Weekend Download Recommendations: Science Fiction Music With Rush, Dr. Octagon, Black Sabbath, Muse and Bowie
By Joseph Giannone 2011-10-10 10:59:02
If there’s one thing in the world that goes perfectly together, besides Martin Scorsese and crime dramas, it's science fiction and music. For decades, artists like Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Styx, Rush, and David Bowie have all incorporated sci-fi elements in their music. More often than not, the band that uses these elements in the right way will turn out something special. These musicians who utilize the sci-fi genre have an endless amount opportunities at their disposal, with thematic details that can delve into subjects like robots, time travel, futuristic dystopias, self aware war machines, fantastical worlds and space oddities.
This week’s installment of Download Recommendations will take you through time and space. Just like Cinema Blend’s Lia Russo exploring the dark side of fall in last week’s recommendations, I will show you bands like Yes, David Bowie, Rush, Muse and Dr. Octagon who will assist your imagination just in time to forget about the increasingly cold weather outside. So get your helmets on, prepare for flight and don’t forget your partner; the lean mean killing machine, Iron Man. It’s a long distant to the South Side of the Sky, so let’s get this space ship in orbit.
Black Sabbath “Iron Man”
Black Sabbath was known to incorporate side splitting horror stories, social and political commentary, and science fiction on most of their records. Paranoid comes to mind as Sabbath's best album, and the only which incorporated all those subjects effortlessly. The album's pinnacle song “Iron Man” deserves a spot here, though it bears no connection to the Marvel character of the same name. Ozzy Osbourne came up with the title before any music was made, and wrote the lyrics around the original title “Iron Bloke.” After hearing guitarist Tony Iommi’s riffs, he decided to change the songs name to “Iron Man, " based around a perfect sci-fi plot about a man who goes to the future and sees the entire world destroyed. After going back to his time, the man tries to convince his world to alter their current path towards destruction, but due to his efforts, he instead causes the trouble he was trying to prevent. The song has been interrupted countless ways, but like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, fans of science fiction understand that sometimes not being able to decipher a simple meaning behind the plot of a story is what’s great about sci-fi.
Styx “Mr. Roboto”
“I am the modern man, I've got a secret I've been hiding under my skin. My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain IBM.” That's the type of lyricism you get with Styx’s most famous song, the sci-fi tinged 80’s spectacular “Mr. Roboto.” Looped synthesizers, distorted vocals, Dennis DeYoung’s sprawling vocals and their eleventh album's high concept turned “Mr. Roboto” into a 1980’s smash hit, but its intense weirdness and sci-fi intrigue keep it in heavy rotation on radio stations. The track tells the story of a futuristic fascist government that outlaws rock music. The protagonist Kilroy, voiced by lead singer DeYoung, is a former rock musician who was imprisoned by the fascist state. After escaping from the prison “in disguise,” Kilroy finds out that another musician is trying to bring rock music back. Sure, the plot is cheesy and the music somewhat outdated, but you can’t find any better examples of science fiction in music today. The sound, story line and final product work so perfectly together that it’s a great example to why sci-fi is most always a good accommodation.
David Bowie “Space Oddity”
To be perfectly honest, you cannot put David Bowie into a set genre of music, nor interpret what he sings about into an understandable way. His confusing lyricism didn’t come into full force until his career changing album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, though when his second album came out, the record drastically changed his style of music. Instead of using structured pop songs, Space Oddity and the song named after it was psychedelic in nature. Compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the title track is inspired by the abstract elements of 2001, while its meaning is just as vague. “Oddity” begins with an acoustic guitar strumming in an eerie tone set to a building electronic organ progression and drums. As the song introduces the main character Major Tom, who is a pops up in numerous Bowie records, the album sets itself apart from the rest of his work by delving deep into sci-fi subject matter like the desolation of space travel, the vastness of the stars and Bowie’s recognition of how big the universe actually is. It’s a mellow song that is as every bit inspired by the Beatles heavy rock, to the philosophical words of Arthur C. Clarke.
