When publishing a novel about a metaphysical being that shares people’s psyches for the last six minutes of their lives – as I did this week with my debut  – the worst question you will face is “Ooh, what genre is it?” A blank-faced retort of, “It doesn’t have a genre, it’s not like anything else,” doesn’t seem to supplicate anybody. “So it’s a bit like Cloud Atlas?” they tend to reply. The easiest cop-out I’ve managed to come up with is, “It’s a bit sci-fi,” even though it’s just as sci-fi as it is thriller, horror, literary character study and trans-dimensional psychological shock-core family drama with added airplane crashes, bad sex, despicable Tory MPs dying horribly and an entire chapter in Japanese syntax. Really, it’s not like anything else.
I lean towards the sci-fi element though because, having never had a goth bone in my body, it’s what’s injected the greatest sense of intrigue and mystery into my favourite rock songs, from Bowie’s Martian boogies to Pixies’ UFO conspiracies to SFA’s cartoon blob-monsters. So here’s my pick of the best sci-fi rock and pop songs, avoiding Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’, anything by Coheed And Cambria and as much 70s prog and metal as possible, when every other song by Genesis, Yes, Queen and Styx was riddled with mystical star-gazers and pesky probings. Beam them down…
20. The Prodigy, ‘Out Of Space’
It’s based around an old Max Romeo line about catapulting Satan into outer space to go hassle some other planet, but when Liam Howlett and co. got their hands on it it actually started sounding like a demonic leap to warp-speed.
19. Justin Timberlake, ‘Spaceship Coupe’
If you’ve seen V or any of the Species films, you’ll know that sex with aliens doesn’t always mean intergalactic, star-bursting whacka-whacka-wee-wow of multi-dimensional ecstasy. It tends to end pretty badly. But that doesn’t stop ‘Cosmic Prince’ Jimberlake wanting to pimp out an entire Voyager to cruise his Extra-Sexual Martian mistress into the Ionosphere for a starshag. “I got the windows special tinted for the stars that get too bright… so hop into my spaceship coupe, there’s only room for two/And with the top down we’ll cruise around/Land, and make love on the moon“. With the top down, Justo?
18. Radiohead, ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’
One of many rock songs imagining that it’d be so much better to be swept away from the drudgery of human life by the hovering alien overlords “making home movies for the folks back home“. Which is all very well as a maudlin condemnation of modern society, but what if you get there and find you can’t flush their toilets because you don’t have 12 hands, Thom? Eh? You’d be shitting out of an airlock mate, like an animal.
17. Chairlift, ‘Planet Health’
Where sci-fi meets The Body Shop, ‘Planet Health’ – from Chairlift’s 2008 album ‘Does You Inspire You’ – was a space-walk across an alien landscape full of vitamin deserts and pyramids of health food.
16. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’
That depends if you talk to your kettle, Gary. In the late 70s/early 80s, sci-fi pop fans largely had a choice between Devo, ‘Walking On The Moon’, ELO’s actually-quite-nifty ‘Time’ album and this tribute to Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’, about friends that malfunction, adorned with the repetitive blart of a space shuttle horn.
15. Sufjan Stevens, ‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland’
Referencing several sightings in 2000 by inhabitants and local police officers in Lebanon, a small Illinois town, of a gigantic, silent triangular ship floating overhead, Sufjan added a desolate piano and flute backing and a quasi-religious subtext and made a song as spectral and spooky as having a football pitch with spotlights on float over your porch.
14. Super Furry Animals, ‘(Drawing) Rings Around The World’
A satirical metaphor for the satellite beams encircling the planet, SFA pictured themselves as radioactive superheroes getting hammered on “post water” and flying around the planet like Superman turning back time, transforming the Earth into “Saturn II“.
13. Klaxons, ‘Flashover’
Inspired by a mid-air UFO sighting by the band from an airplane window, ‘Flashover’ was an Independence Day vision of invading saucers bringing “new colours… never seen before/Imaginations opening, inviting us onboard“. But considering such cult-like language was set to the sounds of death rays demolishing cities, it sounded like the human race was in for a right good harvesting.
12. Blondie, ‘Rapture’
So putting the first ever rap in a commercial chart pop single doesn’t sound ear-catching enough? Why not make that rap all about being shot with a laser gun by a Martian who then eats your head so that you become the alien and roam around eating cars, bars and guitars? Bingo!
11. Ash, ‘Girl From Mars’
The soundtrack to the imaginary film Earth Boys Are Easy, Ash’s tasty-as-Soylent-Green indie classic found them falling for a Martian siren who did such ordinary things – playing cards, smoking cigars, hanging about near lakes – that you suspect it might have originally been called ‘Girl From The Bar’ but it didn’t sound sexy enough. Brilliant tune though.
