When I was a kid in the 1980s, burning up hours on the Atari 2600 and Nintendo NES, I would play vinyl records as a kind of game soundtrack. The ’80s were a ripe period for music with a science fiction bend. The Eurythmics, The Police, Men at Work, and so many others evoked paranoid, high-tech worlds that were dark and exploitative. I can only guess what influenced those musicians was some combination of punk, fear of impending nuclear annihilation, economic exploitation, urban decay, and a total rejection of the organic, rainbow-hued hippie ’70s music with its Karen Carpenters and its Bee Gees. Maybe some early cyberpunk writing influenced 80s musicians too. It was like the dark corners of the music world saw Blade Runner and Neuromancer coming and wrote the lyrics to evoke worlds like them.
Two albums I played a lot were Men at Work’s Business as Usual and Cargo. Their music was creepy, paranoid, dystopic and it has always struck me as science fiction music. Unlike a lot of other 80s acts that tried to look paranoid, odd and futuristic, Men at Work frontman Colin Hay both looked crazy when he looked normal and sounded halfway between madness, laughter and a kind of smirking panic when he sang.
These days, the only music I recognize as science fiction music is something like Drops of Jupiter by Train. But it’s just a pop song with lyrics about outer space. Sure, there are geek musicians a plenty these days hitting all the right themes too, but are they building world? If you think so, pop a comment up here and let me know .