Come Sail Away with me! From the dawn of the rock era, space and the appearances of Unidentified Flying Objects have peppered the Rock and Roll Revisited Cannon.
Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater,” topped the charts for six weeks in the summer of 1958, while a studio group called Billy Riley And His Little Green Men.” did their thing a year earlier at Sun Records with “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll,” Among the “Green Men” was Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. Other notables in the genre include two nautical themed tunes,”Ride Captain Ride” a 1972 one hit wonder for Blues Image and the Styx standard, “Come Sail Away”.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Whenever the idea that “we are not alone” pops up in the news, pop culture art always seems to appear.Top 10 Extraterrestrial Films as selected by bfi.com readers.
This article in the New Yorker features a conversation with Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, who talks about the appearance of an unexplained object, speeding by us in space. Conversations about UFOs have been happening since the humanity first documented science. In America, it was the atomic age that sparked popular interest in the phoenominon.George Pal’s special effects were the centerpiece of 1953’s “War of the Worlds”.
The earliest known film about aliens was “Aelita“, a Russian made silent in 1924 and edited for American audiences as “Revolt of the Robots”. 1953’s telling of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, the first starring role for Gene Barry with Anne Robinson as the love interest gained additional traction when it’s television distribution happened in parallel with the sales boom in color TV sets. Many like it followed, some really good, like Robert Wise’s “The Day The Earth Stood Still” and many more really bad, as noted on this exhaustive Wikipedia list.
During my own college years, we watched “2001 – A Space Odyssey” more than once, sometimes in altered states of consciousness. Later, Stephen Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” & “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” awakened a new generation to the genre. With the launch of the Star Wars franchise, “Space Opera” became a well worn word in the Hollywood lexicon.
In the case of Styx Come Sail Away, Wikipedia notes:
Lyrically, the song uses sailing as a metaphor to achieve one’s dreams. The lyrics touch on nostalgia of “childhood friends,” escapism, and a religious thematic symbolized by “a gathering of angels” singing “a song of hope.” The ending lyrics of Come Sail Away explain a transformation from a sailing ship into a starship, by narrating that “they climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies” which also imply biblical verses from Ezekiel (1:1-28).
However, Dennis DeYoung revealed on In the Studio with Redbeard (which devoted an entire episode to the making of The Grand Illusion LP), that he was depressed when he wrote the track after Styx’s first two A&M offerings, Equinox and Crystal Ball, sold fewer units than expected after the success of the single “Lady“.
So you never know what’s truly behind the lyrics of a song. As listeners we have the luxury of assigning whatever meaning we wish.
Here’s a list of Rock and Roll Revisited tunes about extra terrestrials. Come Sail Away with us down this star studded memory lane.
- “The Flying Saucer Parts 1 & 2” by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman
- “My Flying Saucer” lyrics by Woodie Guthrie 1950; recorded later by Billy Bragg and Wilco†
- “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley
- “Two Little Men In A Flying Saucer” by Ella Fitzgerald
- “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll” by Billy Lee Riley and Jerry Lee Lewis
- “Let There Be More Light” by Pink Floyd
- “Mr. Spaceman” by The Byrds
- “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” by Pink Floyd
- “Voices Green and Purple” by The Bees
- “It Came Out of the Sky” Creedence Clearwater Revival
- “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young
- “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by Klaatu (cover by The Carpenters)
- “Childhood’s End” by Pink Floyd
- “Come Sail Away” by Styx
- “Here Come the Martian Martians” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
- “Horsell Commons and the Heat Ray” by Jeff Wayne (Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds)
- “I’ve Seen the Saucers” by Elton John
- “Longer Boats” by Cat Stevens
- “Martian Boogie” by Brownsville Station
- “Mothership Connection” by Parliament
- “Starman” by David Bowie
- “Starship Trooper” by Yes
- “Arriving UFO” by Yes
- “Waiting for the UFOs” by Graham Parker
- “Silver Lights” Sammy Hagar
- “Children of the Sun” Billy Thorpe
One of the biggest hits of 1979 was The Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes”. Around that time, Michael McDonald replaced Tom Johnston as the lead singer and the iconic voice of the group. He’s an amazing talent in his own right, but when it came time to write this song, he partnered with another legendary performer, Kenny Loggins of Loggins & Messina. Here’s the backstory on how the two collaborated on one of the Doobies’ biggest records. Via the Wall Street Journal.
