Rocking Through Fantasy and SF

JANE: Although David Bowie may be the big name rocker best known for using SF/F material in his works, he’s certainly not alone.  Both Fantasy and SF show up in the works of a wide variety of bands.  I’ve thought of several.  I bet you’ll have more to add.

Rocking Knights and Aliens

Rocking Knights and Aliens

Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” proved a popular inspiration for several bands.  Mountain’s song, “King’s Chorale,” is one example.  Led Zepplin’s “The Battle of Evermore” and “Ramble On” both refer to motifs from the novels.

Styx’s “Lord of the Rings” makes one of the most obvious connections, although the actual lyrics seem a bit at odds with the content of the novels.

Your turn!

ALAN:  To continue with your “Lord of the Rings” theme for a moment, in 1972 the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental album called Music Inspired By Lord of the Rings. My copy seems to have vanished somewhere over the years – I may have to buy the CD. I feel an urge to listen to it again…

JANE: That sounds like something to inspire you through your daily chores!

When Jim learned what we were discussing, he suggested the band Uriah Heap’s album Demons and Wizards.  Cuts on it include “The Wizard,” “Traveller in Time,” and “Rainbow Demon.”

My list includes various pieces by Jefferson Airplane and its later incarnations, Jefferson Starship and Starship.  Paul Kantner was an SF reader and often returns to the motif that the best way for humanity to change and thrive would be to get on a starship and head out for new planets where, presumably, it would be easier to create a new society without all the baggage of the old.

A song that made a lot more sense to me once I listened to it with a “spec fic” mindset was Blue Oyster Cult’s popular “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”  Ignore the “grim reaper” idea and substitute a tale of a vampire and his human lover and suddenly all the images fall into place.

Okay…  I’ve babbled enough.  Your turn!

ALAN: Of course, I’m a little bit older than you and so my memories go back further in time than yours do. I remember that there were several rock and roll songs in the 1950s that played with SF, though in a much cruder manner than the more sophisticated examples you cite. The Ran Dells had a big hit with “The Martian Hop” and, in England, Don Lang and His Frantic Five used the Martian theme again in “Red Planet Rock”. And who could ever forget Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater”?

JANE: I remember “Purple People Eater,” but I don’t think I’ve heard any of those others…   But then I didn’t start listening to popular music until some twenty years later and these weren’t exactly Top 40 material at that time!

ALAN: “Purple People Eater” does seem to have survived well, and it still gets occasional plays. However, you are right, the others have largely vanished from the world, though YouTube still knows about them. YouTube knows about everything…

For me the most important musical connection to SF will always be Jeff Wayne’s adaption of H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds. I think it’s just sublime and I’ve listened to it times without number. Not only is it a lovely piece of music in its own right, I think it perfectly captures the mood and the tone of Wells’ classic novel.

JANE: I’m not familiar with that album at all.  You say “adaptation”?  Is it something along the lines of a rock opera?

ALAN: Very much so – it’s a straightforward re-telling of the story in song with some narrative linking material. The narration (straight extracts from the novel) was provided by Richard Burton and the singers were David Essex, Phil Lynott (from Thin Lizzy) and Julie Covington. It takes the plot and the characters directly from the novel and, in a rather creepy section at the very end, finishes the story in the late twentieth century with a manned expedition to Mars…

The songs and the music are truly inspired!

JANE: That sound really good.  I think I need to see if I can find a copy.  Thanks for mentioning it.

ALAN: One last example – I’m also quite fond of Hawkwind – a band whose music has always had a science fictional feel to it.

Michael Moorcock wrote several songs for them, and their album The Chronicle of the Black Sword is a musical adaption of Moorcock’s Elric stories. I saw Hawkwind play the entire Black Sword sequence live at the World Science Fiction Convention in England in 1987.

JANE: And, of course, the band’s name “Hawkwind,” seems to have been taken directly from one of Moorcock’s characters…  The protagonist of The Jewel in the Skull and other eternal champion novels.

