Deep Space 100

By slye slye
updated over 2 years ago

This list is the culmination of the past six months spent in the outer reaches of deep space. Each of these records is a chapter in the story of music's dalliance with the cosmos, tracing a fascination with the stars through the 20th and beyond. Whatever the current constraints may be with respect to space travel, there's practically no limit to the human imagination. And so, our journey begins, in loose chronological order:

  1. Holst* - Eugene Ormandy, The Philadelphia Orchestra - The Planets

    Surely any discussion of music's obsession with space must start with Holst? I grew up hearing this from both my grandfather, who was a classical devotee, and pops himself. Subsequently it was one of the first classical records I ever picked up on. Note also that in 2016 its planetary scope is once again scientifically accurate, as Pluto - which had not yet been discovered when Holst was writing The Planets - is no longer classified as a planet.

  2. Louis and Bebe Barron - Forbidden Planet

    Early on, space - and electronic - music were largely the preserve of cinema (see also Bernard Herrmann's use of theremin in The Day The Earth Stood Still). Famously credited as "electronic tonalities" to circumvent the film industry's music guild regulations, this score had far-reaching implications, in effect cementing the connection between the theme of space and the sounds of electronic music in the public imagination. After all, visions of the final frontier surely must be accompanied by sounds from another world! So strange was the soundtrack in its own time that it wasn't released as a standalone record until the mid-seventies.

  3. The Tornados - Telstar

    46 For Sale from $1.12

    Landmark Joe Meek production, inspired by the launch of the Telstar communications satellite in 1962. Using the MO of surf rock as its launching pad, this is in essence the birth of space rock. What is Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" if not a freaked out update of this racing, space-age rock 'n roll? Gleaming possibilities of a radiant future are in evidence throughout (just check the sleeve!).

  4. The Ventures - (The) Ventures In Space

    The Ventures had already covered "Telstar" on the previous year's The Ventures Play Telstar, but here they stretch the space theme across a whole LP. Containing their own space/surf rock masterpiece "Out Of Limits", this record also boasts a cover of "The Twilight Zone" theme! You can hear the basis of The Plugz' "Reel Ten" and the whole sci-fi aspect of the Repo Man aesthetic played out here (with Tarantino's later use of "Out Of Limits" in Pulp Fiction, well it stacks up doesn't it?). I was recently pleased to discover that this was one of my brother Matt's favorite albums of all time.

  5. The Byrds - Fifth Dimension

    A Parallax 100 record. Inspired by Coltrane and Shankar in equal measure, this is - as far as I can tell - the birth of acid rock. The absolutely epochal "Eight Miles High" is the centerpiece, its ominous bass, freefall rhythms and Roger McGuinn's quicksilver guitar solo clearly transmuting those earlier stabs at space rock - coming from the surf - into a wild freeform psychedelia. The Byrds at this point enjoying a reputation as space rockers, and in a contemporary radio interview (featured on the expanded CD reissue of 5D) David Crosby and Roger McGuinn talk at length about extraterrestrial life, hoping that radio transmissions of their songs might be heard by aliens who would ultimately take them up for a ride in their spaceship!

  6. John Coltrane - Interstellar Space

    Speaking of Coltrane, this wild posthumous release is something of a sister record to Sun Ship (my absolute favorite free jazz record of all time), taking that record's unfettered percussive drive to it's logical conclusion (Rashied Ali picking up drum duties from Elvin Jones this time out). Both records are brilliant stone tablets of deep space astral jazz. Parts of this could even accompany the deafening silence of the murder scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Frank Poole's tumble into the void of space.

  7. Morton Subotnick - Silver Apples Of The Moon

    Two extended movements spread across both sides of this pioneering electronic record (the first to sell in serious numbers, in fact). One of Subotnick's great innovations was to build up rhythmic repetition from electronic sounds (which before then had largely been confined to the freeform, abstract context of academia). Think about that for a second: tracing that concept through Kraftwerk and Moroder and up to the present day... well, there's no getting around its centrality to modern music. It's crucial!

    Here, Subotnick wrings otherworldly sounds from the Buchla modular synthesizer, with "Part 1" largely an excursion through wandering tones while "Part 2"'s mid-section coalesces into a frenetic rhythmic thrust. Everything here thoroughly abstract and alien.

