NASA, always on the lookout for good publicity, has made a cottage industry out of the wake-up music it uses to rouse crews orbiting the earth.
They recruit artists to record messages that are played after the song, because the first thing you want to hear as you struggle out of a fitful zero-g sleep is Paul McCartney giving a chipper Liverpudlian morning greeting.
The music has gotten a lot better than the early days of "Hello Dolly" and the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun," but the generally tame selections rarely reach the bizarro heights of the Apollo-Soyuz mission's "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother" by Jerry Jeff Walker.
How is Atlantis doing so far as the final touchdown looms? Let's rank `em, from worst to first, with NASA video provided:
11. Song: "Rocket Man," by Elton John Played: Flight Day 6 Taped Greeting: "Good morning Atlantis, this is Elton John. We wish you much success on your mission. A huge thank you to all the men and women at NASA who worked on the shuttle for the last three decades." Review: Huge, huge points deducted for unoriginality. We realize it's probably a favorite among the NASA engineer types, but Atlantis marks at least the fourth mission where the song has been used. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "And all this science, I don't understand / it's just my job, five days a week."
10. Song: "More," by Matthew West Played: Flight Day 5 Taped Greeting: None Review: Matthew West!! WOOHOO!! Or, to be more accurate, "Who?" It turns out West is an earnest Christian lite-rocker whose song, Atlantis mission specialist Rex Walheim informs us, is "a great description of the beauty of this earth and a wonderful reminder of God's love for us," if you're into that sort of thing. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: God, in the form of Matthew West, sings "More than you can fathom / I love you more than the sun," so take that, stupid sun.
9. Song: "Celebration," by Kool & the Gang Played: Flight Day 10 Taped Greeting: From "employees at NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi," which is way, way hipper than hearing from Kool. Not to mention any of the Gang. Review: Ugh. Did someone just win a mid-`80s NBA championship? Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: Fully 90 percent of the lyrics seem to consist of either "celebrate" or "celebration," so we guess people celebrate waking up? Coma victims, maybe, but overworked astronauts?
8. Song: "Viva la Vida," by Coldplay Played: Flight Day 2 Taped Greeting: It was from "employees at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama," so who cares? Review: Well, you either like Coldplay or you don't. Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley apparently does, since he requested this. Interestingly, Joe Satriani famously claimed the song rips off his "If I Could Fly" from the album Is There Love In Space, which would seem more appropriate. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: Given the dicey employment situation in a post-shuttle NASA, this might cut a little close to the bone: "I used to rule the world / Seas would rise when I gave the word / Now in the morning I sleep alone / Sweep the streets I used to own."
7. Song: "Don't Panic," by Coldplay Played: Flight Day 12 Taped Greeting: Review: More Coldplay? This one will put you back to sleep. In the annals of rock history, Coldplay will always hold the honor of having the last wake-up song played on a shuttle that was attached to the space station. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "And we live in a beautiful world / Yeah we do, yeah we do / We live in a beautiful world." Sheer poetry. But it does go along with the view.
6. Song: "Good Day, Sunshine," by The Beatles Played: Flight Day 8 Taped Greeting: From Sir Paul -- "Good morning guys, wake up! And good luck on this, your last mission. Well done." Review: Again, a little obvious, although it's only been used once before on a NASA mission. Pretty lightweight fare from rock's most overrated album. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: These lyrics are so banal they can't be categorized.
5. Song: "Days Go By," by Keith Urban Played: Flight Day 11 Taped Greeting: A nice signs-and-shouting hello from JSC employees. Review: We admit it, this kind of country sounds utterly generic to us, and we can't differentiate it from a dozen other focus-grouped by-the-numbers songs we hear in restaurants. We're sure it's very good Keith Urban, though. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "And days go by.../ I can feel 'em flyin' / Like a hand out the window in the wind." Not recommended in space.
4. Song: "Run the World (Girls)," by Beyoncé Played: Flight Day 9 Taped Greeting: "Good morning Atlantis, this is Beyoncé. Sandy, Chris, Doug and Rex, you inspire all of us to dare to live our dreams, to know that we're smart enough and strong enough to achieve them. This song is especially for my girl, Sandy, and all the women who've taken us to space with them and the girls who are our future explorers." Review: Can't go wrong with hometown love for NASA. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "I think I need a barber / None of these hoes can fade me." Well, maybe they do need a barber by Day 9. Probably a ho, too.
3. Song: "Tubthumping," by Chumbawamba Played: Flight Day 4 Taped Greeting: Do you really think a bunch of anarchists like Chumbawamba is going to record a greeting for a tool of the military-industrial complex like NASA? Review: You can't dislike this song, no matter how hard you try. They Might Be Giants covered it, for crying out loud. And if you had, say, a kid in kindergarten when this thing came out, the sing-along madness of it all remains an infectious happy memory. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "Pissing the night away, pissing the night away."
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2. Song: "Mr. Blue Sky," by ELO Played: Flight Day 3 Taped Greeting: Apparently ELO is too busy for such things Review: Excellent choice, by commander Chris Ferguson. We can only hope he became familiar with it as part of the ELO phase many males go through in their teens, and not from the car commercial. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba / Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba."
1. Song: "Man on the Moon," by REM Played: Flight Day 7 Taped Greeting: From Michael Stipe -- "I recorded 'Man on The Moon' for NASA in Venice, Italy, where Galileo first presented to the Venetian government his eight-power telescope, and in 1610 wrote 'The Starry Messenger' (Sidereus Nuncius), an account of his early astronomical discoveries that altered forever our view of our place in the universe." Review: Great song, even if it does throw some doubt on whether NASA, you know, landed on the moon. Possibly Irrelevant Lyrics: "If you believed they put a man on the moon, man on the moon / If you believe there's nothing up my sleeve, then nothing is cool."