Archive | October, 2019

SciFi SongFest, Songs 327-341

And now we come to the grand finale, with fireworks bursting in all directions, the –


327-328. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart, “Phantom of the Opera” and “Music of the Night” (1986):

Is Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel Phantom of the Opera a work of science-fiction? I say yes, for the same reason Batman is: all those gadgets and mechanical contrivances. And so these songs from the musical version count, sez I, as sci-fi songs.

(Two Phantom-related memories: listening to a Phantom “cassette tape”* on my “Walkman”* as I rode up and down the elevators of the insanely surreal Marriott Marquis atrium at the Eastern APA in Atlanta in 1991; and taking my mother to see the live show at the Kennedy Center in 1993 when I was running the IHS graduate summer program.)

[* Look it up, kids.]

Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, the original performers:

Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, from the 2004 movie (which I saw at the [late lamented] Harvard Square Theatre while in Boston for another Eastern APA [for the very first Molinari Society session, in fact] in 2004):

329. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater, “The Beauty Underneath” (2010):

From the flawed but underrated Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies (which I saw in Atlanta two years ago). There are three quite different versions of this song; I have trouble deciding which I like best:

From the 2010 London production:

From the 2012 Australian production:

From the 2017-2018 North American tour:

But the two Webber works are not the only musicals to be based on Leroux’s novel. Twelve years earlier, there was the crazy movie The Phantom of the Paradise; here are a couple of songs from that:

330. Paul Williams, “The Hell of It” (1974):

331. Paul Williams (composer); Jessica Harper (singer), “Old Souls” (1974):

Of course the amazing-voiced Jessica Harper would go on to star in the 1981 Rocky Horror sequel Shock Treatment, taking over the role of Janet from Susan Sarandon in the 1975 adaptation of the 1973 stage musical. And that makes an adequate segue to Rocky Horror itself, a vaguely Frankenstein-based musical which of course opens with the ultimate science-fiction song – a song that was always going to be one of the songs featured in the grand finale of this SciFi SongFest. Namely this one:

332. Richard O’Brien, “Science Fiction Double Feature” (1973):

In the original stage production, the song was sung by Patricia Quinn (who also played Magenta – though she sounds more like Columbia here):

In the movie, it was sung by O’Brien, the composer (who also played Riff Raff), though it’s still Quinn’s lips we see:

On an amazing Hallowe’en 2011, singer Amanda Palmer performed the song on the Craig Ferguson show, with help from Stephin Merritt and Moby – and slightly more minimalist help from Palmer’s husband, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Yes, this gloriously exists!

And that in turn offers segues in two different directions – one to this incredible song of android love from Palmer when she was part of the Dresden Dolls:

333. Dresden Dolls, “Coin Operated Boy” (2003):

– and hence to this similarly-themed song (actually written by Johnny S. Black in 1915):

334. Mills Brothers, “Paper Doll” (1943):

– and onward to this updated version (which quotes the original in the background, starting around 1:30):

335. Red Clay Ramblers, “The Corrugated Lady” (1978):

– and the other segue is back to the Craig Ferguson show, where on that very same Hallowe’en 2011 night, Ferguson himself performed another song from Rocky Horror:

336. Richard O’Brien, “Over at the Frankenstein Place” (1973):

First the film version:

And then Ferguson’s version:

Following the Rocky Horror strand forward leads to this song:

337. Richard O’Brien, “Time Warp” (1973):

(And don’t Columbia, and her relationship with Frank-N-Furter, prefigure Harley Quinn, and her relationship with Mr. J?)

(As for those subtitles: traduttore, traditore, indeed.)

– which leads in turn to this Doctor Who oriented cover from the Hillywood Sisters (filled with visual references to the Tennant era). I think Elliott Crossley deserves more prominent billing than he gets here for his spot-on Tennant voice dubbing. (Incidentally: the timing of “the blackness would hit me” is, um, surely not accidental – right? Cheeky.)

Following the Rocky Horror strand forward for one more song takes us to …

338. Richard O’Brien (composer); Tim Curry (performer), “Sweet Transvestite” (1973):

(And the subtitles are not getting any more accurate.)

Alternatively, following the Doctor Who and Craig Ferguson threads back, we find them converging on …

339. Craig Ferguson, “Doctor Who Cold Open” (2010):

So, back in 1963 the Doctor Who theme was composed by Ron Grainer and then vastly improved by Delia Derbyshire:

But it never had lyrics until, nearly 50 years later, Ferguson gave us these:

Trivia note: in his youth Craig Ferguson was in a band with Peter Capaldi, who would later play the Doctor from 2013 to 2017.

