It’s time for a trip, starting right at the center of the Solar System. Along the way, we’ll check in at the eight planets, a couple of moons and maybe a comet. Why? Well, maybe I’m in a space/science mood from watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series Cosmos. Whatever the reason, it seemed like a good idea this morning.
We’ll start at the center, with the Sun. There were lots of titles to choose from on the digital shelves, even after I weeded out all the mp3s originally released on the Sun label. I dithered a while, and then remembered something I read long ago written about solar exploration either by a second-grader or a slow learner: If the surface of the sun is too hot for humans to survive, then we can go at night. Well, we’ll go at sundown and listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” as we travel. Pulled from his 1974 album of the same name, “Sundown” went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts and to No. 13 on the country chart.
Heading outward from Sol, our first stop is Mercury. After we eliminate the records on the Mercury label, we’re left with a few tracks about the element and a few tracks about the car but none about the planet itself. That’s okay. We’ll settle for the car, which might as well be our mode of transport on this journey. So here is “Mercury Blues” from Fly Like An Eagle, the 1976 album by the Steve Miller Band that went to No. 3 in the Billboard 200. The band had recorded a much more up-tempo version of the tune for the soundtrack to the 1968 movie Revolution, but I like the slower version. After all, we may as well take our time and see the sights.
Next stop as we head out from the Sun is Venus, and there are a few tunes to choose from about the goddess, if not the planet. Considered for an instant and discarded just as quickly was Frankie Avalon’s “Venus,” a No.1 hit from 1959, although I considered for a moment a 1962 version of the same tune by the Ventures. But if we’re going to land on Venus, then we’re going to land on “Venus” by the Shocking Blue. The record was a No. 1 hit for the Dutch group in February 1970, jumping out of millions of radios around the world – including my old RCA upstairs on Kilian Boulevard – with its ringing introductory riff. (I passed a little regretfully on a 1972 cover of the same tune by organist Zygmunt Jankowski. Maybe another time.)
Leaving Venus and its clouds and ringing riff behind, we head to our home planet. And we dig deep into Motown’s huge catalog for the 1970 cautionary tune “You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth” by the Temptations. I’ve noted in the past my general preference for the Four Tops over the Temptations, but I do love the freaky, funky and atmospheric production that Norman Whitfield brought to this tune and the others that he and Barrett Strong wrote for the Psychedelic Shack album. The album went to No. 9.
Leaving Earth, we’ll make a brief stop at the Moon before heading further out into the Solar System again. I was very tempted to go into my Al Hirt collection for his 1963 rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon,” but having dropped Big Al in here the other week when I looked at “I’m Movin’ On,” I passed on the horn. Instead, I opted for a track by the Doors that I first heard in 1971 when I picked up 13, the band’s greatest hits album. The slightly spooky “Moonlight Drive” comes from the 1967 album Strange Days and showed up as the B-side to “Love Me Two Times” late that year.
Our last stop today, as we cross the Asteroid Belt and finish the first half of our trek out into the Solar System, is Mars. A search for “Mars” in the RealPlayer’s files brings up a lot of stuff we can’t use, including lots of music from Marsha Hunt, the Marshall Tucker Band and Wynton Marsalis. But one single stands out among the unusable: “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” by Wings. Pulled from the Venus and Mars album, the record went to No. 12 in December 1975, and it provides a very hummable tune as we pause here on Mars before continuing our journey and heading to the giant planets.