This rundown of the galaxy’s greatest hit singles that science fiction fans liked a bit in the absence of much else to listen to outside BBC Space Themes and that Tik And Tok one they did on Three Of A Kind was originally written due to an abiding fondness for the often endearingly silly efforts, many of which I later took great delight in tracking down the original 12″ versions of. It was enormously fun to write and briefly went viral, although it would prove to be something of a headache down the line; certain of the videos kept disappearing as YouTube accounts and copyright complaints came and went (although they never seemed that interested in dealing with that channel that featured some lunkhead reading out some of my features and passing them off as his own work), and it ultimately became incredibly annoying. Every so often, someone would genuinely and helpfully point out to me that one of the videos had vanished, necessitating a search for a decent quality equivalent and inserting it into fiddly code which quickly became as patience-testing as, well, A Spaceman Came Travelling. It was this more than anything that put me off doing video-based posts, no matter how popular they might apparently be.
Eventually it proved so frustrating that I more or less intentionally forgot about it, but since then two rather significant developments in the world of sub-Movellan dancefloor lunar-landing have taken place. Firstly, the cast of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 put together their own little piece of Hasselhoff-enhanced disco silliness, Guardians Inferno, which you can see here; incidentally you can find a feature on why I love Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 so much here. Secondly, Jonny Morris (who you can hear me talking to on Looks Unfamiliar here) started an entirely off-the-cuff Twitter thread about ‘Disco SF’ which went viral on an almost unprecedented scale, so there’s clearly a good deal of affection for all this awkwardly-choreographed C3P0-infringing nonsense out there. Actually, if we’re going for full authenticity here, that should probably be spelt ‘See Threepio’.
If you were a science fiction fan in the days before box sets, ‘webisodes’ and kickstarter-funded revivals, you had to make your own entertainment in the long, long months between series of television shows and instalments of film franchises. This usually involved throwing yourself through sheer frustration into impenetrable library-sourced novels by Americans with superfluous middle initials, radio serials with ‘computers’ that spoke in that tinny know-all female voice, interminable board games about trading intergalactic fuel stocks or something, and numerous other fondly-recalled bits of marginal interest rainy day ‘space’ substitutes that you can read more about here. Of course, you would get to enjoy all of these stray bits of Sci-Fi That Time Forgot that you didn’t really enjoy that much uninterrupted, whereas the second that The Tripods started again you’d be called to the phone to speak to a well-meaning relative who’d rung to ‘make sure’ you know ‘that it’s on’, and have to miss half the episode politely responding to being asked if you were watching it.
One less widely acknowledged side-effect of all of this was that you were widely assumed, often incorrectly, to have no corresponding interest in popular beat music, and that as a consequence you would like it when there was a pop song about ‘space’. Not even the actual themes from your favourite films or TV shows. No, the the ones that had embarrassing lyrics about ‘galactic robot battles’ or something and were performed on Top Of The Pops (or, more realistically, Cheggers Plays Pop) by dancer-heavy ensembles apparently dressed as extras from Come Back Mrs Noah. Here, then, are fifteen of the best chart toppers from out of this world…
Sheila & B. Devotion – Spacer
Erstwhile cutesy teenpop Gallic chart star hooks up with Chic and reinvents herself by going absolutely induced magnetosphere with the Bacofoil-clad interplanetary stylings and a song about a gadabout lover so insatiable in his appetites that he whizzes off across the cosmos in pursuit of alien ‘skirt’ – the possibility that this is actually about Captain Jack Harkness should not be discounted – and rendered in the sort of bing-bong-heavy existential disco sound that ensures it still enjoys bafflingly enthusiastic Jackson Sisters-levels of popularity with hen parties to this day.
Dee D. Jackson – Automatic Lover
Swoosh-heralded I Feel Love-meets-Rock Follies robo-voiced Battlestar Galactica-bandwagon gambit which sounds as though it may actually be about the female protagonist finding ways of ‘enjoying’ herself during epic intergalactic voyages, but was nonetheless performed on TV with the assistance of the most unreasonable sub-CP & Qwikstitch attempt at a robot ever. And bear in mind this was at a time when it looked ridiculous next to Twiki.
Space – Magic Fly
Monaco-sourced enigmatic instrumental-only ‘mystery band’ in stylish post-Doctor Who And The Ambassadors Of Death colour-coded spacesuits equipped with shoebox-sized synths to denote ‘future’, whose stark dispersonalised ode to a winged insect doing tricks like that Derren Brown would enjoy years of ubiquity as ‘and that’s Thursday… on BBC1’-type backing music, to the extent that the original solarisation-ahoy performances on Top Of The Pops and so forth became little more than a troubling Rondo Veneziano-like half-memory for an entire blank faced robot-averse generation. Later had their name stolen by someone putting new lyrics to Well Jemima, Let’s Go Shopping.
