The Space Alphabet: A Trippy, Orchestral Tribute to Celestial ... Stuff

This kids' album from 1972 could teach you a thing or two about water vapor, the ionosphere, and Uranus.
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Hello, nerd parents of the Internet. I'm slated to join your ranks in September, so I've been stockpiling things from estate sales that I hope my child will enjoy with me, at least until he's old enough to disavow anything I'm associated with.

I tend to go digging for old space stuff: Apollo recordings, astronaut paraphernalia, etc. (It's not rational -- I support robotic missions, primarily -- but I like it anyway.) And in the process of doing so, I discovered a beautifully hilarious record called, "The Space Alphabet." The Space Alphabet was composed by a journeyman television music man named John Cacavas, a man who clearly loved the harp. He composed 27 little songs for every letter of the alphabet (and a "Planet Song" bonus).

The music fits into the category, "Swinging '70s!" Recorded by the Golden Records studio orchestra in 1972, you almost can't believe the songs are serious, but then they are! I mean, there's a track about the ionosphere. And another about Kepler. The lyrics seem penned by characters from a Pynchon novel (though in reality, Don Woolf, Bonnie Becker, and Kimberley Blake did the honors). There are all these rich, foregrounded vocals and trippy musical configurations. The record was produced by Howard Scott, who was something of a recording legend and co-arranged by Vic Flick, the guitarist who played the famous James Bond riff. And, in fact, this music sounds as if it could be from a Bond kids movie (002: PinkEye?).

In any case, I hope you enjoy the songs. Some of them are catchy. The three best songs are "Hydrogen and Helium" followed by "S is for Saturn" and "G is for Galaxy." The weirdest song is definitely "K is for Kepler," which is set to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme song, roughly.

My apologies for the quality of the recording: there are a lot of little skips and hiccups, especially towards the end, where the record had some substantial scratches.

(I've taken the liberty of jotting down some of the lyrics from each song, but this is far from a complete transcription.)

A is for Astronomy and Astronomer

"And now we learn another word
It's a word that you might think you've heard
It's a name for men who study stars
It's a man who studies stars.
Astronomer with A-A-A.
Let's start our space age alphabet!"

B is for Big Dipper

"Go look in the night sky
A dipper there'll be 
It's there to see
There are seven stars shining
Four make the cup
Three make the handle
Just look up up up!"

C is for Comets

This song is trippy, and I guarantee this transcription is not exactly right.

"Some comets can be seen at night
When they flash by the sun
For as they go around the sun
They grow a shining tail."

D is for Double Star

"D is for double,
Double is for two
D is for double,
Double is for two,
D is for double,
Double is for two."

E is for Earth

This is the most boring song on the record:

"Me oh me oh myyyyy
E is for Earth
That is its name, its name
E is for Earth
That's where we live."

F is for Falling Star

YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE HARP, BRUH:

"You disappear as you go
Leave behind your trailing light
So the world will know
Falling star, falling star
Make a wish oooh ooh,
Make a wish oooh ooh."

G is for Galaxy

This one is almost dark, suggesting the vast emptiness of any galaxy?

"Galaxies are stars in groups
Clustered all in whirls
Playing tight in little loops
Just like boys and girls
You can see a galaxy
'Cause we live in one
Our star in our galaxy
Is our own hot sun"

H is for Hydrogen and Helium

I would say the best single adjective for this song is "sexy." From the upward bending first note, bits of this track feel as if they belong on Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul. No, I am not effing kidding you. Of course, then there are the ladies singing "hydrogen and helium / helium and hydrogen." If you're a DJ, check out the groove about 30 seconds in. Expect it on the next Kanye.

"Hydrogen and helium
Helium and hydrogen
What are they
What do they do
Why should I care?
Why should you?
A gas is something you do not see
But it's something important to you and me"

I is for Ionosphere

The best thing about this track is at the very, very end, when the singers step back and harmonize on one, long "I-oooon-oooo-spheeeerreeee."

"I is for Ionosphere
Such a funny word
I is for Ionosphere
The funniest ever heard
I is for Ionosphere
Now you know it, too
Sing it with me, do
When you fly high
The air gets thin
Space is near, space is near When you fly high
The air gets thing
It's called ionosphere
I-oooon-oooo-spheeeerreeee"

J is for Jupiter

"Hail King Jupiter!
Hail King Jupiter!
Largest planet of them all!
You are great
You are grand
Greatest
And grandest!
Greatest, King Jupiter!
You are Kiiiiiiiiiiiing"

K is for Kepler

Set to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme song

"K-E-P, L-E-R, K-E-P-L-E-R
Kepler was his name
He said a strange thing I have found
As planets move around
They move much faster
As they approach the sun.
So the path the planets race
Around the sun in space
Is not a circle, not at all(?)
It's shaped like a football!"

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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