By: Sari Cohen
From small steps to giant leaps, the moon and stars have been making their way into the stories that shape our lives since the beginning of time. Some of the world’s greatest songs have been crafted around the wonder of the celestial skies.
Astronomy Day is a world-wide event observed in both the Spring and Autumn, typically falling on the Saturday before the First Quarter Moon in April/May and September/October. The day of cosmic observance is accompanied by National Astronomy Week, which begins the preceding Monday in the Spring, and continues to promote public awareness of astronomy.
Aside from gluing your eyes to a telescope or visiting your local planetarium, a great way to get in the spirit of astronomy is jamming out to some cosmic tunes. A good first step is popping in a playlist honoring the moon and stars. Here are 15 stellar tracks to get you started.
15. The Manhattans – “Shining Star”
While Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star” offered us some sage advice about wishes and dreams, The Manhattans’ song (which bears the same title) taught us what it means to be in love. 1980’s “Shining Star” made its way high up on the Billboard charts and earned the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The song became so popular over time that it grew to be a cover favorite. If you saw the Jerry Garcia Band in the early ‘90s, you were likely to be singing along to this track at some point during their show. Like most classic love songs, there is no going away for this one.
14. Elton John – “Rocket Man”
The ‘70s were a time of space exploration and musical discoveries. Elton John’s 1972 album Honky Château brought us the best of both with “Rocket Man.” The song came out around the Apollo 16 mission and was penned by John’s longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin. His inspiration came from Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Rocket Man.” Bradbury served as the inspiration to another group, Pearls Before Swine, who had released their own “Rocket Man” song in 1970. John’s iteration would, of course, go on to become one of his most beloved songs. “Rocketman” (the 2019 movie) led to John and Taupin’s very first Academy Award-win together. In 2020, they took home the Best Original Song Oscar for “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” which was featured in the film.
13. Rose Royce – “Wishing on a Star”
Rose Royce’s 1977 album, In Full Bloom, brought us the first version of “Wishing on a Star.” Female singer/songwriter, Billie Rae Calvin, penned the tune, originally with Barbra Streisand in mind. The American soul and R&B group won out, adding the track to their list of ’70s hits, which also included “Car Wash,” “I Wanna Get Next to You,” “I’m Going Down,” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Eventually, the song would be covered by numerous artists. The Cover Girls gave “Wishing on a Star” a revamp in ‘92 with their popular dance version. Beyoncé also covered the track, when she was promoting Tommy Hilfiger’s perfume, True Star. It earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2006.
12. R.E.M. – “Man on the Moon”
Nearly 30 years later and R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” is still a favorite among alt-rock fans. Automatic for the People (which delivered “Man on the Moon”) was released in 1992, adding to the group’s popularity in the early ‘90s. Lead singer, Michael Stipe, scribed the song about the late comedian, Andy Kaufman – hence the 1999 movie about the comic that starred Jim Carrey and bore the same name. If you’re familiar with Kaufman, those references in the song might be easier to catch. The part about putting a man on the moon is to suggest that the Moon landing could be a hoax, as could Kaufman’s death. After the band broke up in 2011, Stipe went on record, saying this was the song that he would miss performing most.
11. Coldplay – “A Sky Full of Stars”
Coldplay’s Chris Martin once told the hosts of The Kevin & Bean Show that their songs are “sent from the universe.” Knowing that makes 2014’s “A Sky Full of Stars” even more poetic. It was the last song that was added to their album, Ghost Stories, and came to be what we know it as thanks to Avicii. The late Swedish DJ co-produced and played piano on the track. It was Coldplay’s first dance/EDM-inspired song. The packaging makes it even more intriguing. The artwork features a three-dimensional star chart. Of course, that wasn’t the only chart this song did well with. “A Sky Full of Stars” saw huge commercial success and topped various charts in numerous countries.
10. OneRepublic – “Counting Stars”
OneRepublic frontman, Ryan Tedder, was no stranger to writing hits before he brought this 2013 song to life. Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” were both of his British chart-topping tunes; however, this was the first UK No.1 single for Tedder as a performer. “Counting Stars” was actually inspired when he was working with Beyoncé. While it wasn’t a fit for her, it was perfect for OneRepublic, so it landed on their album, Native. The track is not only praised for its meaningful lyrics, but it also shakes up the standard structure of a pop song, giving it its own energy. In the end, Tedder was likely counting both dollars and stars with this tune. It is one of the band’s most successful songs.
9. Beastie Boys – “Intergalactic”
“Intergalactic” was off of the Beastie Boys’ 1998 album, Hello Nasty. The song won the hip hop group a Grammy in 1999 in the category of Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, which was accompanied by their Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. “Intergalactic” also won Best Hip Hop Video at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. It was no surprise, as the Beastie Boys had been turning out hits since 1981. All four of their studio albums leading up to this one had seen massive success. The Hello Nasty tour was the group’s first tour in three years, and “Intergalactic” was their shining star – so to speak. Along with the cool robotic vocal sound (which was pre-Auto-Tune), the lyrics were classic old school Beastie-style and even came complete with an “MMM, D-r-r-rop!”
