July 7th, 2011
09:54 AM ET

10 shuttle launch swan songs

Whether you plan to camp out in Titusville, or belly up to a video feed for the final space shuttle launch, you’ll need the right tune; a soundtrack for real-life history, if you will. (Remember, there is no sound in space!) Problem is, musicians have launched a lot of chart climbers since Sputnik, so you might need a little help preparing your mix.

So as Mission Control said to Neil Armstrong, “Have no fear!” Well, perhaps they didn’t say that, but they certainly could have. Here is a breakdown of ten great launch songs.

1) “Telstar” – This ripping 1962 instrumental by The Tornadoes celebrated the beginning of the space age, taking its name from the Telstar communications satellites. The weird, spacey sounds that predominate, however, also heralded the British invasion of the American rock scene, since “Telstar” became the first Brit tune to make it to number one on the Billboard charts.

2) “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” – Train blasted off as a big league group with their second album, named after this song. It’s all about long journeys to find yourself, and heck, what else is space travel all about?

3) “Starman” – No artist is more associated with the idea of guitar playing aliens than David Bowie. But “Space Oddity” is just too depressing, and while “Ashes to Ashes” is a fun homage to Major Tom, all must bow to “Starman.” In fact, the whole album on which it appears, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is a space music opus.

4) “Fly Me to the Moon” – Frank Sinatra and Count Basie made the best known version of this classic. But Nat King Cole also made it swing, so if you go with him you might want to toss in his version of “Paper Moon” as well.

5) “Rocket Man” – No, Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, but Elton John’s timeless tune is the kind of song to listen to on the way there. Don’t make me pull this spaceship over!

6) “The Star Wars Theme” – Composer John Williams racked up a galaxy of awards for the music from these films including the marvelous, “Imperil March,” or as most of us know it, Darth Vader’s theme. “Luke, I am your oboe player.”

7) “Satellites” – When in doubt, reach for Rickie Lee Jones. You can’t go wrong, especially when the album is called Flying Cowboys.

8) “Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum wrote it as a religious song, but it plays awfully well against any image of humans touching the heavens. Besides, who can forget that great scene in the movie Apollo 13?

9) “Satellite of Love” – Leave it to Lou Reed to sum up (even though that was not his intent) America’s experience with space travel; “I watched it for a little while. I love to watch things on TV.” When the song takes off at the end, you can almost feel the push of the rockets at your back.

10) “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – This is actually a pre-launch song, but there can be nothing better to wake up with on blast off day, than the strains made famous in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although, it’s worth a warning: It might make you put on an ape suit and throw bones at the sky.

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