Mankind – Dr. Who
Incalculably uncalled-for boogied-up mangling of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s finest two minutes and twenty one seconds by an ad-hoc collective of unenthusiastic-looking session men, replete with nasty monophonic synth melody line, decidedly non-‘canon’ xylophone voluntary, and what is presumably meant to be a vocodered mock-Dalek offering such urgently-required clarifications as ‘he journeys in the Tardis – through time and space!’. A novelty hit at the time but, in retrospect, probably the moment at which it all started to go wrong. Ironically, it would take another later dance version of the theme to provide the moment at which it all started to go right again…
Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip – I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper
Everett-endorsed lingerie-almost-wearing ‘racy’ dance troupe push resident springy-haired space minx microphone-wards for an arse-waggling splits-abundant Points Of View-enraging tale of transgalactic soft-porn-shenanigans with one ‘Captain Strange’, given a cosmic sprinkling of Kremmen-esque ‘space cruiser intercom’ spoken word bits, samples from Also Sprach Zarathustra and the Close Encounters four note thingy, and a modish mention of one ‘Darth Vader’. Subsequent to this success, an outer spiral arm-sized schism developed and while Sarah Brightman strove for further chart success with the wheel-reinventing Adventures Of The Love Crusader and Love In A UFO, Hot Gossip attempted to leap on another sci-fi themed bandwagon with the similarly underachieving Space Invaders. More recently, Sarah has announced her intention to bring the lyrics one step closer to reportage by going into space herself for real. Rumours that America are planning to actually traverse the desert on a horse with no name sadly cannot be confirmed.
Meco – Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band
Hilariously camped-up soaraway Hanna-Barbera-end-sting-esque sashay through the main title theme from The Unyclopedia Of Rock as it might have been heard in The Blue Oyster from Police Academy, replete with puzzlingly-sourced genuine article lazer blasts and R2D2 blipperings, intertwined with sidesplittingly sped-up version of Figrin Da’n & The Modal Nodes’ signature show-stopper sounding as though it’s come straight out of a space-themed Benny Hill chase medley where he gets his head stuck in a slightly out of proportion Darth Vader mask or something. Trioculous reported to be ‘getting down’ with immediate effect.
Duffy Power, Victy Silva & The CPO’s – Disco Round The Moon
Sadly not online anywhere, this shameless cash-in was only available to avid scoffers of KP’s virulently-flavoured modishly-monickered pasty round corn snack Discos. Masterminded by cheapo foodstuff cash-in supremo John Mears – whose other opuses include Moveaboutalot With Arthur Lowe And His Animal Friends, and the single length version of Jon Pertwee’s I’m The Noodle Doodle Man jingle – Disco Round The Moon features synth-toting library music powerhouse Cy Payne, middle-bit-of-BBC-variety-show-tastic session singer extraordinaire Victy Silva, and erstwhile UK rock’n’roller Duffy Power boogieing their way through such crisp-friendly numbers as Hot Dogs And Mustard and That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles, which audaciously combine junk food endorsements with occasional flashes of flying saucer-level sci-fi references. Every bit as sleazy, antiseptic and indescribably inauthentic-sounding as you’re imagining, and frankly all the better for it. You didn’t get this with Smiths Football Crazy.
Manhattan Transfer – Twilight Zone
Jazztacular Wodehouse-meets-Vidal-Sassoon standard-belters perform their usual lyric-adding instrumental-vocalising close harmony sorcery on that all-too-familiar four-note guitar jabbing (and, more importantly, the creepy ‘angry flute’ bit that followed it) with Studio Line From L’Oreal-anticipating jagged lines on their faces, and come up with a song that appears to celebrate the actual act of watching an episode of The Twilight Zone. The video, however, seemed to be more closely modelled on the opening titles of Sapphire & Steel.
Liquid Gold – Don’t Panic
Vaguely Hitchhiker-infringing sub-Dooleys disco-lite I Will Survive-alike Eurovision hopeful with plenty of lyrical references to romantic turmoil but not a single mention of The Great Green Arkleseizure, falling on the same bird twice, or “that’s nothing – anyone could have a Thing Their Aunt Gave Them Where They Don’t Know What It Is”. Not even a half-expected mid-solo quotation from Journey Of The Sorcerer. “You’re a jerk, Liquid Gold”.
Federation – Blake’s 7 Disco
Pulp-purloined hold-music-tacular with added vocodered Federation Guard threattage (you can tell they aren’t proper because nobody shouts ‘CRIMOS!’) attempt at shaking a few extra coppers out of the few remaining viewers of a once-mighty ‘Space Opera’ heading rapidly for cancellation, working on the strange assumption that what their devotion to the show was really missing was the opportunity to bust a few moves in a disco that they’d be unlikely ever to go to and would be unlikely ever to play this record which is probably impossible to dance to in the first place.
You can read more about the story behind Blake’s 7 Disco in Top Of The Box here.
