and Dan Fogelberg. I selected “Star” by Erasure because the list needed a little disco and Vince Clark and Andy Bell know how to write a great pop song. Their “Star” has an uplifting chorus that will raise your spirit and get your foot tapping. Lyrically, “Star” is an anti-war song. To be exact, it’s an anti-nuclear war song.
“Supernova” by Ray LaMontagne
The song is barely a month old but it’s so damn catchy, and has such a great groove, that it easily makes our list. Ray LaMontagne may have just released “Supernova” but clearly the tune is going to be his signature up tempo song (with “Trouble” being his most popular song overall). “Supernova,” which is about a romantic relationship and not an exploding star, is a bit of a musical departure for the folk singer. Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, “Supernova” dabbles in psychedelic rock and Sixties power pop.
“2000 Light Years from Home” by The Rolling Stones
“2000 Light Years from Home” is from The Rolling Stones’ 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request. This great track was released as the B-side to “She’s A Rainbow.” In Germany, it was released on the A-side and charted. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song while in prison on drug charges. I’m taking a great liberty by including this song since a light year (also written as lightyear or light-year) is not a celestial body but a unit of measurement (of length not time) used by astronomers. A light year is six trillion miles or the distance light travels in a vacuum in a Julian year.