The Greatest Concept Album Adaptations of Classic Scifi Tales

Illustration for article titled The Greatest Concept Album Adaptations of Classic Scifi Tales

Musicians have been inspired by science fiction for as long as the concept has been around. Composers have based entire operas around plots by Doris Lessing and Philip K. Dick. And, from the Beatles to Billy Idol, the Flaming Lips to Jefferson Starship, performers have drawn on ideas from sci-fi stories and even created album-length plots of their own. But today, we turn our ear to concept albums based on specific works of science fiction, including reimagined tributes, ambient soundtracks, and rock opera adaptations.Jeff Wayne – Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978): Composer Jeff Wayne had considered setting other works of science fiction to music, including Day of the Triffids and Brave New World, but ultimately settled on H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, claiming it "was the first story I read that excited me as a musician." Despite some tweaks to the narration, Wayne's adaptation is considered the most faithful ever done, with the lyrics staying close to the details of the original story. The 95-minute opus spawned a top single, a video game, and a live tour. An animated film is currently in the works. "Forever Autumn"

Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974): Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman structured his second solo album around Jules Verne's novel. The album was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra before a live audience, and actor David Hemmings provided the narration. Ten years later, Wakeman would work with lyricist Tim Rice to create another science fiction-inspired album, 1984.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974): David Bowie had hoped to create a stage musical based on George Orwell's dystopian novel, but he was thwarted by Orwell's estate. The remnants of this failed endeavor made their way into Diamond Dogs, Bowie's final glam venture. Not as firmly rooted around the story as Rick Wakeman's similarly-inspired record, Diamond Dogs ultimately merged Orwell's vision with Bowie's own grim notions of the oppressive, disco-tinged future. "1984"

Rush – 2112 (1976): Although not technically a concept album, side one of Rush's 2112 is entirely composed of the titular suite, a seven-part homage to Ayn Rand's novella Anthem. Neil Peart reinterprets Rand's fable of technological rediscovery in a state-controlled society by arming his tragic hero with a guitar, a forgotten instrument that he uses to rebel against the strictures of his world. "Overture" and "The Temples of Syrinx"

Steel Prophet – Dark Hallucinations (1999): Dark Hallucinations makes its ties to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 known in the opening of the first track, aptly titled "Montag" – "It's a a pleasure to burn/The flame warms my skin/Four hundred fifty one degrees/When book paper burns/And it burns, and we burn." The rest of the album is similarly expositive, closely tracing the book's plot. Pete Townshend – The Iron Man: The Musical (1989): Before the title was changed to The Iron Giant (to avoid trouble with Marvel), Ted Hughes' book about a boy who befriends a mysterious metal man was called The Iron Man. Townsend's version adds a sexual dimension to the children's tale, introducing the Vixen as the boy's conscience, and recasting the space dragon antagonist as a woman. A 1993 staging of the musical encouraged Warner Bros. to option the book for its 1999 animated film. "A Friend Is A Friend"

Mike Oldfield – The Songs of Distant Earth (1994): Arthur C. Clarke's tale of interstellar reunion, The Songs of Distant Earth, ends with a concert. Struck by the notion of music transcending the time and distance, composer Mike Oldfield tried to evoke the feel of the book through new age instrumentals. Clarke expressed his admiration for the album, which featured synthesizers, Gregorian and Finnish chanting, and astronaut Bill Anders reading from Genesis. "Hibernaculum"

Metaphor – The Sparrow (2007): Progressive rockers and former Genesis cover band Metaphor chose, as the subject of their second rock opera, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. The novel centers on a Jesuit expedition to a faraway planet after SETI receives musical broadcasts. Metaphor uses the story of a man of God whose faith is shattered by cross-cultural tragedy to explore issues of belief, miscommunication and its consequences, and cultural ecology. Sample Audio Sonic Youth – Sister (1987): Rather than focusing on an individual work, Sonic Youth drew much of its inspiration for Sister directly from the life and catalog of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Aside from being a fan of his work, frontman Thurston Moore has been intensely interested in Dick in part because he perceives an important intersection between science fiction and punk rock, and in part because he is fascinated by creative persons who lost a twin in infancy (Dick's own twin is the "sister" of the title). Consequently, ideas and quotes from Dick's works litter the album. "Stereo Sanctity"

Manticora – Hyperion (2002): Dan Simmons' novel Hyperion follows the structure of the Canterbury Tales, an anecdotal framework that transfers well to individual tracks on a disc. Power metal band Manticora uses the pilgrims' narratives to tell stories of interstellar war, grotesque immortality, and cyberpunk mysteries. "Cantos"

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot (1977): The Alan Parsons Project's I Robot was originally supposed to be I, Robot, with songs based on Isaac Asimov's stories. Although Asimov was all for the idea, the movie company that owned the rights was far less enthusiastic. So the comma was removed and the songs generalized. But with the robotics seed planted, the duo composed reflective tracks dealing with the future of human-AI relations. "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You"

L. Ron Hubbard – Space Jazz: The soundtrack of the book Battlefield Earth (1982): That's right – even before the world was subjected to the on-screen treatment of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology-themed pulp, the thousand page tome already had its own soundtrack (a double LP, probably due to the immense size of the companion text). The Church-sponsored site, "Ron, The Music Maker," assures us that Space Jazz represented "where music is about to go in the future without losing anything of the past." Tragically, we were unable to find any audio evidence of this alleged masterwork (which reportedly contains some stunningly Shatner-esque spoken word performances), but below is a taste of the lyrics from its penultimate track, "Declaration of Peace":

PEACE, we have declared it. Snarls and strife must be at end! In peace alone can this Earth mend. And now find ecstasy in love, love for Earth, for all. The gods of peace have now spoken. OBEY!


Ed Grabianowski

I have that Wakeman album on vinyl! Which I didn't realize until I almost sold it at my yard sale last weekend.

I had a friend in college who swore the 2112 lyrics were:

"We are the preists

Of the devil.

I'm serious!"