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.


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 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

J is for Jupiter

"Hail King Jupiter!
Hail King Jupiter!
Largest planet of them all!
You are great
You are grand
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!"

L is for Light Years

ACHTUNG, this song is an earworm.

"And so to understand and make it quite clear
We measure it a different way and call it
A light year!
A light year is a way to help understand
When distances are so much more
Than fingers on your hands
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
It's very far to the stars in the heavens?"

M is for Mars and Mercury

The Mercury stanza is way better than the Mars one. It starts off with this glorious, "Hey! What about me?" that makes you want to shout.

"Hey! What about me?
I'm planet one
I'm Mercury
Close to the sun.
Hey! What about me?
I start with M
I'm number one
I'm Mercury
Close to the sun"

N is for Neptune

This song mostly consists of people singing, "So far way" in different configurations. The recording is also very noisy and scratchy.

O is for Orion

This song isn't swinging. It's more ethereal with a muted horn playing without vocals for a good 20 seconds in through the middle.

"Look at Orion
Look at Orion
Seven stars in the sky

P is for Pluto

Last planet in, first planet out. (Modern life, a sketch.)

Planet Pluto
Where are you?
Where are youuuuu?
Planet Pluto
Oh, there you are
We couldn't find you
You were so hard to see
We looked and looked
Before we knew you were there
You were the last to be found, Pluto
With telescope, we searched
For it's important that we know that you
Are there."

Q is for Quasar

This track almost has the feel of the soundtrack in an old movie when someone is searching for something. It rolls along, punctuated by intervals of frenetic notes.

"They are like a walkie-talkie
Hanging up there in the sky
Sending noises
Crackly noises
Never music
Why oh why"

R is for Radiation

Oooh, jazzy!

"Radiation from the sun
Heat and light
For everyone"

S is for Saturn

This is just a straight up romantic love song about Saturn. Also, second best song on the album (after Hydrogen and Helium, obviously).

"Of the planets up above
There is one I really love
There are many reasons why
It's my favorite in the sky
Saturn has so many things
[Something] moons and pretty rings
Mars and Venus, they're OK
Jupiter's not bad, they say
Pluto has a funny name
But somehow it's not the same
S for Saturn,
That's the one.
S for Saturn,
That's the one."

T is for Telescope

The digitization didn't go so well with this one, as the record was scratched badly here. Nonetheless:

"Look, look, look
Through the telescope"

U is for Uranus

All right, funny guy, they say it just how you want them to.

It's very cold
And you could not live there."

V is for Venus

This song is the sonic equivalent of pouring aspartame on your tongue. I can't even transcribe any of the lyrics.

W is for Water Vapor

Man, is this a thin concept for a song: Mansplaining about water vapor with an Irish folksy vibe. But A for execution, I suppose.

"[female voice]
I wonder, I wonder
What clouds up above
Are made of

[male voice]
I'll tell you, I'll tell you
What clouds in the sky are made of
I'll tell you, I'll tell you
What they are made of

[female voice]
So tell me, so tell me
What clouds up above are made of
So tell me, so tell me
What they are made of

[male voice]
They're just made of water
That's what they are always made of
They're just made of water
That's what they are made of

[female voice]
Then why do they float there
Without falling down upon me
Then why do they float there
Without falling down

[male voice] They're not pools of water
They're made of water vapor
It's lighter than air
And that's why they float
[HARMONY] So remember, remember
When next you see clouds
Remember, remember
Water vapor lighter than air"

X is for X-Ray

"X is the shortest ray
that comes from the sun
And though it's the shortest
it's also the strongest one
Is it an
A ray
B ray
D, E, or F ray
No, no, no no no!"

Y is for You

Honestly, I don't understand this song at all. After listening twice, it is not at all clear to me why Y is for me. And, appropriately, the turntable got caught in a loop asking, "Why?" at the end of the track.


Z is for Zodiac

After quite a good scientific run, the last song departs into just saying astrological signs.

"There are twelve signs in the Zodiac
Twelve signs to lead the way
From these you tell your future
Or so some people say"

The Planet Song

For this final, bonus track, there's a really nice slide guitar sound buried in amongst shouting out the planet names. It's a fun, fitting end to a surprisingly good kids' record.

"Nine planets in our solar system
Can you name nine planets
Tell me, can you list them
Can you name nine planets
That are around our sun
Can you name nine planets
One by ooooooonnneee"