Whether you believe what was broadcast around the World to billions of people fifty years ago today, or believe it was just a huge hoax, what can not be disagreed upon, mankind changed this day, July 20th 1969.
The human race had stepped away from its home and planted feet on an extraterrestrial body (okay, I’m with the it happened crowd, but even if we didn’t, mankind has the belief that we did, a belief that has forever changed us).
In selecting music to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it was tempting to do what many others are no doubt doing, going for catchy tunes about space and the moon, but which owe nothing to the extraordinary exploits of the men, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, who went there. So while it hurts to leave out ‘Space Oddity’ (it was inspired by Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey, not Apollo), ‘Rocket Man’ (inspired by a 1950s science fiction story), Police ‘Walking on the Moon’ (a drunken night in a room in Munich), and REM’s ‘Man on the Moon’ (about comedian Andy Kaufman, not Armstrong), I’ve selected some of the actual songs that they suggested to a music producer friend to put together for a small pre-Walkman type cassette player, intended for them to make spoken notes, and which they played while on the journey, or on the moon itself.
Okay, I’ve allowed myself some artistic license with the opening selection, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, because there is no evidence that I’m aware of that they took it on their playlist, nor that it was actually written about the moon, but instead to me, the song has all the right gravitas one might expect of the situation in those final moments before launch. Also, The Byrds selection and John Stewart’s tribute ‘Armstrong’ were released after the epic journey, but have direct relevance; and Zager & Evans apocalyptic song spent most of July and beyond, at the top of the charts, no doubt receiving considerable boost from the events being relayed from Houston.
All of the other songs were choices made by the three astronauts, as suggestions to their friend for what else to include. They reflect emotions of the time such as patriotism, equality, and war; thoughts of humbleness, as well as a good deal of romance and fun, including the oddest of all, Armstrong’s personal choice of the 1940s jazz-exotica piece ‘Music Out Of The Moon’ that, if some accounts are to be believed, he played over the radio as they returned to Earth, eliciting an ironic ‘thanks for ending that’ comment from Houston. His sense of humour, or really his taste in music? We don’t know, but it was just an example of how these men undertook the greatest leap of exploratory faith that man has made since the development of the sail, with a dash of flair, a touch of humour, and a huge helping of humility.