***** Foundation, the opera
**** 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ballet
*** Forever War, the musical
** Stranger in a Strange Land, the soap opera
* Plan 9 From Outer Space, the movie
Science fiction is usually about looking ahead, trying to take trends and science of today and follow them out to their logical conclusions, both utopian and distopian. And when we use our crystal ball to view the coming age, we expect that things within it will feel strange, look different, sound…futuristic. This issue’s Bug Music looks at a sonic survey of the tones of the future, taken from the movies, TV shows and avant artists of the past.
Brain In A Box: The Science Fiction Collection
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I’s obvious that the creators of Rhino Records’ Brain in a Box set love the genre of science fiction in all its forms. They didn’t skimp on anything. This box wins top honors for packaging alone!
The holographic cube box displays a 3-D brain on three sides and a 1950s era collection of “mad scientist” knobs on top. Inside, slipped into slots in brain-grey foam rests a set of five CDs that include 113 tracks, including bits of scores and songs from original movie and television soundtracks, sci-fi-themed pop and novelty songs, and tons of odd dialogue and sound effects.
The discs are divided by “Subjects.”
Disc 1 warns that it is “Not For Use In Zero Gravity” and covers Movie Themes. The best disc of the set for background listening, it offers tracks from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Fantastic Voyage, Planet of the Apes, Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Robocop, Mars Attacks!, The Matrix and more.
Disc 2 covers TV Themes ranging from “The Twilight Zone,” “Lost in Space” and “My Favorite Martian,” to “The Jetsons,”“Doctor Who,” “The X-Files” and “Star Trek.”
These two discs are worth the admission price alone, but then the compilers reached out into the fringes of pop music consciousness to rescue songs from bands both notorious and unknown that deal with sci-fi themes. Disc 3 covers Pop artists (and bears the warning “Watch For Flying Debris”). None of these songs were exactly bona fide pop hits; did you remember that the Jefferson Airplane cut a track called “Have You Seen The Saucers” or that Graham Parker wrote about “Waiting for the UFO’s”? Webb Wilder’s “Rocket To Nowhere” and T-Bone Burnett’s more known “Humans From Earth” made the cut, as did Kathy McCarty’s Laurie Anderson-esque “Rocket Ship.” The Ventures, Nilsson, They Might Be Giants, Stan Ridgway and Roky Erickson also appear.
Disc 4 warns “Do Not Irradiate” and covers Incidental/Lounge music from the likes of Ferrante & Teicher’s “Man From Mars” to Sun Ra’s “Space Is The Place” to Leonard Nimoy’s “Alien.”
Nimoy also turns up on the 5th disc, labeled Novelty with his reading of “Music to Watch Space Girls By.”
The Novelty disc also includes classics like Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” and real pop names with some of their more left-field experiments, from The B-52’s “Planet Claire” to Louis Prima’s “Beep! Beep” to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Two Little Men In A Flying Saucer” and Jimmy Durante’s “We’re Going UFO-ing.”
The music throughout the box runs the gamut from squeaky clean ‘50s kitsch to back porch hillbilly to bebop rock to cool lounge to swing to just plain weird. Some of these tracks have gotten lots of play over the years from Weird Al Yankovic’s favorite radio outlet, “The Dr. Demento Show.” Others have just been forgotten.
The accompanying 200-page hardbound book, dubbed Brain In A Book, is designed in the style of Big Little Books of the ’40s/’50s, and is an all-things-SF reference guide containing authoritative liner notes by noted sci-fi music expert/radio personality David Garland, a short intro by Ray Bradbury, and an essay by Dr. Demento as well as other tributes, tons of rare photos and illustrations (including classic ’50s/’60s-era sci-fi movie posters and book and magazine covers), “Build Your Own Light Saber” blueprints, and excerpts from The Robot Builder’s Manual by Clayton Bailey.
The book examines the genre and its impact on music (and vice versa). And in case you were ready to write these compilers off as knowledge-less bandwagon jumpers who’ve gotten all that they know of SF from ‘50s B-movies, think again. The book references a wide swath of classic novels like Samuel R. Delany’s Triton, Thomas M. Disch’s On The Wings of Song and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, as well as traces a history of pulp magazine science fiction, referencing Astounding, Amazing, Super Science Stories and many more, along with some great cover reproductions. The creators have done their homework in pulling together a well-rounded written and sonic survey, and they also avoid hyperbole, noting up-front that for various reasons, they haven’t managed to get every really necessary science fiction theme onto this five-disc set. They suggest seeking out the score from The Thing, as well as music from A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, Total Recall, and Star Wars (which was unavailable for this collection). They also have a good sense of humor, closing one chapter with the warning:
And please, no letters about forgetting Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home).”
This box is a must for fans of science fiction AND quirky music. And the book offers a colorful read to go along with the equally offbeat tunes.
John Everson’s “Pop Stops” music column has appeared weekly in the Chicago-area Star Newspapers for more than a decade. His “dark music” columns have appeared in Wetbones and Midnight Hour magazines and he’s published fiction in ‘zines like Bloodsongs, E-Scape, Grue, Plot, Terminal Fright, Sirius Visions and Dead of Night. His first hardcover collection of erotic horror fiction, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions was released last fall from Delirium Books.