Today in History:
1949, The Modern Jukebox was made possible on this date when RCA Records issued the first ever 45 rpm single.
1964, The Beatles started a seven week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, the first US No.1 by a UK act since The Tornadoes ‘Telstar’ in 1962 and the first of three consecutive No.1’s from the group.
1965, Martin Luther King Jr. & 700 demonstrators arrested in Selma Alabama.
1967, Which came first, the tune or the album concept? On this date at Abbey Road studios in London, The Beatles started work on a new song ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. It wasn’t until they had recorded the song that Paul McCartney had the idea to make the song the thematic pivot for their forthcoming album.
1972, The best selling album of the year was released on this date by Neil Young. “Harvest” was his 4th LP.Nolte – Blakely – Strauss
1976, Money speaks stronger than true love. Sonny & Cher resume TV show, despite real-life divorce.
1982, Today’s trivia question: Who was the first guest when “Late Night With David Letterman” debuted on NBC-TV on this date? Bill Murray. Yup, we have the (Video)
Happy Birthday To:
1934 Bob Shane from The Kingston Trio who had the 1958 US No.1 & UK No.5 single ‘Tom Dooley’ plus nine other US Top 40 hits.(d. 2020)
1901 Clark Gable (d. 1960)
1937 American singer, songwriter Don Everly, from The Everly Brothers.
1937 Ray Sawyer, singer, songwriter with American rock band Dr Hook. (d. 2018)
1938 Jimmy Carl Black, drummer who worked with Frank Zappa on his 1970 UK No.9 album Hot Rats. (d.2018)
1908 George Pal (d. 1980)
1965 Actor Brandon Lee. (d. 1993)
1968 Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley.
1957 Dennis Brown, reggae singer. (d. 1999)
1950 Mike Campbell, guitarist with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
1948 Rick James (d. 2004)
1947 Normie Rowe, singer, biggest solo star of Australian pop in the Sixties, who in 1965 had the Australian No.1 single ?Que Sera Sera? which spent 11 weeks at the top of the charts.
1939 Joe Sample, keyboards with The Crusaders who had the 1979 UK No.5 single ‘Street Life’.
Much More Music:
1965, James Brown records ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’. It will become his first top ten hit, reaching No.8 on the @Billboard Pop chart and No.1 on the R&B chart the following August. later winning a Grammy Award for Best R&B Recording. The tape was edited and sped up for its single release, increasing the tempo and raising the pitch by a half step. (Video)
1969, Tommy James and the Shondells started a two week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with ‘Crimson And Clover’, the group’s second and final No.1. It was recorded in late 1968 in about five hours and is one of the earliest songs recorded on 16-track equipment. James said the title came to him before the song did. He took a rough mix to WLS to get the program director’s opinion. Without James’ knowledge, the station made a recording of the song and started playit on the air. (Video)
Another top 20 Motown smash from 1969. The Four Tops channel the Left Banke with “Walk Away Renée”. Legend has it that keyboard player and songwriter Michael Brown wrote the tune when he was 16. The Tops’ biggest success came from the pens of Holland–Dozier–Holland, but they charted with several standards including “Walk Away Renée” and Tim Hardin‘s “If I Were a Carpenter”. (Video)
1975, Neil Sedaka had his second US No.1 single with ‘Laughter In The Rain’, over 12 years after his last chart topper ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’. The tune was a partnership with lyricist Phil Cody Cody who said he came up with the words in about five minutes after smoking marijuana and falling asleep under a tree. (Video)
1992, George Michael and Elton John went to No.1 on the US singles chart with ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, also a No.1 in the UK. All proceeds from the single went to Aids charities. (Video)
Today’s Quote Worth Re-Quoting: “Our focus is not on Disney+, Amazon and others, but on how we can improve our experience for our members.” ~Reed Hastings (Via Jacobs Media)
Here’s the original album version of the Styx classic Come Sail Away. Enjoy!
Thanks for listening!
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit