MUSIC FROM OUT OF SPACE !?
COUNT DOWN! BLAST OFF!
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by Tony Maygarden

The end of World War II marked the simultaneous beginning of the Atomic Age and the Space Age. Wondrous technological achievements brought science fiction into science present. The promise of technology seeped into all aspects of life, including art and popular culture. Movies, television and radio dramas all explored speculative fiction themes like never before, while comic books, paperback novels and toys, all aimed at a newly sophisticated youth market, went "sci-fi" in a big way. With the launch of Sputnik 1 by the U.S.S.R in 1957, and Explorer 1 a year later by the U.S.A., the whole world seemingly went space happy. Space exploration, and, more specifically, traveling to the moon, were dominant themes in popular entertainment.

The music industry was no exception. Starting in the mid '50s, a number of composers and producers created a popular music sub-genre which has been called "space-age pop" (for this article I just simply use "space pop"). Typically, dreamy standards with words like "stars" or "moon" in their titles were given "way out" arrangements. Often, the inclusion of unique sounds (including new electronic sounds), demonstrated that musicians were as technologically advanced as anyone else.

Some of the music on the albums included in this roundup sound a little corny and dated today, but many are still very entertaining and even amazing. Many of the electronic sounds and recording techniques used have only become common in pop music in the last few decades.

This is by no means a comprehensive overview. As I run across other examples of the genre, I'll try and add them in.

Forbidden Planet ad

Magazine ad for the 1954 science fiction space travel film Forbidden Planet. Its Hollywood glamor and at the time unique all electronic soundtrack music were most certainly a big influence on the emergence of "space pop."

 

Music From Out Of Space LP cover

Harry Revel's
Music From Out Of Space
Stuart Phillips and his Orchestra

This album was a follow-up to Music Out of the Moon (see below) composed by Revel, self-styled creator of "Therapeutical Mood Music." Similar in style to MOOTM, it doesn't quite ascend to the same heights of space-age frenzy (no Theremin), but it is filled with lush vocal and string arrangements that have a distinct mid '50s melodrama. And, what a cover! Song titles include "Polaris," "Jupiter Jump," "Uranus Unmasked," "Vibrations From Venus" -- you get the idea. Arrangements by bandleader Phillips (check out his web site -- he did a lot of stuff!). Piano by Cy Coleman, other band members not credited. Cover design not credited.
Released on M-G-M Records, 1955.

 

Music From Out Of Space LP cover

Music From Out Of Space
Pete Rugolo and his Orchestra

Rugolo worked as a composer and arranger for jazz orchestra superstar Stan Kenton ("Minor Riff," "Artistry in Boogie," etc.) released albums under his own name, and even worked in the motion picture soundtrack field (Jack the Ripper). Here he takes a crack at a space-age big band jazz thing. "Stereo Space Man," likely a Rugolo original (there are no songwriter credits), is one of the highlights. Other song titles include "Snowfall," "These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)," "Smoke Gets In your Eyes." Producer and band members not credited. Cover design (depicting Rugolo in a red space helmet and suit) by Emmett McBain. Released on Mercury Records, 1957.

 

 

Count Down! LP cover


Count Down!
Jimmie Haskell and His Orchestra


"This is an unusual album" begin the liner notes, and hey, they're right! Rock 'n' Roll in outer space, man! '50s style dance beats with sax and electric guitar riffs, plus LOTS of "space" sound effects. How the effects were created is not described, but there is definitely some sort of processed electronic keyboard (an Ondioline or Clavioline?), perhaps a Theremin, plus electronic reverb and echo and possibly Forbidden Planet type electronic noise generators. "We Get Messages" features Chipmunk space voices with a Morse-code beat -- crazy! "Rockin' In the Orbit" and "Astrosonic" were released on a single in 1957 (with some small success) and the full album came out on the Imperial label in 1959. Other song titles include "Blast Off," "Weightless Blues," "Hydrazine," "Moon Mist," and "Asteroid Hop." Band members, producer and effects wizard(s) are not credited. Cover photo by Garrett-Howard. The space ship is credited to "Revell Authentic Kits."

 

Blast Off! LP cover

Blast Off!
Ferrante and Teicher


The most obvious "space" aspect of the is album is the cover (credited to Viceroy/Zwillinger), but liner note author Rick Ward makes the claim that Art Ferrante and Lou Teicher's prepared piano sounds and recording tricks "easily take a musical place in the space age alongside their scientific counterparts." OK. Otherworldly piano sounds are created utilizing "rubber wedges, wads of paper, bits of wood and metal bars, picks, mallets, and numerous other gadgets" (from Ward's liners). They also "extend" the octave range of the pianos by playing back the tape at faster or slower speeds then recorded -- an effect clearly heard on the opening track "I Got Rhythm." Other titles include "The Last Time I Saw Paris," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "'S Wonderful" and four F&T originals. Produced by Joe Malin in collaboration with Don Costa, released on ABC-Paramount in 1959.

 

 

Music Out Of the Moon LP cover

Music Out of the Moon
Theremin With Vocal Group,
Arranged and Conducted by Leslie Baxter


Themes by Harry Revel, similar to his Music From Out Of Space above, but more adventurous and diverse. Lots of Theremin, wild vocal arrangements. Titles include "Lunar Rhapsody," "Moon Moods," "Mist o' the Moon," and "Radar Blues." Originally released in the early '50s on a 10" LP, the cover shown here is taken from the mid-'50s 12" reissue, with one side MOOTM, and the other the Baxter/Revel Music For Peace Of Mind, which also features a Theremin.

 

Exploring the Unknown LP cover

Exploring the Unknown
The Voices of Walter Schumann

Sci-fi like story in music and narration of a space voyage across the universe, with orchestra, voices (incredible arrangements!), and some orchestral created sound effects. The script is science fiction going on science fantasy, reflected in the track titles : "Trajectory," "Arrival at Venus," "Teleportation," "Regions of the Other Suns," "The Heavens." Fans of vintatge sci-fi will find this amusing, but the casual listener of 1955 must have thought it all pretty weird. Script by Rip Von Ronkle (?), music by Leith Stevens, narrated by Paul Frees. Released on RCA Victor.

 

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