  8. Various - 2001: A Space Odyssey (Music From The Motion Picture Sound Track)

    "The proverbially good science fiction film." Stanley Kubrick famously used large swathes of modern classical recordings as guide music during the film's production, and then ultimately chose to continue using them in the final cut rather than the original score prepared by Alex North. Perhaps nothing at the time could match the otherworldly sounds of Strauss, Ligeti and Khachaturian, which lend further gravity to a singular, spellbinding film, running the gamut from primate battles on Earth to space stations in orbit and an expedition to the far side of Jupiter ("Beyond The Infinite").

  9. 101 Strings - Astro-Sounds From Beyond The Year 2000

    Easy-listening orchestra 101 Strings veers off into the strange. After all, it was the sixties! There's no getting around that this one's something of a cash-in on both 2001 and psychedelia, a concession to the heads in an attempt to shift a few extra units. You can see the equations being drawn up: "space x psychedelica = hippie $$$!" Nevertheless, this contains moments of pure dread like "Flameout", those searing strings and proto-hip hop breaks provide a menacing background for demented acid-fried guitar lines to wander freely.

    I was surprised to be unable to recall any earlier space-themed exotica operating at the album level. Surely I missed something!? At any rate, this will do.

  10. Michael Czajkowski - People The Sky

    More sixties electronica with its eyes fixed firmly on the stars. In its deeply rhythmic drive, that synthetic almost-percussion, you can hear pre-echoes of Herbie Hancock's "Nobu" and beyond. Space colonization, for years on the back burner, has returned to discussion recently with science-fiction films like Interstellar and The Martian. In retrospect, it must have seemed a foregone conclusion in 1969.

  11. Pink Floyd - Ummagumma

    If you're talking the cosmos, there's no getting around this bunch who are - in the popular imagination - the premier space rockers. My vote goes to this double-album, the live disc of which takes prime Barrett-era numbers like "Astronomy Domine", "A Saucerful Of Secrets" and "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" into the deep black of space.

    The studio disc draws the group as far away from traditional rock forms as they would ever travel, working with textures and treated instruments to stretch the boundaries of their individual compositions into the realm of pure atmosphere.

  12. Jefferson Airplane - Mexico

    The standard-bearers of acid rock enter the space race. In truth, they'd dabbled even earlier with Crown Of Creation's "Star Track", but this double a-side single takes matters to another level altogether in what might be the band's finest moment. Paul Kantner's "Have You Seen The Saucers" ties together alien contact, government conspiracy and ecological concerns all in the space three-and-a-half minutes of cinematic high-desert psychedelia.

  13. Paul Kantner / Jefferson Starship - Blows Against The Empire

    Kantner ascends further into the cosmos with this concept album that follows a band of counter-culture militants (who bear a striking resemblance to Jefferson Airplane) as they hijack a starship and set course for some distant planet to start a new life on.

    Theoretically, this is the first Jefferson Starship tile to drop, but we're still a long way from "We Built This City". The core of the record's sound lies in piano led, spaced-out acid folk. There's a blink-and-you-might-miss-it masterpiece in "Sunrise", with powerful, bewitching vocals from the inimitable Grace Slick. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the droning guitar soundscapes that Richard Pinhas would later explore in Heldon, and is about as intense a two-minutes as you could ask for.

  14. UFO (5) - UFO 1

    Before they were arena rockers, this group forged a motorik form of no-frills space rock distilled down to its purest essence. With graphics that had people thinking they were Krautrockers, this sleeve always makes me think of the card game Space Age Slap Jack.

    Maybe no one remembers this? It featured similarly-styled artwork, evoking a desolate seventies sense of outer space. I had a deck as a kid back in the eighties, and only recently tracked one down again. I'd often dream of launching into the stars aboard some cramped starship, never to see home again. Digital readouts glowing in sharp red and green as the Earth shrinks in the distance.

  15. Captain Beyond - Captain Beyond

    West Coast space rock. Captain Beyond featured former members of Iron Butterfly, Deep Purple and the Johnny Winter band, who coalesced in early-seventies Los Angeles and hung around through most of the decade (and frequent personnel changes) for a series of three albums. This one is the first, and also the best. Large swathes of the record run together, moving through a series of shifting suites while the band slide between crunchy hard rock and ethereal astral reveries like the shimmering Myopic Void (a cosmic bolero of sorts). One of the great unsung American hard rock LPs, it should be more widely known.

