Dr. Larry Burriss Commentary: MUSIC IN SPACE

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University's College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)


In a month of so will be the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Serious stuff, to be sure, but in every mission, there are news stories about the wakeup music used by the astronauts. But this isn’t the only music in space.
Let’s go back to 1956. That’s when Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman teamed up to produce a two-part sound collage, “The Flying Saucer.” The format of the records was a series of questions asked by a reporter, and then answered by a spaceman using snippets of dozens of songs, including “The Great Pretender,” “Long, Tall Sally” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Unfortunately, the composers were sued by more than 30 record companies for copyright violation. The court eventually ruled the song was a parody and would not hurt the sale of the original works.
In 1958 we got Sheb Wooley singing about the “Purple People Eater.” The song tells the story of a creature, presumably from a flying saucer who, according to the ambiguous lyrics, is either a purple creature who eats people, or a creature who eats purple people. Anyway, the novelty song has sold more than 100-million copies.
Four years later, in 1962, Frank Sinatra hit it big with “Fly Me to the Moon.” Not only are they going to the moon, but “Ol’ Blue Eyes” also wants to go to Mars, Jupiter and the stars.
Also in 1962 a group named the Tornados had a Number 1 instrumental hit titled “Telstar,” after the AT&T communications satellite. Sound effects on the record included a rocket launch and stylized radio signals. The radio effects were produced by running a pen around the rim of an ashtray, and then playing the tape in reverse.
But NASA has to hold the record for sending music into space. In February 2008, in honor of the agency’s 50th anniversary, and the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first successful American satellite, Explorer 1, the agency beamed an MP-3 version of the Beatles song “Across the Universe” towards the star Polaris. That wake-up song should arrive in about 430 years.
I’m Larry Burriss.


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