8. Bad Company – “Shooting Star”
“Shooting Star” is off of Bad Company’s 1975 album, Straight Shooter. While not literally about a shooting star, the song is a cautionary tale about what happens to rock stars when they get caught up in the excessive lifestyle that the music industry is notorious for. Everybody has their own idea surrounding who exactly the song was written about, but as frontman Paul Rodgers explains, it was based on a mix of musicians, which includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Sadly, this track would end up hitting too close to home. Paul Kossoff, who was in the band, Free, with Rodgers, passed away from a drug overdose at the young age of 25. One year after this song was released.
7. Oasis – “Champagne Supernova”
1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? came with all sorts of gems like “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and “Hello.” Interestingly enough, the title for, “Champagne Supernova,” came about when Noel Gallagher accidentally crossed the Pixies album, Bossanova, with a documentary about champagne. The song became one of the only Oasis singles to be released in America. This was in the band’s heyday when both Noel and Liam Gallagher were still getting along – at least in the public eye. Tensions grew between the Gallagher brothers, and they eventually parted ways in 2009, making Oasis a thing of the past. Over the years, the song has been performed by both Noel and Liam on tour – separately, of course.
6. The Police – “Walking on the Moon”
This reggae-infused track from 1979’s Reggatta de Blanc not only helped define the sounds of The Police, but it influenced the sounds of artists to come – artists like U2. The riff from “Walking on the Moon” came to Sting one night while he was walking around his hotel room. The video was actually shot in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. You can even see Stuart Copeland drumming on a Saturn V rocket in the video. Adding to the theme, Copeland used a Roland RE-201 Space Echo unit, creating that delay effect, which so perfectly captures the vibe of it all. The song became the second No. 1 hit for The Police and continues to be a favorite. Thirty years later, and it’s still inspiring bands like Walk The Moon – hence the name.
5. Van Morrison – “Moondance”
In 1970, Van Morrison painted a beautiful lyrical picture about a marvelous Moondance that seemed to capture the magic of romance. The album was a bit of a departure from 1968’s folk-infused Astral Weeks. Moondance took on more of a rhythm and blues feel, really defining Morrison as an artist. Along with the title track, the songs included on the album are some of his best. “Into the Mystic,” “And It Stoned Me,” as well as “Crazy Love,” were all born here. “Moondance” started as a Jazz saxophone instrumental, eventually evolving into the flute-heavy jazz-rock masterpiece we all know and love. While Morrison is known for not divulging too much about his songs, the good news is that he doesn’t have to. They speak for themselves.
4. David Bowie – “Starman”
The year was 1972, and David Bowie was embracing the glam rock era with open arms. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was a monumental body of work for the English musician. Bowie had re-emerged in the ‘70s, as Ziggy Stardust, a character who was introduced as the artist’s androgynous alter ego. In this song, Ziggy is revealed as the Starman’s messenger on Earth. Ziggy brings a message of hope to the youth through the radio. Along with the extraterrestrial inferences made lyrically, Bowie was also influenced tonally by the song “Over The Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz.” The concept album, or rock opera, not only earned widespread critical acclaim; it helped make Bowie one of the most celebrated artists of our time.
3. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”
John Fogerty wrote “Bad Moon Rising” about what he thought of as the impending apocalypse. A movie called “The Devil And Daniel Webster” actually served as his inspiration. The film is about a hurricane that devastates an entire town. The song was the lead single off of CCR’s 1969 album, Green River. It peaked at No. 2 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the UK. It was the band’s third studio album. At this point in time, they were just turning out hit after hit, earning their status as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The upbeat tempo mixed with the prophetic undertones, made “Bad Moon Rising” a favorite in movies as well. It was featured in “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) and “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983).
2. Neil Young – “Harvest Moon”
Neil Young has a special connection with the moon. It’s hard to miss, as it’s featured in many of his songs. Dig a little bit more, and you’ll find just how deep his connection runs. Young is actually known to work his schedule around the moon’s phases. “Harvest Moon” is the title track from his 1992 album. The album is an “unofficial sequel” to 1972’s, Harvest. All of that is fitting, seeing how in the ‘80s, he co-founded Farm-Aid. Whatever it is about Young and the moon, people love the magic between them. In January of ‘93, Harvest Moon went gold; the following month, it went platinum. In 1997, the record went multi-platinum. “Harvest Moon” is the quintessential song about the moon. It’s perfect for any lunar occasion.
1. David Bowie – “Space Oddity”
Even before “Starman,” David Bowie’s fascination with space was evident. We didn’t need Ziggy Stardust to tell us that. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Space Oddity” was first released in 1969 and was included in his second studio album, David Bowie. The release coincided perfectly with the Moon landing, further cementing the icon as one of the most forward-thinking innovators of our time. The song ended up being used as background music for the historic event on British television. In 1972, the album was retitled Space Oddity. The single was reissued and became Bowie’s first song to make the US Top 40. In 2013, astronaut Chris Hadfield put out a “Space Oddity” cover from the International Space Station, making it the first music video to be shot in space.
Published on AXS.com.