This week marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic landing, and unless you’ve been hiding under a moon rock, you’ve caught the celebratory celestial energy of this giant leap for mankind.
In an aligning of stars, Walk the Moon will headline a concert Saturday, July 20, at Space Center Houston, not far from the launch pad where Neil Armstrong and his crew lifted off in 1969. “We’re all music nerds and space nerds, so it’s a great honor to be part of the celebration,” front man Nicholas Petricca tells Billboard. “For many years we’ve fantasized about being the first band in space and doing something with NASA.”
We asked Petricca to curate a playlist to augment our lunar-versary activities. Here are his top 7 space-travel tunes, with explanations in his own words.
The Police, “Walking on the Moon”
It’s the genesis of the band name and just an incredible song. One of my favorite parts about the song is, you have to listen very closely at the end in the minute-long fadeout and there are these spaceship sounds that come in, and the song kindof lifts off into oblivion. Last year we opened for Sting at some private show and we had the chance to meet him and I told him, “It’s this full-circle daydream to be able to talk to you and let you know your song ‘Walking on the Moon’ is the inspiration for our band name.” And he was like, “Oh that’s cool, that’s great.” And then at the show he played “Walking on the Moon,” and dedicated it to us and said he wrote it about us. So that’s a major lifelong victory right there.
Smash Mouth, “Who’s There”
This is the opening track on the first album I ever bought. The album was Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge, and the opening track is a song about first contact with aliens, and kids and teenagers being the ones to see through the bullshit and government excuses and wondering who are these people that are making contact with earth. It was 1999, and I was in seventh grade and I remember being in algebra class and this eighth grader was talking to me, “Have you heard the new Smash Mouth album?” And I was like, “I don’t even know what that is.” So I went to Target and bought it and it was my first CD. And it’s a great album.
Feist, “My Moon My Man”
Feist is an amazing artist and is kindof a chameleon like us. We span a lot of ranges and have an eclectic group of songs and she also does that. She’s just one of my vey favorite artists, and this song is really great. The vibe is kindof sneaky cool. It’s understated and badass. If I were making a movie, as the female hero makes her slow-motion entrance I would play this song.
Muse, “Space Dementia”
We were actually backstage at some event and were talking to someone who’s connected with NASA and space travel and were half-joking about wanting to be the first band to play on the moon, or in space. And they were like, “That’s a great idea, but you know Muse is already talking about doing that.” And if it’s going to be anybody… We toured with Muse and they are just an incredible band. Their music is so futuristic, their stage looks like you’re witnessing an alien landing. So they’ve got to be on the playlist, and this is an obscure Muse song.
Credence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”
We’re going to take a hard left here. Walk the Moon has a very eclectic range of influences and I grew up listening to ‘60s and ‘70s music and this is one of the great moon songs.
Moon Taxi, “Mercury”
The first song I ever heard by them is this opening track, “Mercury,” from [2012 album Cabaret]. They are one of the best live bands out there, super highly underrated, and they were coming up in the Midwest when we were so I got to know them and I love them a lot. This song gives me the feeling of stars aligning, astrology, of being in the right place at the right time, the way our human lives here on earth are dictated and influenced by the heavenly bodies.
I’m going to put Prince on here. Everybody knows the movie Purple Rain, and I’ve found most people aren’t as familiar with Under the Cherry Moon, which is the movie he made shortly after that, which is really beautiful. “Kiss” is a single from that time of Prince and it’s on the soundtrack of that movie.
Wondering why “Anna Sun,” Walk the Moon’s 2012 hit single, is notably absent from Petricca’s list? We were too.
“Who knew our breakout song would be the moon-sun yin yang thing?” he says. “But the song actually has nothing to do with [the sun]. It’s about my experience leaving college and entering this abyss where you’re supposed to be an adult. Maintaining your innocence or losing it — just being on the edge. Anna Sun was a professor of mine at Kenyon College and she was an inspiring person, and she just has this really cool name.”