  16. Khan (3) - Space Shanty

    Canterbury prog on the outer space tip, this is the dense, complicated flipside to the West Coast almost-prog of Jefferson Starship and Captain Beyond. Built atop the foundation of Nick Greenwood's throbbing bass and Eric Peachey's zero-gravity breaks, the soundstage is dominated by both Dave Stewart's intricate organ runs and muscular guitar fretwork from the great Steve Hillage. I've often wondered whether Leftfield's "Space Shanty" had anything to do with this album...

  17. Alice Coltrane With Strings - World Galaxy

    Pure, majestic indo-jazz from Lady Coltrane. This is outer space music, featuring a lush orchestra in freeform orbit, stretching out across a vast widescreen canvas. Containing her mind-blowing, breakbeat-led version of "A Love Supreme" and the breathtakingly cinematic "Galaxy In Satchidananda", this is Coltrane at her absolute peak, locked into the cosmic and moving galaxies. Truly indispensable.

  18. Tangerine Dream - Zeit

    The previous year's Alpha Centauri would also apply, but this one remains my favorite of the early Tangerine Dream records. With four long tracks spread across four sides of a gatefold double-album, these droning soundscapes stretch out and swirl before you in ponderous slow-motion like a vortex in the darkness, as chilling and vast as outer space itself.

  19. Vulcans - Star Trek

    7 For Sale from $28.09

    Early prog/space instrumental reggae cash-in, this remains worthwhile for its bizarre origins and brazenly unique sonic palette. Bathed in the swampy textures of the Moog synthesizer, it rides a crazed off-kilter skank through a comic book vision of the cosmos. Inspired in part by the television show of the same name, the proceedings slowly devolve into references to Dracula and other denizens of the strange.

  20. Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra* - Soundtrack To Space Is The Place

    Space jazz from the greatest purveyor of the form. Hard to choose just one Sun Ra record, in fact this list could be dominated by appearances from the man - records like The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra, Cosmos and Strange Celestial Road - but this soundtrack for his sprawling motion picture of the same name fits the most snugly within present company. An extraordinarily bizarre film, it infuses space exploration with Egyptology and more than a hint of seventies conspiracy dread, projecting the spirit of its time onto the stars.

  21. Herbie Hancock - Sextant

    Further adventures in space jazz. This could have been recorded yesterday. The machine loops running through "Rain Dance" play out like an alien encounter, while "Hidden Shadows" seems to approximate the feeling of weightlessness. Robert Springett's cover painting, with its lunar surface looming in the fiery night sky, is probably my favorite sleeve of all-time.

  22. Hawkwind - Space Ritual

    Spaced out biker rock. This sprawling double-live set captures the band's wild stage show, featuring elaborate lightworks, nude dancers and spoken word interludes by Robert Calvert (with passages quoted from the science fantasy author Michael Moorcock), all backed by the band's Dionysian brand of wild space rock. Songs like "Time We Left This World Today" and "Orgone Accumulator" emerge from the ether of extended atmospheric interludes, with the full tilt rock 'n roll assault of "Master Of The Universe" seeming to blast through the stratosphere with a relentless booster-rocket drive.

  23. Brainticket - Celestial Ocean

    9 For Sale from $7.63

    I took a chance on this one back in the day based on the incredible sleeve, which is actually different from the (equally stunning) original. Another node on the Egypt/space axis, its hieroglyphs set in stark relief against the backdrop of what looks like an interplanetary starship.

    The sounds within are equally compelling... strange cargo indeed. You get lost in the deep texture of those rolling electronic sequences while sitars, percussion and acoustic guitars weave throughout. I've always been surprised that this record isn't more widely praised, indeed I've only ever seen the band's earlier Psychonaut garner the occasional mention in Krautrock discussions.

  24. The Cosmic Jokers - The Cosmic Jokers

    Incidentally, I picked this up on the same day as Celestial Ocean (something like twelve/thirteen years ago?). Featuring telepathic interplay between Kosmische luminaries like Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching, this is a headfirst plunge into liquid inner/outer space. I only later discovered that it was the first in a series of five records, famously compiled from source tapes of endless jams without the musicians' knowledge! Still, a perfect record.

  25. Gong - You

    More pyramids, this time by way of Central America. There's just no getting around Daevid Allen's gang when discussing space music. Gong started out essentially expanding on Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd's pioneering work in the field, before gradually veering into a sort of spaced out jazz fusion under the tutelage of Pierre Moerlen (ultimately leading to Allen's departure from his own group after this album). You exists at the point of intersection between those two universes of sound, with its freeform jazz-tinged psychedelia illuminated by the liquid guitar figures of Steve Hillage.