19/07/2019

The Best Song about the Moon


Of course there are many, many songs that reference the Moon but most of them are not actually about the Moon at all. The one that springs to mind right away is the classic `Fly Me To The Moon`, a misleading title if ever there was one as Frankie is not instructing a pilot to actually carry out that task rather he is simply using it as a metaphor. His demeanour might have been far less cool had someone actually attempted to fly him to the Moon!  There’s old grumpy chops Van Morrison’s assertion that it’s a wonderful night for a `Moondance` but it is just too difficult to imagine him dancing. `The Whole of the Moon`, The Waterboys’ epic tribute to Prince takes its name from one of many comparisons writer Mike Scott makes between himself and the Purple one- “I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the Moon”. And we have to mention `Dark Side of the Moon`, the best selling Pink Floy opus yet this once again uses the Moon as a symbol in a work about fulfilment or sanity (or otherwise). On the other hand the much less epic `Sleeping Satellite` sung by Tasmin Archer is actually about the Moon and not just that, it’s about the Apollo missions. Even more impressively it laments the ending of the missions and expresses the hope that they will one day resume. That’s quite an achievement for a chart topping single. 





In fact it was Tasmin’s debut single released on 31 August 1992. The song was co- written by Archer with John Beck and John Hughes. It topped the charts in the UK, Ireland and Greece and was a top 10 hit across Europe and even made inroads into the US Billboard chart. The song addresses the ending of what it calls “man’s greatest adventure” with the `sleeping satellite` being the Moon itself. “The eagle’s flight” is a nod to the name of the lunar capsules and there's a reference to "the seas are dry". The lyric also appear to criticize those who claimed that the missions were a waste of money “and still we try, to justify the waste”. Yet at the same time there is a pragmatic question of whether the Apollo missions were undertaken too soon and perhaps not always for the right reasons –“the reason we chase is lost in romanance.” “Did we peak too soon?” the song asks. The third verse suggests we may not be able to cope with “the weight of this concept”. The lyrics also compare the idea of being earthbound as opposed to reaching for the stars.

I wonder if the writers are sensitive about the song now. Looking online there are several places where the publishers have refused permission for the lyrics to be reproduced in full. I’ve also been unable to find any enlightening interviews from the writers on the topic. It might be that the song alludes to the real reason for the so called space race which is rooted in the need for the US to beat the USSR to the lunar surface. This seems to have been a strong driver in political and financial support for the Apollo programme despite criticism that the vast amounts of money might be better spent on (insert whatever social cause you like). Was the “giant step” seen by some as a big leap over the Russians?


Tasmin Archer sings these weighty lyrics with utter conviction, you can hear in her voice this is a topic on which she has a strong opinion.  The musical wrapping in which these thoughtful words are presented undersells the frustration they seem to air being an acoustic based format that has that very Nineties slightly bouncy rhythm you’ll find in many a hit from the period. I wonder how it would sound if you isolated the vocals and placed them in a sparser environment more akin to the vastness of space. If you added a little echo it would sound like a message from the beyond.


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