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Hi-fi sci-fi

Take a spin through this boxed set of music that's out of this world.

By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


There has never been a shortage of pop songs about space travel. The Rolling Stones' 2000 Light Years From Home, Elton John's Rocket Man, and, of course, David Bowie's Space Oddity all come to mind. Bowie in the 1970s even transformed himself into the ultimate pop star alien, Ziggy Stardust, to record an entire album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

Let's not forget Blondie's 1981 ode to the Man from Mars, Rapture. And Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone From the Sun.

Are pop stars obsessed with outer space? Rock 'n' rollers are supposed to be cool, not science fiction geeks. Ah, but just like Mulder and Scully on a good X-Files episode, we have found startling evidence to the contrary. It's called Brain in a Box, a recent Rhino five-disc collection of music from the outer edges. It retails at $99.98.

Brain is a rich history of music dealing with not just outer space, but all the spooky stuff you would find in a classic sci-fi flick: martians, monsters, creepy creatures.

Brain contains tunes like The Creature With the Atom Brain by Roky Erickson. Edgar Winter's Frankenstein isn't on Brain, but it should be. Ditto songs about the bleak future of humanity and the perils -- and pleasures -- of technology by acts such as Kraftwerk and Devo.

But sci-fi geeks will rejoice over the 113 tunes Brain does contain, favorites like Planet Claire, by the B-52's and Martian Hop by the Ran-Dells.

Science fiction is "the arena of the not yet," writes author Welch Everman in an essay from Brain in a Box's 200-page book, designed like those nifty Big Little Books of science fiction from the 1940s and '50s. The book also contains essays by sci-fi authors Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and radio host Dr. Demento, who specializes in novelty kitch tunes, as well as some commentary by cartoonist Matt Groening, creator of Futurama (and, of course, The Simpsons.)

Brain In A Box isn't limited to pop music. It features five discs with motifs, from movie and television themes to lounge music and novelty songs. In other words, Brain has everything from 1958's silly The Purple People Eater by veteran country singer and actor Sheb Wooley, to the Twilight Zone theme, to highbrow fare such as the intro to the Richard Strauss composition Also sprach Zarathustra, also known as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This is music about imagining, taken from shows such as Star Trek, where viewers learned that in the future anything goes, from laser beams to interracial romance. (Remember that kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura?)

It only makes sense that there are a slew of tunes from the 1950s, when science fiction was exploding right along with rock 'n' roll and the fear of the atom bomb, back when kids were doing the duckwalk as often as the duck-and-cover.

Brain In A Box proves that the musical fascination with science fiction transcends genres. Hungering for a sci-fi rockabilly tune? Pop in UFOs, Big Rigs & BBQ by Mojo Nixon & the World Famous Blue Jays. Or the Sun records trio of Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Billy Riley joining forces for Flyin' Saucers Rock "n' Roll. How about Bill Carlisle crooning Tiny Space Man?

Need a sci-fi swing fix? Might Rhino recommend bandleader Louis Prima's Beep! Beep!? If it's space-themed jazz you're looking for, give a spin to Ella Fitzgerald's Two Little Men In A Flying Saucer. Or wacky jazz pianist Sun Ra, who fans know was a little, uh, obsessed with outer space. Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra -- he changed the Arkestra's name with every album -- offer the classic Ra tune Space Is The Place.

Perhaps you would like to go the route of the sci-fi bootie shake with Parliament's Unfunky UFO. Hey -- who says sci-fi geeks don't dance? Sure, they do, they just measure a rug before they cut it.

Brain has plenty of silly stuff such as The Blob, penned by none other than Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Mack David. And Leonard Nimoy's tender Music to Watch Space Girls By. Contained in an ultra-futuristic square box with metal frames and rivets, Brain in a Box's cover is a creepy holographic 3-D photograph of a human brain floating in liquid. In other words: This is gonna look so cool on your CD shelf!

You'll forever have access to the Planet of the Apes theme. As well as Aliens, and, coolest of all, that creepy, way-too-minimal-to-not-scare-you theme to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Plus, Lost in Space, and The Jetsons. And no sci-fi collection would be complete without the theme to The Matrix and, of course, The X-files.

But, no Flash Gordon by Queen?

Fear not. The few omissions are made up for by the book's many photos from classic sci-fi flicks. Not to mention those essays. The "Build Your Own Light Saber" piece alone is worth the hundred bucks.

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