10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, ‘Into Your Alien Arms’
Continuing the ‘loving the alien’ theme, on their 2011 album ‘Hysterical’ CYHSY released this sweeping, romantic rock ode to trailer trash finding solace and meaning in the arms of the space babes from the “space shuttle set down in front of my mobile home“. Warning: contains a closing two-minute guitar solo designed to sound like alien anal exploration.
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Area 52’
Pipping MGMT’s incomprehensible space-country ‘Alien Days’ (“You don’t need wings to hover/Forty ton stones for a mile/And in the summer, virgin visions/Mindless humming,” they sing like a malfunctioning Marvin The Paranoid Android), 2013’s best sci-fi song so far is YYYs’ amazing ‘Area 52’ – from ‘Mosquito’ – which finds Karen O begging to become an extraterrestrial being. “I wanna be your passenger/Take me as your prisoner/I want to be an alien,” she yelps, which is surely playing straight into the hands of the Venusian master-race.
8. The Killers, ‘Spaceman’
A chant-worthy arena rock anthem for all those who feel they’ve been abducted from their beds by “white light beams,” probed, dissected, generally fiddled about with internally, pieced back together and plonked back in Buttfuck, Arkansas without any visible evidence of physical interference and then considered a nutter by family and media alike. Exactly the same sort of response you get, in fact, if you’ve ever retweeted Piers Morgan without adding abuse.
7. Kraftwerk, ‘Computer Love’
Have you ever looked at your PS3 and thought, “You saucy young minx, I could simply ravish you!” then you’ll one day end up on a scandalous C4 documentary called Computer Lovers alongside Kraftwerk, whose 1981 twinkle hit told of a “lonely night” spent “staring at the TV screen” before “calling up a number for a ‘data date’“. And that, friends, is how you end up running up a £91,000 bill to automated sexchat lines. Lucky we have Grindr these days, eh?
6. The Flaming Lips, ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1’
Now no-one to my knowledge, except perhaps an extremely perverted Kraftwerk, likes to be eaten by massive pink robots. So thank God for black-belt she-warriors wired to the tits on A-grade battle vitamins like Yoshimi, who was on a mission to avoid such horrific scenes of cyber-feasting in The Flaming Lips’ cuddly psych-pop classic.
5. The Postal Service, ‘We Will Become Silhouettes’
A cheery electro-indie ditty about dreaming of the moment you’ll finally be ‘beamed up’ out of your post-invasion bunker by the alien race who’ve turned the Earth’s air into a poison that makes your insides explode. Everybody – “Ba-ba-ba-baaaa!”
4. Muse, ‘Supermassive Black Hole’
A tough act to pick from. ‘Starlight’, ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, most of ‘Origin Of Symmetry’… Muse have lived most of their career in orbit. But with ‘Plug In Baby’ not necessarily about a vengeful, marauding shebot crucifying people Matt Bellamy doesn’t like (it might be about, humpf, his guitar), ‘Supermassive…’ wins through for likening an obsessive girlfriend to the thing that sucks the most in the universe.
3. Beastie Boys, ‘Intergalactic’
Rapping to ETs who are – and knowing the strict moral ethics of hip-hop, there’ll be no pun intended here – “coming from Uranus to check my style“, the Beastie Boys unleashed rhymes “like a pinch on the neck from Spock” and blew their interplanetary battlers straight through “another dimension“. Chorus by a massive clockwork robot flattening Tokyo, obviously.
2. Pixies, ‘Motorway To Roswell’
By the 90s, Pixies’ Black Francis had turned his obsessions from classical Biblical violence to UFO conspiracies, predicting the existence of Area 51 and imagining a spaceship landing on the Vegas Strip in ‘The Happening’ from ‘Bossanova’, picturing the amazement of aliens discovering Earth in ‘Planet Of Sound’ from ‘Trompe Le Monde’ and singing of wistful Martian birdmen on the brilliant ‘Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons’. He’d continue the fascination into his solo career with ‘Places Named After Numbers’ and ‘Men In Black’ but he’d never top ‘Trompe Le Monde”s ‘Motorway To Roswell’, the story of a lost alien crash-landing on Earth with a cargo of immense, crystal-fuelled choruses.
1. David Bowie, ‘Starman’
Most lists of sci-fi themed songs rank ‘Space Oddity’ at Number One as the most iconic sci-fi story ever told in song. But if we’re only to have one track from the Queen Of The Spidermartians (and considering ‘Life On Mars?’ is as much about Bob Dylan gigs as the Mars rover) I plump for ‘Starman’ by dint of it having about 18 choruses in a row and thereby, in rock biology terms, being a multi-tentacled alien pop beastie from Planet Whadafack in its own right.