Continuing to follow the Doctor Who strand leads to another song that has received a Doctor Who parody:

340. Victoria Wood, “The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s Do It)” (1986):

And here’s the Doctor Who themed version, a send-off from the stars of Doctor Who to showrunners Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner – parts of which you’ll get only if you’ve read Davies’ Writer’s Tale:

But we’ve begun to depart from the authentically Hallowe’eny, so let’s follow the Doctor Who strand back in a twisty direction – to this song from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas:

341. Danny Elfman, “This is Halloween” (1993):

No Doctor Who connection yet; but then Marilyn Manson recorded a cover version – and someone made a Doctor Who themed video (from the Matt Smith era) for that – and the result is the ultimate sci-fi Hallowe’en song (as opposed to the ultimate sci-fi song simpliciter, which was #332 above), and a fitting culmination for our SongFest:

SciFi SongFest, Songs 319-326


Eight vaguely Hallowe’eny songs from one of my favourite bands. (I lived in the same town with them [Chapel Hill – so a flashback to my Carolina days this time, not my Idaho days] for five years* but never heard them perform live! Regrettable.)

[* Clarification: I lived in Chapel Hill for eight years, 1990–1998, but the Squirrel Nut Zippers didn’t come into existence until 1993.]

Given the radical changes in personnel over the years, there’s a ship-of-Theseus question as to whether these songs are all from the same band. But it is the same captain throughout, Jimbo Mathus.

Again, no real science-fiction tie; but I’ll make up for it in tomorrow’s grand finale.

319. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “La Grippe” (1995):

320. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “The Ghost of Stephen Foster” (1998):

321. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Hell” (1996):

322. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Blue Angel” (1996):

323. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Bed Bugs” (2000):

324. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Hey Shango” (2018):

325. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Karnival Joe From Kokomo” (2018):

326. Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Beasts of Burgundy” (2018):

SciFi SongFest, Songs 313-318


Okay, again not strictly science fiction, but it’s only two more days till Hallowe’en and our grand finale, and these offerings seem appropriate to the season:

The Addams Family and Munsters tv shows premiered the same year, and in fact the same week.

It’s clear which one was better, of course. I mean, just look at Carolyn Jones’s and John Astin’s expressions in the Addams Family opening. Worth the price of admission right there.

313. Jack Marshall, “Munsters Theme” (1964):

There were actually lyrics, but they were never used on the show:

314. Vic Mizzy, “Addams Family Theme” (1964):

Some more Addams Family songs from later incarnations of the franchise:

315. Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Mark Shaiman (sung by Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd), “Mamushka” (from the 1991 Addams Family movie):

And there’s another, unused version with more lyrics:

316. Christina Aguilera, “Haunted Heart” (from the 2019 Addams Family movie):

317. Buddy Baker, “Grim Grinning Ghosts” (1969):

Not Munsters or Addams Family related, but in the same spirit – the theme song from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride:

318. Randy Newman (composer) and Keith David (performer), “Friends on the Other Side” (2009):

And this, from the movie The Princess and the Frog:

(If it doesn’t let you watch it here, just click through to watch it on YouTube.)

SciFi SongFest, Songs 310-312


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818; rev. ed 1823) is often referred to as the first science-fiction novel. I don’t think it is that; there are, for example, the earlier stories of voyages to the moon by Francis Godwin in 1638 and Cyrano de Bergerac in 1657 (no less an authority than Arthur C. Clarke credited Cyrano’s book with anticipating the ramjet), to say nothing of Lucian’s similar tales fifteen centuries before those. But Frankenstein certainly represents a major pioneering work in science fiction, and the next three songs all have some connection to it.

310. Irving Berlin and Harry Richman, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1930):

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” began life as a racist and classist song making fun of working-class blacks trying to put on airs and dress fashionably; the original lyrics referred to “Lenox Avenue” (in Harlem), “every Thursday evening” (the traditional maids’ night off) instead of “Park Avenue,” and “fifteen dollars” (and “see them spend their last two bits”) instead of “lots of dollars,” and included such charming lines as:

spangled gowns
upon the bevy
of high browns
from down the levy
all misfits
puttin’ on the Ritz

Here’s Fred Astaire singing the same original-lyrics version, also in 1930; you can hear the lyrics a bit better in this one:

In 1946, Berlin rewrote the lyrics, likewise for Fred Astaire, to make it a song about upper-class (and presumptively white) people instead of lower-class black people, and this version of the lyrics became the standard one:

But then, in 1974, the performance of the song by Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in Mel Brooks’ movie Young Frankenstein forever cemented its connection to the Frankenstein legend:

311. H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, “To Life” (from Shoggoth on the Roof, 2005)

H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West – Reanimator” is a modern updating of the Frankenstein story. It’s far from being his best story, and Lovecraft was never happy with it; but its mad-scientist protagonist is nonetheless one of the many Lovecraft characters to appear in the Lovecraft-inspired parody musical Shoggoth on the Roof, in which various songs from Fiddler on the Roof are rewritten with humourous lyrics reflecting the Lovecraft mythos. (Alas, the musical’s actual stage performance is illegal, because IP.) Here, for example, “To life, to life, l’chaim!” becomes “To life, to life, I’ll bring them!” – which is arguably the cleverest change in the lot.

