From its role as a blue symbol of sorrow in a 1934 Rogers and Hart standard, to a wistful destination of escapism for Frank Sinatra and a source of romantic lighting for Thin Lizzy and, er, Toploader, the Moon has inspired songwriters across the generations. Indeed, there have been thousands of compositions for which our neighbouring heavenly body is the central image. In light of this, we here provide a selection of Moon-songs that the upward-gazing A&M reader really shouldn’t leave the house at night without…
(Marquee Moon, 1977)
Now a cult classic and widely considered quite beyond its time in sound and feel; in its own day Marquee Moon couldn’t get the career of poetic New York guitar-wielders Television airborne in their homeland, even though it became a cause celebre in the UK and became hugely influential on British indie-rock. Operating in a similar vein to fellow CGBG-er Patti Smith, the album’s iconic title track is an audacious ten minutes long, moving through several modal guitar solos and lush instrumental movements with an intelligent and confident ease. Leader Tom Verlaine confessed not to know much about the meaning of his own lyrics, but there’s no denying the way the line “…a kiss of death/The embrace of life/There I stand ‘neath the Marquee Moon/ Hesitating” evokes the huge, all-seeing lunar presence we know so well.
(Pink Moon, 1972)
The title track from what was to be Drake’s final album, ‘Pink Moon’s’ lilting piano and confident acoustic guitar carry the same sense of anticipation as the April full moon that heralds the flowering of the wild ground phlox, or ‘moss pink’, from which the song takes its name. The album, stark, intimate and beautifully nocturnal, is now considered a classic, although it largely fell on deaf ears, like nearly all of Drake’s work, in his brief lifetime. It was recorded in its entirety over just two consecutive late-night sessions, both with only Drake and Producer John Wood present, and it’s tempting to imagine magical lunar rays illuminating proceedings through a studio window.
Bad Moon Rising
Creedence Clearwater Revival
(Green River, 1969)
A blistering piece of infectious neo-rockabilly from the Bay Area band that brought rock’n’roll back to its joyful, Southern-tinged basics. “Don’t go around tonight/Well it’s bound to take your life/There’s a bad moon on the rise” warns superstitious leader John C. Fogerty on the infectious if suspicious lead single from 1969’s Green River. It’s good advice, although many listeners misheard the final line as “there’s a bathroom on the right”, which makes for an equally instructional, albeit slightly less uncanny message.
This is How We Walk on the Moon
(Another Thought, 1994)
Another artist underappreciated in his own time, cellist and experimental composer extraordinaire Arthur Russell died in relative obscurity in 1992, two years before the posthumous release of Another Thought. Roomy, almost synth-emulating solo cello underpins the minimally arranged track, on which Russell can be heard amid manipulated vocal sounds murmuring “One tiny, tiny, tiny move/It’s all I need/ And I jump over”, as if correcting The Police’s earlier musical moon-walking instruction manual. Airy, rhythmic and otherworldly, this is a lunar anthem, albeit a subtle one, from a musician who would book studio time to coincide with the rising of the full moon.
Whitey on the Moon
Gil Scott Heron
(A New Black Poet – Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, 1970)
“It was inspired by some whiteys on the moon… I want to give credit where credit’s due”, prefaced Gil Scott Heron of this percussive poem, a cut from his debut set of recordings made in a New York night club in the wake of the then recent Apollo Moon landings. Using the Moon as a microcosm of man’s ‘progression’, the poem’s sobering image of a society arrogantly pouring its resources into exploration and the furthering of technology against a backdrop of rampant inequality back on Earth still rings true today. I can’t pay no doctor bill/But Whitey’s on the moon/ Ten years from now I’ll be paying still/While Whitey’s on the moon…
The Whole of the Moon
(This Is The Sea, 1985)
We’re invited to another, somewhat trippier world here, one which has almost certainly provided the epic folk-rock centre-piece to every live set by The Waterboys since 1985. “I saw the crescent/You saw the whole of the moon” sings lead Boy Mike Scott in an upbeat yet backhanded ode to free-spirited exploration: “Too high, too far, too soon/You saw the whole of the Moon.” No stranger to complex and abstract lyrical threads, Scott’s most notable recent work includes musical re-imaginings of twenty poems by WB Yeats, which he even took to Yeats’ own Abbey Theatre in Dublin.