Dr. Octagon Dr. Octagonecologyst
All of the groups I’ve talked about so far can be labeled in the rock genre. Sure, Bowie took the initiative to start using these concepts in music, while Black Sabbath was never shy about making people feel uncomfortable, but contrary to popular belief, sci-fi elements aren’t only limited to rock music. Science Fiction has definitely had an effect on rap, most notably in the work of Keith Thornton, who is also known under his moniker Dr. Octagon. Dr. Octagonecologyst is the Bronx, New York rapper's first album, and while the record is a smash hit that grew in popularity in the underground hip hop scene, it was because of Dr. Octagon’s use of sci-fi, horror and fantasy elements that hadn’t been used in rap until that point. You see, Dr. Octagonecologyst tells the story of Dr. Octagon who is an extraterrestrial, homicidal time-traveling gynecologist and surgeon, who is originally from Jupiter. The swirling sounds of synthesizers, beats, drums and Keith’s use of surrealism and juvenile humor in his lyrics play a pivotal role in this album being distinguished from plenty others. As the album moves along, the anti-hero’s story details engage the audience so they can accept character's silly shenanigans. There are plenty of aspects of this album to love, but the best part is that Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and turntablist DJ Qbert both created the beats and produced. You might know them from working with acts like Gorillaz and Del tha Funkee Homosapien. The album's dense mixture of psychedelic, electronic and English trip hop sounds blend very well in this science fiction laced hip hop epic.
The English progressive rock band Yes has an interesting past with science fiction based music. On their third studio album, The Yes Album, the band looked forward from covering Beatles songs and mixing classical music with psychedelic rock to writing intricate songs that showed off each musicians talent for his instrument. Lead singer Jon Anderson took his vocals to a whole new level of falsetto while their new guitarist Steve Howe showed off his insanely talented skills at only twenty-three years old. Don’t forget about the prolific bassist Chris Squire who probably was the most talented musician of them all; but keyboardist Tony Kaye was the only member who was not generating the creativity they hoped for. After Kaye left and Rick Wakeman joined the group, this was when they became famous. Fragile was their next album to show off their considerable talents, but to pay for all the synthesizers, organs, keyboards and pianos that the group bought for their new member Rick, they substituted the jazzier compositions for increasingly complex, science fiction based songs which saw Yes entering into progressive territory that was contrary to their previous work. The Yes Album delved slightly in sci-fi, but Fragile was the band's first exploration of this entertainment genre. Exploring fantasy worlds beyond our own, time-traveling, and having the most in-depth art work for any cover and inside of a record, this was all created by artist Roger Dean. Their smash hit “Roundabout” also achieved great popularity. Songs like “South Side of the Sky,” “Cans and Brahms (Extracts from Brahms' 4th Symphony in E Minor, Third Movement)” and “We Have Heaven” all showed off each of the band members talents with their instruments. Fragile is the shining moments of Progressive Rock pre-Dark Side of the Moon, while also being one of the best science-fiction themed records ever.
Rush is a Canadian Progressive Rock band that has been a prolific member of the genre for almost four decades. Since 1974, they’ve released nineteen studio albums, seventy eight singles, eight live albums and thirty-two music videos. Drummer Neil Peart, who is as prolific as his band, writes sharp lyrics that have shaped the band’s sound since its first record. Their songs are meaningful, and have impacted fans and society in countless ways. Since their first album Rush, the band has become known for their complex compositions and varying lyrical content which draws heavily from science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, humanitarian issues, social, emotion and environmental concerns. While there are many albums which accurately show off their talented work, 2112 is by far the best. Regarded by critics as a masterpiece, and by fans as the dawn of heavy metal, the sci-fi concept record 2112 starts off with the title song, that tells the story of a future universe-wide war that ends up bringing all the planets together to create the Solar Federation. By the year 2112, the universe is controlled by an ominous, destructive group called the “Priests of the Temples of Syrinx” who are similar to the oppressive powers in Styx’s song “Mr. Roboto.” The song “2112” doesn’t only delve into sci-fi, but like David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the song is far deeper than what most audience members could comprehend. Nonetheless, this epic twenty minute song “2112,” coupled with singles like “The Twilight Zone” and “A Passage to Bangkok” are a perfect way to get acclimated with science fiction storytelling, Rush, and the two mixed together.
Muse “Knights of Cydonia"
Masked as a cheesy 1950’s Science Fiction B-Movie, Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” accomplishes more excitement and entertainment in six minutes than Cowboys and Aliens does in two hours. Even though you might not be a fan of Muse, this music video will surely blow you way. I also suggest listening to their album Black Holes and Revelations, which is where “Knights of Cydonia” hales; but in the meantime, if you like westerns, cheesy B-Movies, robots, kung-fu, badass villains and sci-fi, then you’ll love this instant classic.