Mr. Spaceman

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"Mr. Spaceman"
1966 German picture sleeve
Single by The Byrds
from the album Fifth Dimension
B-side "What's Happening?!?!"
Released September 6, 1966
Format 7" single
Recorded April 28, April 29, May 3 – May 6, 1966, Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
Genre Psychedelic rock, country rock
Length 2:09
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Jim McGuinn
Producer(s) Allen Stanton
The Byrds singles chronology
"5D (Fifth Dimension)"
(1966)
"Mr. Spaceman"
(1966)
"So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star"
(1967)

"Mr. Spaceman" is a song by the American rock band The Byrds and was the third track on their 1966 album Fifth Dimension.[1] The song was initially written by band member Jim McGuinn as a "melodramatic screenplay" but it soon evolved into a whimsical meditation on the existence of extraterrestrial life.[2] After its appearance on Fifth Dimension, "Mr. Spaceman" was released as the third single taken from that album in September 1966 (see 1966 in music).[3] The single reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 but failed to chart in the United Kingdom.[4][5]

Written in early 1966 by McGuinn, the song was—along with "5D (Fifth Dimension)"—one of two science fiction-themed songs on the Fifth Dimension album.[6] Upon its release as a single, the music press coined the term "space-rock" to describe the song, although since then, the term has come to refer to a genre of rock music originating from 1970s progressive and psychedelic music.[6][7] Musically, "Mr. Spaceman" has a country-style backing, albeit with touches of psychedelia, and can clearly be seen as a precursor to the band's later exploration of country music on Sweetheart of the Rodeo.[8][1][9] As such, the song is often cited as being one of the earliest examples of the country rock genre.[10] The title also recalled that of The Byrds' earlier worldwide smash hit and debut single, "Mr. Tambourine Man".

The single release of the song was accompanied by a spoof press announcement from The Byrds' co-manager, Eddie Tickner, stating that he had taken out a $1,000,000 insurance policy with Lloyd's of London against his clients being kidnapped by extraterrestrial visitors.[11] Despite Tickner's statement being an obvious publicity stunt and the deliberately tongue-in-cheek nature of the song's lyrics, both McGuinn and fellow band member David Crosby felt hopeful about communicating with alien life forms through the medium of AM radio broadcast.[2] In a later interview with Pete Frame for ZigZag magazine, McGuinn explained how he believed that this would have been possible: "I was interested in astronomy and the possibility of connecting with extraterrestrial life and I thought that it might work the other way round, if we tried to contact them. I thought that the song being played on the air might be a way of getting through to them. But even if there had been anybody up there listening, they wouldn't have heard because I found out later that AM airwaves diffuse in space too rapidly."[6]

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the band performed the song on the television programs The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Where the Girls Are and The David Frost Show.[12] Additionally, the song would go on to become a staple of The Byrds' live concert repertoire, until their final disbandment in 1973.[13] The song was also performed live by a reformed line-up of The Byrds featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman in January 1989.[13]

The song was broadcast as a wake-up call to the astronauts aboard shuttle mission STS-41-D on September 2, 1984.

In addition to its appearance on the Fifth Dimension album, "Mr. Spaceman" also appears on several Byrds' compilations, including The Byrds' Greatest Hits, History of The Byrds, The Original Singles: 1965–1967, Volume 1, The Byrds, The Very Best of The Byrds, The Essential Byrds and There Is a Season. Live performances of the song are included on the live portion of The Byrds' (Untitled) album as well as on Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971.[14]

The song "Mr. Spaceman" written by Jim McGuinn (aka Roger McGuinn) should not be confused with the Steve Weber song "Mister Spaceman", found on The Holy Modal Rounders' self-titled debut album.[15]

Cover versions[edit]

"Mr. Spaceman" has been covered by artists including Jimmy Buffett and Gonzo, on The Muppets' album Kermit Unpigged,[16] and Alvin and the Chipmunks on the album The A-Files: Alien Songs. The song has also been covered by The Flying Burrito Brothers on their 1985 live album, Cabin Fever,[17] and by Miracle Legion on The Byrds' tribute album, Time Between – A Tribute to The Byrds.[18] In addition, Velvet Crush covered the song and their version is included on the band's 2001 compilation album, A Single Odessey.[19] Limbeck also released a version of the song on their 2006 Tour EP.

"Mr. Spaceman" is one of the songs featured in the Jukebox musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Fifth Dimension review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  2. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1996). Fifth Dimension (1996 CD liner notes). 
  3. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 544. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel. (2008). Top Pop Singles 1955-2006. Record Research Inc. p. 130. ISBN 0-89820-172-1. 
  5. ^ Brown, Tony. (2000). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-7119-7670-8. 
  6. ^ a b c Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 181–182. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  7. ^ "Space Rock". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  8. ^ "Fifth Dimension". ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  9. ^ "The Complete Guide to Country Rock - Part 3". Musictoob. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  10. ^ "American Band: The Byrds, from folk rock to country rock". Crazed Fanboy. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  11. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 107. ISBN 1-906002-15-0. 
  12. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 616–617. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  13. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 591–615. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  14. ^ "Mr. Spaceman album appearances". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  15. ^ "Mister Spaceman - The Holy Modal Rounders' song". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  16. ^ "Mr. Spaceman cover versions". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-01-03. 
  17. ^ "Cabin Fever album review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-01-03. 
  18. ^ "Time Between - A Tribute to The Byrds review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  19. ^ "Velvet Crush - A Single Odessey". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  20. ^ "Return to the Forbidden Planet song list". Return to the Forbidden Planet official website. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 

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