ALAN: No, no! I’ve heard other people claim this as well, and it’s an understandable mistake, but if you go back to the books you will find that the protagonist is called Dorian Hawkmoon. Though having said that, Hawkmoon/Hawkwind are so similar to each other that there may well be some degree of homage going on…

JANE: You’re absolutely right…  My error!  But I interrupt…  Go on.

ALAN: Moorcock himself, together with a group of friends who called themselves The Deep Fix made a very SF’nal album called At the New World’s Fair which I highly recommend.

As an aside, Moorcock also wrote a very silly novel, in collaboration with Michael Butterworth, in which aliens have planted a Death Generator in the centre of the earth which is broadcasting Julie Andrews music to everyone on the planet and driving them insane. The only cure is to shoot the victims with specially modified guns that blast Hawkwind music at them thus re-introducing temporary sanity. If you care, the novel is called The Time Of The Hawklords, but truly I cannot recommend it…

JANE: I think I need to see if there is a copy on my shelf…   (I never know what I have; my library is a combination of three people’s libraries, plus I’ve been given an astonishing number of books.)  It sounds like the right sort of horrible.

Roger Zelazny introduced me to Hawkwind’s music.  He was very proud of the fact that they had written a song based on his novel Damnation Alley.  I’ve looked everywhere for my copy and I can’t find it.  It’s actually really good – and very faithful to Roger’s story.

If anyone is interested, I see that lyrics, music, and various performances are available on the web.

Michael Moorcock is far from the only SF/F writer to delve into writing and performing music.  In fact, the list is so long that I think we’d better save that for next time.


9 Responses to “Rocking Through Fantasy and SF”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Hmmm. I was thinking about Emma Bull and Steven Brust, both of whom are fantasy authors, and part of the folk band Cats Laughing out of Minneapolis. And I believe Neal Gaiman may have some musical connections too.

  2. Peter Says:

    Sticking with Blue Oyster Cult, “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is very skiffy (unsurprisingly, given that it was – written? featured in? – the Heavy Metal animated film, which drew on the very skiffy Heavy Metal magazine that was based on Metal Hurlant.)

    And it’s oddly nice to know I’m not the only person on the planet who read _In the Time of the Hawklords_ (the sequel, _Queens of Deliria_ is better. Still not a novel for the ages, though).

  3. Sally Says:

    Let’s not forget “Zombie Jamboree” amongst the 50’s songs–though of course that’s more calypso than rock. “Back to back, Belly to belly, Don’t give a damn, I’m done dead already…” (Dances away, hands in the air…)

  4. Paul Dellinger Says:

    A musical version of “War of the Worlds”… The mind boggles. Although I guess it shouldn’t, given that Broadway has offered musical versions of everything from Superman to Sherlock Holmes. It sounds like they tacked on “Edison’s Conquest of Mars” at the end.
    Sheb Wooley’s second career was in westerns (“Wagon Train,” “High Noon”) but, when he was at a film festival many years ago, everybody was talking with him about “Purple People Eater.” And this was a western film festival!

  5. Heteromeles Says:

    I was contemplating my old favorite band–Oingo Boingo–and what I realized is that, while what they played sounded like science fiction or fantasy, most of it wasn’t. (well, there was “No Spill Blood” which was a riff on the Island of Dr. Moreau). What a letdown.

    As for Blue Oyster Cult, I seem to remember that they created an entire, alternative soundtrack for Heavy Metal. False memory on my part?

    Of course, if you want a SF-flavored song with a Kiwi connection, there’s always Weird Al’s “Foil”…after 1:20, that is.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I think Peter’s comment above has something for you on Blue Oyster Cult!

    • Heteromeles Says:

      I have the Heavy Metal sound track, so I know Veteran of the Psychic Wars pretty well. The friend I got that tape from claimed that another one of BOC’s albums was originally supposed to have been the entire sound track for Heavy Metal, but the film went with the ensemble instead and used only one of their songs. I’m not a big BOC fan, so I don’t know if this is true. I was wondering if someone else did.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    I really enjoyed all these comments. I can’t believe I forgot “Zombie Jamboree”! Zombies are SO trendy right now!

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