We lost the patron saint of tall tales weird and strange today. Though I would prefer to think Ray Bradbury abducted or time traveling or maybe just rocketing off into the blackness of space with a pile of books and an extra pair of glasses. He was 91. Most of us would say that’s a pretty good run, but what would the sci-fi master himself say? Maybe he dreamed of some parallel universe where he could squeeze out another 91? Maybe not.
Bradbury was a young man in the Great Space Decade of the 1950s when menacing green bugged eyed aliens still roamed across the face of Mars biding their time for attack and mankind teetered ever closer toward unwinnable wars on a global scale. Words like fallout, mutants, warheads, totalitarian states, and ray guns were creeping their way into popular culture through monster movies, pulp novels and comics, newsreels and music. The 50s had a sub genre for everything bizarre. We do today of course, but it’s all so commonplace, now. Where’s the belief in decoder rings and swamp things? Khrushchev talked of Sputnik and waved goodbye, how could he have known the goodbye would be his? Nixon talked of color T.V.s which sounded hollow, stupid even, next to the Soviet Premier’s outer space boasts. Who could have known Nixon was, in a strange way, right about the future? Certainly not Tricky Dick. RCA knew. NASA caught our imaginations, but ended up throwing us back. Color T.V. caught them, skinned them, and cooked them over a fire pit using books as kindling.
One of my favorite 50s sub-genres is the songs about UFOs, flying saucers and little green men (it was the 50s so not much mention of little green women).
They are mostly silly songs and never were they to get respectable. There was no Ray Bradbury penning them. These were novelty numbers and why not? Things that go whirl in the solitary darkness of a short story writer’s mind can be frightening. There’s no one one there to tease you, no one there to be brave for. It’s just you and the thought that just maybe we aren’t alone and just maybe what’s coming for a visit isn’t very nice.
The songwriters on the other hand are an entirely different breed. One of my favorite songs is Flyin’ Saucer Boogie by a California by way of New Jersey honkytonker named Eddie Cletro recorded in 1952. It has some of the best saucer effects I’ve heard and for being basically a straight-up country boogie the whole thing practically shimmers as the poor fellow knows he didn’t see what he did see.
Flyin’ Saucer Boogie
Another terrific one, perhaps the mothership of them all, is from Arkansas rockabilly legend Billy Lee Riley and his Little Green Men called Flyin’ Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll. They were essentially the Sun Records house band, but almost had a break out with the hit Red Hot (as in my gal is). This crazy alien number though rocks about as hard as any rockabilly I’ve ever heard and mines what seems to be a favorite theme of the extraterrestrial visitor song as the little green men jump out and form a hot
rockin’ band. Just listen to that scream.
Flyin’ Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll
Continuing the band theme there’s Joe Carson’s ridiculously fun song about Martian hillbillies coming down to bop with it’s faux Indian beat (think Kawliga). Don’t let Hillbilly Band from Mars fool you. Joe was a serious musician and a great singer. He was one of the first to cover one of Willie Nelson’s songs and wrote some fine country songs himself. Unfortunately, he slammed his car into an overpass one night in 1964 and the flux capacitor did not engage. So,
that was that.
Hillbilly Band from Mars
Finally (at least for now), and maybe the creepiest and best if them all is from our old atomic friends The Buchanan Brothers, Chester and Lester. In 1947 songwriters Cy Cobin and Charlie Green wrote the disconcerting song (You’d Better Pray to the Lord When You See) Those Flying Saucers and the whole thing becomes a fire and brimstone call to repent as the angelic discs certainly herald the judgement day.
(You’d Better Pray to the Lord When You See) Those Flying Saucers
Now Mr. Bradbury can’t be held accountable for any of this of course, but he is responsible for igniting a light in a boy’s mind for what could be or might be and if that light hasn’t grown into a higher intelligence, that too, is no fault of his. I’m left with my pulpy taste for flying discs, crop circles, bugged eyed critters from other planets and aluminum foil hats (just in case). I’m also left with a shelf of some of the best, imaginative literature the 20th century had to offer and the writer will be missed.
Just for fun here’s some old blogs about space stuff: