Columns > Published on April 12th, 2012

Interdimensional Hit Parade: Sci-Fi Influenced Pop Music

For a geek like me, spotting a science fiction reference buried in popular music is a rare and wondrous thing. In the middle school of life musicians are the cool kids, while online sci-fi columnists are… crap, this analogy is depressing. Regardless, it’s always nice and surprising to discover that creative people are being influenced by the same authors and stories I revere.

(Certainly, the rise of Nerdcore – not to mention the long tradition of Filk – has made referencing sci-fi in song a much more common phenomenon. But for this piece, I want to focus on nominally ‘mainstream’ music.)

With all that in mind, I thought it might be fun to start exploring sci-fi culture in music. We all know about the love ‘70s rockers had for halflings and quasars, but here are a few songs from other genres to show just how wide its spread has gotten.

The Mountain Goats – “Lovecraft in Brooklyn”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSj9LfA961o width:420 height:315 align:center]

Where better to start than with a song that proudly wears its love for science fiction on its sleeve? The Mountain Goats set this Lovecraftian Apocalypse on a hot summer day in Brooklyn and the result is both fun and terrifying. Forget The Dunwich Horror, this is The Park Slope Horror. How can you argue with lyrics like “Rhode Island drops into the ocean”? You can’t. This song even inspired a great remix by rapper/producer Aesop Rock, himself no stranger to science fiction.

I will only add that the one time I saw John Darnielle live, he forever established his geek street cred by rocking a “Pluto Never Forget” shirt.

Jay Electronica – “Exhibit A”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSxLzrXurJI width:420 height:315 align:center]

Let’s just say that, given my personal preferences, anytime an MC boasts he or she will “spit that Kurt Vonnegut…shit” I am 100% in. Electronica offers the educated listener a range of sci-fi references, from the song “Anakin’s Prayer” to his apparent love for L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth.

Tubeway Army – “Down In The Park”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4EMmvP8rWo width:420 height:315 align:center]

Tubeway Army was a new wave band that showcased a young singer named Gary Numan and showed tons of love for science fiction. Their big single was titled “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” and their song “Listen to the Sirens” contains direct quotes from Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. This track describes a hellish park where androids known as  “Mechmen” hunt humans for the enjoyment of a crowd.  Numan has revealed that he drew inspiration from both Dick and JG Ballard for the song.

Fatboy Slim – “Weapon of Choice”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMZwZiU0kKs width:420 height:315 align:center]

Rightly famous for it Spike Jonze-directed, Christopher Walken zero-G softshoe video, this song also contains a clear allusion to Frank Herbert’s Dune. Bootsy Collins' vocals include the line “Walk without rhythm/it won’t attract the worm.” While some might have been confused by Parliament Funkadelic vet Collins’ words, those of us who are familiar with the fauna of planet Arrakis realized that Fatboy was talking about sandworms. Truly, this track is a thumper.

Deltron 3030 – “3030”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7_jbluF0qo width:420 height:315 align:center]

Less a lone reference and more an entire sci-fi novel set to music, this full-length album is the result of a collaboration among rapper Del The Funky Homosapien, producer Dan The Automator, and DJ Kid Koala. In telling the story of a one man’s struggle to survive a dystopian, intergalactic future, Del makes time to reference many classics of the genre. Maybe my favorite comes in the sprawling opening track, where Del brags that he is a ““Neuromancer, perfect blend of technology and magic.” William Gibson shout out FTW!

What are some of your favorite sci-fi influenced jams?  Let me know in the comments!

About the author

Originally from Concord, Massachusetts, Jon Korn spent a decade in Los Angeles trying to get warm. He now lives in Oakland, where he works as a writer and film festival programmer. Over the past 10 years, Jon has watched tens of thousands of movies for the Sundance Film Festival, AFI FEST, Outfest, and CineVegas, among others. Not all of them were good, but it is still a wonderful job. Jon is the co-creator of the Echo Park Time Travel Mart and a Jeopardy! champion. His hobbies include cooking, being sad about baseball, and not answering the phone.

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