Burriss: Back to Mars

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Humanity returned to Mars last week, and I was reminded that it was Pythagoras who linked music and the cosmos through the concept of music of the spheres.

Let's go back more than 50 years 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.

Also in 1958 we got the Barry Cryer-Sheb Wooley song, "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 hit number 1 on the charts and to date has sold more than 100-million copies.

Four years later, in 1962, Bart Howard and 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. Maybe that's where we got the phrase, "far out."

Also in 1962 Joe Meek composed a Number 1 instrumental hit titled "Telstar," after the AT&T communications satellite. The song was originally performed by The Tornados and later covered by the Ventures among many others. Sound effects on the record included a rocket launch and stylized radio signals. The radio effects were produced by Meek running a pen around the rim of an ashtray, and then playing the tape in reverse.

But the record for songs in space occurred back in February 1968. That's when NASA, in honor of the agency's 50th anniversary, and the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first successful American satellite, Explorer 1, beamed an MP-3 version of the Beatles song "Across the Universe" towards the star Polaris. That song should arrive in about 430 years.

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Larry Burriss
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