If I had one piece of advice to pass on to a younger generation it would be this: listen to more space rock. The 60s/70s subgenre of progressive/psychedelic rock gets its name as much from its subject matter as from its loose, hypnotic, futuristic sonic character—“Third Stone from the Sun,” “Space Oddity,” “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Silver Machine”… you know…. It mellows you out, man, something everyone could use right now, and inspires visions of a groovier future, though not without the occasional dystopic edge.
Alternately, I would recommend that everyone acquire a collection of cosmic jazz, the Afrofuturist genre pioneered by Sun Ra and John and Alice Coltrane. But maybe you don’t like space rock or free jazz, yet you still dream about space? Maybe you prefer more classical, minimalist, or ambient fare? Never fear, we’ve got a soundtrack for you—one sure to mellow you out and inspire you, whoever you are.
Created to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 75th birthday this past January, the “Space-Themed Classical Music” Playlist below draws together pieces you’ll recognize from classic sci-fi films, like Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra; pieces written especially for such films—such as John Williams’ E.T. score and Jerry Goldsmith’s main title for Alien; and music inspired by space themes, such as Brian Eno’s “Under Stars” and Judith Lang Zaimont’s Jupiter’s Moons. The Spotify playlist contains a total of 75 tracks of space-themed or inspired classical works. (If you need Spotify's free software download it here.) The YouTube version at the top only has 62 of those tracks.
The compilation does give a little nod to space rock with the inclusion, at the very end, of Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” from The Division Bell. And the penultimate track nods to the very space-inspired genre of trip-hop, with John D. Boswell’s Carl Sagan- and Stephen Hawking-sampling “A Glorious Dawn.” I don’t know about you, but Sagan’s mellifluous voice—autotuned or no—never fails to brighten my mood and make me more curious about what’s out there.
Of course, apart from sci-fi soundtracks, there is a long tradition of composers writing space-inspired music, stretching back before scientists like Sagan and his Russian counterparts helped send astronauts and satellites into orbit. Classical station WQXR has put together a list of 11 such composers: from the 18th century Franz Joseph Haydn to the 20th century Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Then there’s Gustav Holst, who wrote a suite about all 8 planets between 1914 and 1916—before Pluto’s discovery (and later disqualification). I’ve always been partial to the bombastic “Jupiter,” above. Even if you haven’t heard it, Holst’s suite will sound very familiar, having inspired everything from video game music, to the Rugby World Cup theme, to the score for Braveheart. It has also—showing that classical space music is a bona fide subgenre in conversation with itself—directly influenced John Williams’ Star Wars music and the main theme of Battlestar Galactica. In whatever form it takes, I think we could all do with a lot more space music in our lives. Listen, for example, to the excerpt from Alan Silvestri's score for the 2014 Cosmos reboot, below, and tell me otherwise. For another flavor of a spaceman's soundtrack, check out Space.com's "Astronaut's Playlist" here.