A flag flying free in a vacuum…

Fifty years ago this weekend, Apollo 11, having rocketed off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre on July 16th 1969, was approaching destination: Moon.

No real value in me adding to the screeds already written by those with more of a right to do so. Instead, and, aware that there are a million other great songs that could have been chosen, it’s straight into Eleven Blasts for Apollo 11…

Light side

Twenty seconds and counting. T minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal.

1. The Wedding Present: Venus

The opening track from 1996’s Saturnalia LP – whose associated artwork itself pastiches NASA’s logo – kicks us off (albeit toward the wrong celestial body). The Weddoes have a load of space-connected songs to choose from, and this robust zinger is as good as any on getting things off to a flying start.

Twelve, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence starts…..6, 5, 4…

2. The Mekons: Ghosts Of American Astronauts

‘A flag flying free in a vacuum…’ Fragile, otherworldly and quietly cynical, this was an absolute stick-on to make the crew. Indeed, if only one song was permitted on board, this would be the one taking a small step for a giant leap. As an aside: does the intro sound a bit like the opening to ‘Talulah Gosh’?

…3, 2, 1, zero, all engine* running.

3. Ballboy: Essential Wear For Future Trips To Space

From the I Hate Scotland EP, this corking tale of space travel, polar bears and wardrobe tips is greatly elevated by thrilling, somersaulting keyboards. Planning to jet off soon? Essential wear includes: silver gloves, a visor and reflector (for your face).

* Such was the tension that the ordinarily cool-as-a-cucumber NASA Public Affairs Officer Jack King is heard to say all engine running rather than all engines running.

LIFT-OFF! We have a lift-off, 32 minutes past the hour. Lift-off on Apollo 11.

4. Slowdive: Star Roving

The well-loved Slowdive’s re-emergence – after 22 years – could have gone so wrong. But the eponymous 2017 LP, home planet of this triumphant lead-off single, urged fans out from behind the sofa even before its affirmative intro had been spent.

Star Roving popped up on the Fifa 18 soundtrack too. They shot. They scored. One-nil to the resurgent five-a-siders from Reading.

Tower cleared.

5. The Primitives: Spacehead

Despite the temptation to choose Buzz Buzz Buzz (Aldrin), Spacehead, from the superb Lovely (1988) debut LP, was cleared for take-off.

Neil Armstrong reporting their roll and pitch program which puts Apollo 11 on a proper heading.

6. Ash: Girl From Mars

Great single, and a track from the 1977 LP. According to Wikipedia, Girl From Mars has been used as hold-music on NASA’s telephone lines, which sure makes a change from Greensleeves

Dark side

Plus 30 seconds.

7. Moonshake: Gravity

This flickers and strobes and phases, and sounds not unlike Moonshake‘s 1991 influencers and contemporaries My Bloody Valentine.

The First EP, from which Gravity is taken, was even released on Creation too. The two bands were label-mates, then, at ‘round about the time when MBV were putting out the likes of the Tremelo and Glider EPs, and the Loveless album. I admit to knowing nothing more from Moonshake, but I’ve always loved this track.

One Bravo is a abort control mode

8. British Sea Power: Observe The Skies

This twitching, jittering beauty from 2010’s Valhalla Dancehall LP sees the band emerge from the sea to the land… and beyond. Observe The Skies then chops merrily away behind typically elegant BSP words:

‘Let’s watch the nebulae implode,
As dark out of the light unfolds… ’

Altitude’s two miles

9. Heavenly: Space Manatee

With Sarah Records calling it a day in 1995, Heavenly‘s last-ever release was this 1996 7″ single on Wiiija, K or Elefant depending on your earth coordinates at that point.

It’s a fine sign-off: a nice slice of quiet/loud. Space Manatee was backed by a riotous cover of The Jam‘s Art School (alongside the ace Heavenly original You Tore Me Down).

Downrange one mile, altitude three, four miles now. Velocity 2,195 feet per second

10. Billy Bragg: The Space Race Is Over

Reducing our velocity somewhat is this great track from BB’s 1996 (again with 1996) LP William Bloke – one led by a pensive, poignant lyric. Is it about the thundering pace and ill-effects of technology? Is it about being careful what you wish for? The passing of time? Or is it just about the space race being over?

‘Now that the space race is over
It’s been and it’s gone, and I’ll never get to the moon
Now that the space race is over
And I can’t help but feel we’ve all grown up too soon…’

We’re through the region of maximum dynamic pressure now

11. Pixies: The Happening

Another band with a planet-ful of space sounds, this Bossanova cut won the day. But it could have been Planet of Sound, Space (I Believe In), Motorway to Roswell... But The Happening edged it thanks to its dreamy, unusual, relentless coda.

Of course, with its references to roads and the desert, and Area 51, The Happening is actually located here on Earth. That said, its haunting close could easily be the calm, stream-of-consciousness death-throes of a cast-adrift astronaut.

Eight miles downrange, 12 miles high, velocity 4,000 feet per second…

A big thanks to JC for agreeing to this. And I’ll leave him, as he is eminently qualified for the mission, to add a Kid Caneveral track as a bonus.


JC adds….

genius idea for a posting, and tempting as it is to add a track as suggested, there’s just something perfect about an 11-song compilation for today. But I am going to add it to the ICA listing over on the right hand side…as #220.

Oh, and what about the specially-created artwork too……loving it!!

9 thoughts on “ELEVEN BLASTS FOR APOLLO 11

  1. You Tore Me Down is also a cover, it’s originally by The Flamin’ Groovies. (Also Wiiija has three “i”s. Quick quiz question: without looking it up, where does the name Wiiija come from?)

  2. Thank you, Alex G – this is why I’d never make it as
    an astronaut. Glad people like the post – cheers again
    to JC.

  3. I’ll never forget watching the landing in ’69. Amazing.
    Nice one, Strangeways, ‘The Happening’ is an inspired choice.

  4. A superb run of songs perfectly sequenced. When I opened the site on my PC (I still use one of those) I went immediately goosebumpy when I read the strap line to this article “A flag flying free in a vacuum…”

    Ghosts Of Americans Astronauts is what I define to be a classic song and one that I treasure. To see it is such good company brought a smile. Thank you, Strangeways.

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