Here’s the original song (from the 1971 movie):

And here’s the Re-Animated version:

312. Bobby Pickett, “Monster Mash” (1962):

Finally, this next song is especially appropriate to Hallowe’en, which is nearly upon us.

While “Monster Mash,” sung in imitation of Boris Karloff’s voice (except for Dracula’s line about the Transylvania Twist, where Pickett imitates Bela Lugosi instead), invokes various popular movie monsters, the centerpiece of the song is the Frankenstein legend. Indeed, Lugosi-Dracula’s “Transylvania Twist” line is a complaint about his own dance being displaced in popularity by the Frankenstein-inspired “Monster Mash” dance. (Pickett did indeed release a “Transylvania Twist” number, but it’s poor competition for the Mash.) Here, by contrast with the movie version, the Karloff voice seems to be the doctor’s rather than the monster’s (“I was working in the lab late one night”), although at some point the perspective may shift to that of the monster (if, as I suspect, “get a jolt from my electrodes” refers to the electrodes embedded in the monster’s neck in the Karloff movies – and Pickett’s Karloffian facial expressions in the video also suggest the monster more than the scientist).

The song was initially banned by the BBC for being “too morbid.”

The Sun in Leo

When I was eight years old (so, in 1972), and my mother and I were living in San Diego, my grandmother invited us over to her apartment to watch a miniseries on Leonardo da Vinci – part documentary, part docudrama – that was playing on CBS (since we didn’t have a tv at home). My grandmother spun it as a useful educational opportunity for me; more likely the invitation was part of some sort of power game against my mother, but in any case we went, and despite the tiny black and white screen I was hooked – that was when I fell in love with Renaissance Italy. (So thank you, Gram’ma, whatever your motives.)

I’m happy to see that this series is now available online. I gather that the series exists in both abridged and unabridged versions, and I’m not sure which this is, but you can’t beat the price:

SciFi SongFest, Songs 305-309

And now we begin the …


Okay, most of these next songs are fantasy rather than science fiction, and I have no real excuse for including them, except that it’s almost Hallowe’en and two of the songs involve ghosts; plus these songs take me back to my western days of yore; plus this is a goddamn anarchist blog and I’ll do whatever seemeth right in my own eyes, dagnabit:

305. Stan Jones, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” (1948):

Here’s the original version:

But today this song is usually best known either through Johnny Cash’s version (1979):

– or through Cash’s duet with Willie Nelson (1997):

Here’s a somewhat more unusual cover:

I’m not sure what version I originally heard (it’s been covered many times), but I’m pretty sure I knew it when I was still living out west, in which case it’d be a pre-Cash version (since we relocated to New England in 1977).

306. C. W. McCall, “Convoy” (1975):

When I was living in southeast Idaho in the mid-70s, trucker songs were big on the radio; and the king of them all, of course, was the immortal C. W. McCall. This trucker anthem, with its shocking disrespect for the gangsters in blue our heroic first responders, counts as science fiction by my generous definition, since it’s about a fictional nationwide trucker rebellion (for more specific details as to what it’s about, and some translations of the CB slang, see the song’s Wikipedia page). (McCall has featured previously in this SongFest, though not with a trucker song.)

307. C. W. McCall, “’Round the World With the Rubber Duck” (1976):

This is the (deservedly) lesser-known sequel to “Convoy,” a weak (and somewhat racist) follow-up that I don’t recall even hearing at the time; it’s surely one of McCall’s less-inspired songs. The previous song’s Friends of Jesus turn out to come in handy for crossing the Atlantic, though:

308. C. W. McCall, “Silver Iodide Blues” (1976):

To redeem McCall’s reputation, here’s another of his good songs. Is it science fiction? Not really. It’s about science, though:

309. Red Sovine, “Phantom 309” (1967):

Yes, I managed to work it out so that “Phantom 309” would also be song #309. The stars have aligned!

While McCall was the king of the trucker songs in my Idaho days, the following song by Red Sovine was in frequent rotation on the radio as well:

Sovine and McCall, perhaps along with someone’s version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” as well, jointly inspired me to write my own supernatural trucker song (I was around 12), of which I remember only the chorus (though I probably still have the rest of it in a box somewhere). There’s a melody too, but I’ll spare you, for I am compassionate and merciful, like this driver:

God drives an eighteen-wheeler
across this land of ours
his wheels shake the whole land round about
and the noise shakes the stars
the sound of his engine fills the hills
and the smoke from his smokestack curls
he’s the guy who said “Let there be light!”
and his headlights light the world

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