In addition to functioning as a transportation technology, military weapon, and instrument of economic development, the airplane has long served as a source of creative inspiration for artists, writers, and intellectuals. Indeed, from its very invention the airplane became an integral part of modern culture. In the weeks to come, I’ll be adding new posts regarding how flight, at various times and in various places, has influenced artistic expression. While most of these posts will focus on rather “high-brow” examples of the intersection of aviation and the arts, this one does not.
Like poetry, painting, and industrial design, popular music, too, has long been influenced by flight. As early as 1909, composer H. Fragson and lyricist Christine-Christien found success in France with their saucy composition “Dans mon Aéroplane” which concluded with the following overtly erotic verses:
“Oh! Come, oh! Come,
Come up in my airplane
It’s just like a bird
It stays up in the air as it should.
Oh! Come, oh! Come,
Come on, little old Suzanne
You’ll go crazy honey
When you’ve seen my little bird”
Although the musical styles, genres, and instrumentation have changed a great deal since the first decade of the twentieth century, aviation’s ability to inspire new songs has remained a constant feature of popular culture. Every generation, it seems, has had its own tunes about the airplane.
For those born and raised in the last half of the twentieth century (i.e. anyone reading this post) a few well-known and well-worn songs instantly spring to mind, including:
Steve Miller Band, “Jet Airliner” (and “Fly Like an Eagle”)
Peter, Paul, & Mary, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”
Rush, “Fly by Night”
Frank Sinatra, “Come Fly with Me”
REO Speedwagon, “Time for Me to Fly”
These, however, don’t even begin to scratch the surface…
In this post, I’ve put together a short list of some more recent songs (and a few neglected older ones) that you may not know, but may well enjoy. They’re presented in no particular order so listen to them and rank them yourself.
[Note: Click on the “iTunes” link following each title to sample or purchase these songs on-line.]
The Smashing Pumpkins, “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)” [iTunes]
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the top draws of the 1990s before succumbing to a nasty break-up in 2000 that involved enough compromising material for several VH-1 exposés. With the band recently re-formed (or should that be “reformed?”) and back in the studio, expect to start hearing their old stuff on the radio soon. In the meantime, here’s one you may not know. First appearing as a b-side tune on the 1998 cd single “Thirty-Three,” “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turn Left, Looks Right)” has been re-released on Rarities and B-Sides, a 114-track compilation of demos, outtakes and, of course, b-sides available only through digital download.
Björk, “Aeroplane” [iTunes]
The only artist in this list who’s supposed to have an umlaut in her name, Iceland’s Björk has enjoyed lasting critical and commercial success despite her idiosyncratic voice and ever-shifting musical styles. “Aeroplane” is from her 1993 debut solo album Debut. (No, this isn’t the song that was made into the video about the bear.)
Alien Sex Fiend, “Hurricane Fighter Plane” [iTunes]
Long before goth became a fashion statement for angst-ridden American suburbanite teenagers, the 80s British deathrock band Alien Sex Fiend was making a living being goth. OK, they probably weren’t making a *great* living, but they were doing it first. This is their cover of “Hurricane Fighter Plane,” originally recorded by the 60s avant-garde group The Red Krayola.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Aeroplane” [iTunes]
As is true of many songs with “airplane” in the title, this one spells it “aeroplane.” And as is true of many songs about airplanes, this one’s not actually about aviation, but something else: the power of music to lift one’s spirit like, well, an aeroplane.
Motörhead, “Bomber” [iTunes]
Inspired by Len Deighton’s növel of the same name aböut a 1943 Allied bombing raid över Nazi Germany, this classic title track from Motörhead’s 1979 double-album is perfect for thöse folks whö prefer their aviatiön-inspired röck-n-röll to have a metal edge. Tö get the full sönic effect, turn the völume tö “11”.
Afroman, “Airport” [iTunes]
In this radical departure from his artistic oeuvre focusing on reefer, malt liquor, Cadillacs, and women, former airport baggage handler turned MTV hip-hop star Joseph Foreman (AKA “Afroman”) provides fans with a post-9/11 cri de coeur about the perils of “flying while black.” This track sounds best when accompanied by a blunt and a 40 oz. Or not.
Kinky, “Airport Feelings” [iTunes]
Combining Latin-favored techo-pop beats and driving percussive rhythms, the five-piece Mexican dance funk band Kinky has garnered world-wide acclaim for their unique sound and carnivalesque live performances. “Airport Feelings” (one of their few songs sung in English rather than Spanish) captures well the band’s high energy and infectious vibe.
Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, “Enola Gay” [iTunes]
If you thought that sappy synthesizers and vapid lyrics were de rigueur for the “New Wave” of the early eighties, that’s because you’ve never heard the saccharine synthesizers and too-clever-by-half lyrics of this classic tribute to the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
Dash, “Plane Song” [iTunes]
Nawhlins native and regional favorite Dash (AKA Dash Rip Rock) has been a staple on the club circuit in the Southern US since the late 1980s. Despite never catching the break they needed to move on to bigger things, they’ve recorded a number of good tunes, including this one. “Plane Song,” a send-up of one former band member’s fear of flying, appeared on Dash’s 2003 disc Sonic Boom.
Ass Ponys, “Fighter Pilot” [iTunes]
Another hard-luck indy band, the Cincinnati-based Ass Ponys appeared on the verge of commercial success in the mid-90s after signing with A&M records. Their first major label release, Electric Rock Music (1994) fared well, garnering them airplay, videos, and an MTV appearance. Unfortunately, a band reshuffle, dour lyrics, and little label support for their follow-up, The Known Universe, got them sent back down to the minors in 1996…the same year that “Macarena” topped the U.S. charts for a record-setting 14 straight weeks. Go figure. This excellent tune, “Fighter Pilot,” turns up on the band’s 2000 (indy label) album Some Stupid with a Flare. Lord only knows where and when that embarrassing video of you doing the Macarena will turn up…
I’ve compiled a collection of nearly 100 songs about airplanes, flying, pilots, and other such subjects. If you’d like a follow-up, let me know and I’ll write another post listing and linking to additional tunes.