Chris De Burgh – A Spaceman Came Travelling
Post-prog Chariots Of The Gods-riffing sword-and-sorcery-horse-flogging dishwater-singer-songwritery alienned-up reimagining of the Nativity, full to radio-smashing point with dreary space-travel-as-seen-by-Nasir-from-Robin–Of-Sherwood imagery and ‘meaningful’ insight about how you and I could make a difference if only we tried etc etc etc. We thought he was dull enough then, but little did we know what was just around the corner. And that all-important message that said extra-terrestrial vagabond had to impart to us all? “A-a-a-aa-a-a-aa-a-a-ah”, apparently. We could have heard that from Tony Parsons.
Adam Ant – Apollo 9
Post-Puss N’ Boots shark-hovering panic-fuelled image reinvention for the man who had been the biggest name in pop only months earlier, opting for an ill-advised ‘Adam Ant On The Moon!’ makeover whilst slowly but surely becoming as musically adrift as Major Tom. Aside from an occasional countdown which gets abandoned at ‘five’ anyway, it’s not really that musically spaced out, although the lyrics gamely try to equate NASA’s largely unremarkable third manned mission with the antics of a flightly lady friend, and that famous cosmological phrase “yabba yabba ding ding”, which weirdly coincided with the surfacing of more or less the same phrase in the hated theme song of hated eight million episode animated tweeness Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds. Vive Le Rock was now mere months away.
Brian May & Friends – Star Fleet
Unlikely all-star re-recording of the hard-rocking end theme from the redubbed puppet escapades of Captain Orion and company, with May and Eddie Van Halen battling it out over who can contribute the most ludicrous guitar squiggling, and Roger Taylor (who, lest we forget, once recorded an album called Fun In Space) throwing in the odd PPA-esque bit of backing vocal chirruping. As the lyrics exist primarily to explain what’s happening in the show you’ve, erm, just been watching, there’s tons of refreshingly to-the-point stuff about sending a message out across the sky and ‘the people back at Earth Control’, while the video at least counteracts the expected extreme close-up May-emoting with lashings of hot suitmation antics courtesy of TV’s top half-remembered big red robot, Dai-X.
The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon
Schmaltztacular Jupiter Moon-esque proto-It’s-Cold-Outside-No-Kind-Of-Atmosphere calm-before-the-Star–Trek–The–Next–Generation-storm static-prone one way conversation between a lonely earthbound lady and her starship-employed Rimmer’s Z Shift Gets It Clean beau, conducted to mercurial Barrowman-friendly jazz-funk-electro-pop backing with the ‘twee’ fader pushed up to maximum, and equally memorably enacted in a video apparently taking its pipes-and-stripy-tape visual cues from Galloping Galaxies!, only with that Hollywood bloke from Mannequin doing robot dancing in front of a telephone exchange standing in for Dinwiddy Snurdle. Ironically for a record set in the distant future, it doesn’t get much more eighties than this.
The Firm – Star Trekkin’
Prank-friendly producers string together helium-voiced misquotes from Star Trek over the most subconscious-drillingly irritating tune in the entire history of recorded music, and watch in satirical satisfaction as it tops the charts for ice age upon ice age. Started off by infuriating all the humourless Trekkies who didn’t like it when people didn’t take it seriously, which made it immensely likeable, but then pretended they saw the joke and liked it all along and they got it more than everyone else got it ha ha ha its funny it is, which made it immensely detestable. Now likeable again on account of unparallelled ability to induce eye-rollment in rock bores and people demanding more Classic Pop Classics from the BBC Four Top Of The Pops repeats, and indeed the sheer audacity of the video, made so cheaply and nastily that it probably went right round in the other direction and actually ended up unspending money.
Edelweiss – Starship Edelweiss
Long-forgotten widely-ignored follow-up to bizarre KLF-inspired camptastic sample-fest Bring Me Edelweiss, with the thigh-flashing ladies and their less easy-on-the-eye male co-stars doing their own bit of Star Trekkin’ across the universe for a Roddenberry-aping trip aboard the Enterprise, only with additional yodelling. The request to “beam me up to Mars”, however, suggests they hadn’t quite understood how it worked…
Buy A Book!
You can find much more about The Sci-Fi That Time Forgot in my book Well At Least It’s Free, a collection of columns and features and a bizarre thing about looking for the books on Professor Yaffle’s shelf. Well At Least It’s Free is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Clouds Across The Moon by The RAH Band gets covered in more detail in 2 Hours Of Wicked Mixes To Keep You Moving All Night Long, a look at the first Now Dance album from 1985, which you can find here.
You can hear ‘Disco SF’ genre pioneer Jonny Morris on Looks Unfamiliar – including a chat about another example that was sadly never released as a single, Space Invaders by The Barron Knights, here.
A Spaceman Came Travelling gets spectacularly short shrift in the Looks Unfamiliar Christmas Extra on Now – The Christmas Album, which you can find here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.