With that well-know lunar body on everyone’s mind with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, what better time to take a look back at some of the best songs written and recorded about that luminous orb that’s proven so inspirational to so many?
Though the moon has long been a favorite subject of poets and songwriters, some seem to rocket to the top — they’re just that good.
Here are some of the best songs aver written about the moon, and to me there’s no doubt about which one should be on the top of the heap.
• “Fly Me to the Moon” — Although the song had been around before he recorded it, credit Ole Blues Eyes himself with giving the song the pizazz for which it’s so well-known today. The song never really worked for me as a ballad and apparently it didn’t for Frank Sinatra either, since he considerably upped the ante on the song’s tempo.
While it had already been recorded more than 100 times by various artists by the time Sinatra turned his attention to it, his version, recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra, is the one that sends me to the moon. I’m not the only one who feels that way, of course. Even the astronauts had a liking for the song — Sinatra’s version that is — as evidenced how it’s intertwined with their history.
The Sinatra/Basie version of “Fly Me to the Moon” was played in the spacecraft orbiting the moon during in the Apollo 10 space mission, the first American spacecraft to orbit the moon.
A few years later, it became the first song heard on the moon, when astronaut Buzz Aldrin punched a button on a portable cassette recorder and played the Sinatra/Basie version of “Fly Me to the Moon” on the lunar surface.
Maintaining the tradition, jazz singer Diana Krall sang “Fly Me to the Moon” during a 40th anniversary commemorative ceremony celebrating the Apollo 11 mission.
And poignantly, she sang it again at the 2012 memorial service for Neil Armstrong, mission commander of the Apollo 11 moon flight.
Others remarkable versions of “Fly Me to the Moon” include Tony Bennett’s and in a more recent rendition, Willie Nelson’s rendition, which opens his Grammy-winning salute to Sinatra’s music on his album “My Way.”
• “Moondance” — Van Morrison has written, sang and recorded many great songs, but “Moondance”, the title song from his 1970 album of the same name, is among his best. With a walking bass line and jazz horns, Van the Man’s song about the “night’s magic” makes his invitation for a “Moondance” one that’s hard to resist.
• “Moonlight in Vermont” — Hey, all 50 states get their share of moonlight, but this 1944 song written by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf has been covered by just about every artist who’s delved into the Great American Songbook. Sintatra turned in one of the most memorable renditions, with Willie’s version of his landmark “Stardust” album another favorite. The timeless version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong is also unforgettable.
• “Moon River” — Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini may have written the song for actress Audrey Hepburn to sing in her 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but it didn’t take long for Andy Williams to make it his theme song. Mancini also did a fine turn in his version. “Moon River” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the Oscar ceremony that year, and also notched Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
A bonafide classic, “Moon River” remains popular today. Check out the recent duet performance of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck — that’s right, Clapton and Beck — online. Wow!
• “Bad Moon Rising” — It sounds unbelievable, but Creedence Clearwater Revival never had a number one single on the U.S. charts during the group’s heyday in the latter half of the 1960s. Number one albums, yes. Number one singles, inexplicably no. Their music continues to live today, number one singles or not. Frontman John Fogerty, who wrote, sang and played lead guitar for Credence still plays “Bad Moon Rising” at his solo concerts. His ode to blowing hurricanes and troubles on the rise remain as relevant today as when it was released in 1969, the year of the moon landing
• “Moonshadow” — Cat Stevens had a slew of hits in the 1970s, but this ode to being followed by a “Moonshadow” and “leapin’ and hoppin’” on a moonshadow is one of his best. While he philosophically mentions all the things he won’t have to do if he loses senses, such as his sight, in the verses, the sprightly chorus makes it seem that everything’s going to be all right.
• “Blue Moon” — This song from the play and movie “South Pacific” has been recorded in myriad ways — ranging from torch ballads to doo-wop. It holds up despite the way the song has been mangled or improved on its various outings, depending on one’s perspective and musical tastes. That’s probably because anyone who has ever “stood alone, without a love in my heart, without a dream of my own” at any point in his or her life can relate to it. Plentiful versions abound, but for one of the most unusual, you can hear a young Elvis Presley go into a rare tenor mode while he was still developing his style.
• “Blue Moon of Kentucky” — Bill Monroe’s bluegrass ode to — what else? — a blue moon, is yet another timeless classic — one that Elvis rocked up for the B side to his breakthrough first hit, “That’s All Right Mama.” The story goes that after the record was released, Presley was apprehensive about how Monroe would feel about what he did to the song.
Once, during a Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival, I was talking with Billy Joe Foster, a member of the Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys at the time. Somehow, the subject of the Elvis recording came up. Foster said that initially Monroe hadn’t been too happy about the Elvis version — until the royalty checks on Presley’s recording started rolling in. Monroe later began performing half the song in its original slower tempo — while jumping into a faster speed for the second half. He must have been listening to Elvis, after all.
• “Moonlight Serenade” — Yes, there are lyrics to this song. No, you do not need them when listening to the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s instrumental version, which can still make listeners misty-eyed today.
• “Man on the Moon — Sure REM’s 1992 song is more about the late comedian Andy Kauman goofing on Elvis and Isaac Newton getting beaned by an apple, but it’s catchy refrain “If you believe they put a man on the moon, man on the moon” is enough to warrant its inclusion on this list of moon songs.
There you have it, 10 songs about the moon to celebrate the fist moon landing, that heroic achievement that occurred 50 years ago today.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.