Fly Me to the Moon
(It Might As Well Be Swing, 1964)
Now, credit where credit’s due: Sinatra got his Jack Daniel’s-covered paws on this song a whole ten years after it was written by Bart Howard and first recorded by Kaye Ballard. Nevertheless, his version is the closest thing we humans have to an official musical celebration of our closest celestial body: it was played on board Apollo 10, and later Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 played it on a portable cassette player after he first set foot on the lunar surface, making it the only song ever to be played on the Moon.
A sure staple in any lunar audiophile’s catalogue; one can only speculate as to how many losses of virginity this jaunty, jazz-tinged song has inspired in the decades following its belated release as single in 1977, a full seven years after it first appeared on the album of the same name. One of few musicians able to get away with using the word fantabulous in a song, Morrison takes the opportunity to touch upon his alleged favourite season, autumn, (“… romance / ‘neath the cover of October skies”), a theme that can be also traced through such later work as 1999’s ‘When The Leaves Come Falling Down’. Morrison’s season of preference is when one can see the deep-coloured Harvest Moon – the closest full moon to the autumnal Equinox – and the Hunter’s Moon, the first full moon to follow.
Man on the Moon
(Automatic for the People, 1992)
American entertainer Andy Kaufman lies at the centre of this song. His death in 1984 at age 35 is still the subject of much speculation: many believe that the performer faked his own death after hinting in life (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) that he’d like to. Michael Stipe’s lyrics refer to the conspiracy theory that the six moon landings between 1969 and 1972 were staged, cleverly using it as a vehicular image to urge the listener never to stop challenging things (“If you believed they put a man on the moon/ If you believe there’s nothing up his sleeve/ Then nothing is cool). According to opinion polls, around 10% of Americans still believe the landings were faked by NASA in order to win the Space Race against the USSR.
St. Elmo’s Fire
(Another Green World, 1975)
“The blue August moon…/ The cool August moon” provides the backdrop for Brian Eno’s lyrical journey to see St. Elmo’s fire, a meteorological phenomenon whereby, essentially, luminous plasma is made by a large pointed object’s interaction with a strong electric field – as in a lightning storm, for example. Another Green World is another example of a relative commercial flop – failing to chart either in the UK or the USA – that has since risen to retrospective cult status, and whose voluptuary of proto-ambient essays and eccentric, pastoral songs feature cameos from such big-name cameos as Phil Collins, Robert Fripp and John Cale.
(The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)
Of all our featured artists, we could only really rely on one to carry off the actual role of the extra-terrestrial being. “Put your ray gun to my head/Press your space face close to mine, love,” urges Bowie (as Ziggy) between Mick Ronson’s sizzling guitar stabs and Mike Garson’s rollicking piano. Ziggy Stardust, rock and roll’s very own alien messenger, was the focus of Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust, a book of definitive Mick Rock photographs of Bowie published in 2002. There’s a joke about Moon Rock in there, somewhere…
The Killing Moon
Echo & The Bunnymen
(Ocean Rain, 1984)
‘When I sing ‘The Killing Moon’, I know there isn’t a band in the world who’s got a song anywhere near that’, Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch told The Observer in 2003. Confident words, but no more than one would expect from the songwriter who attributes the line ‘Fate, up against your will’ to literal divine visitation. Nestling neatly between The Waterboys’ and CCR’s take on things, McCulloch’s grandiose delivery lends appropriate gravitas to the ominous lines: “Your lips a magic world/Your sky all hung with jewels/The killing moon/will come too soon. Creepy!
(Harvest Moon, 1992)
The fourth track from Young’s 1992 so-named ‘return to roots’ LP proffers wistful pedal steel fills and call-and-response dialogue between its melody and vocal line. Neil Young is perhaps the most consciously moon-inclined artist on our list: our celestial neighbour features in a whopping 28 of his songs, and the artist is alleged to be more likely to work on projects that coincide with a full moon. “Before there was organised religion”, he told Harp magazine in 2005, “there was the moon. The Indians knew about the moon. Pagans followed the moon. I’ve followed it for as long as I can remember, and that’s just my religion. It can be dangerous working in a full moon atmosphere, because if there are things that are going to go wrong, they can go really wrong. But that’s great, especially for rock ‘n’ roll.”