Nasa / Space

Top 10 best sci-fi inspired rock albums

Geekend's own Jay Garmon tag teams with professional geek rocker John Anealio to name the 10 best sci-fi rock albums that mainstream music ever produced.

Last April, I ranked the top 10 geek rock artists. While a lot of you enjoyed the list, a sizeable number near as much demanded that I create a similar rundown of the top 10 sci-fi-inspired mainstream rock albums. I said I wasn't highly qualified to rate the whole of rock canon for relative skiffy-ness. So I called in an expert; one of those top 10 geek rockers I mentioned.

John Anealio is a music teacher by day, but divides his nights between duties as Wired's GeekDad Guitar Teacher, co-host of the awesome Functional Nerds podcast, and the aforementioned geek rock career. John's latest album, Laser Zombie Robot Love, was released Sept. 18 (you can get all 20 nerdtastic tracks for just $5).

Without further ado, the 10 best sci-fi inspired rock albums of all time.

10. Styx - Kilroy Was Here John says: Two words: "Mr. Roboto". Admittedly, this isn't a great album, but you have to admire (or question the sanity) of a band, who at the height of their commercial success released a rock opera about a robot. Jay says: For all it's (ahem) Styx-iness, this is the album that made "domo arrigato" a household catchphrase. You don't get more geek cred than that. 9. Roswell Six - Terra Incognita: Beyond The Horizon John says: Author Kevin J. Anderson is a long time progressive rock fan. This album is based on his fantasy novel The Edge of the World. Anderson collaborated with keyboardist Erik Norlander to create this progressive-metal gem. Jay says: The dude who wrote the official backstory of every side character in the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba's Palace, to say nothing of the non-Boba Fett bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back, has unassailable geek cred. That he used it to make a cult sci-fi synth-rock opera is pretty cool, too. 8. Marian Call - Got To Fly John says: Predictably, this list is heavy on progressive rock and metal. This brilliant folk-pop gem by Alaskan songstress featuring songs inspired by Firefly and Battlestar Galactica is a nice counterpoint to the wheedily wheedily guitars. Jay says: Call is one of those artists who effectively blurs the line between filk and muggle music, as her coffee-shop folk rock is so catchy and evocative the mundanes won't even notice she's got a crush on Mal Reynolds. Also, any track that uses a typewriter as a viable percussion instrument is nerd-worthy in its own right. 7. Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son John says: While Iron Maiden may be the quintessential heavy metal band, many of their albums have strong progressive rock leanings. In addition to the epic length and odd time signatures of some of the tunes, the album title and lyrics were inspired by Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son. Jay says: "Can I Play With Madness?" Yes, yes you can. 6. David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust John says: If you're talking about rock music and science fiction, then you have to start with Ziggy Stardust. Ahead of its time, most of the songs on the album still sound fresh today. Jay says: First, you're really a music geek when you know the full title of this album is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. If that isn't an ode to 1950s sci-fi cinema, I don't know what is. Second, when The Goblin King goes out of his way to make a skiffy album, you just bow and say thank you. Read our top five picks.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

68 comments
Burnsie61
Burnsie61

....Seeking Major Tom by William Shatner - yes, Captain Kirk himself, surely the ultimate, a sci-fi album o sung by a sci-fi superstar.

pbileci
pbileci

I think that The Protomen's 2 albums should at least have honorable mention. It's a two-part story based on Capcom's Mega Man series of video games. The first album (self-titled The Protomen) is based directly off of the first few video games and the second (The Father of Death) is a prequel that tells the story of how Dr, Light and Dr. Wiley came to be, how Dr. Wiley used Dr. Light's robotic creations to take over the city. The Protomen were heavily influenced by Styx and, in fact, one of the their band members has the stage name Kilroy. Also before I even got to #1, I had a feeling 2112 was going to top it off. I think it's the quintessential sci-fi rock opera in the minds of most geeks. I was a bit surprised to see Operation Mindcrime on the list. Although it's a fantastic rock opera and it's one of my favorite albums of all time, I find it to be too gritty and realistic. There's very little sci-fi in Mindcrime as the main character is controlled through drugs and hypnotic suggestion. Mindcrime 2 has a slightly more mystical quality to it since Mary seems to be reaching out to Nikki from beyond the grave. The Warning and Rage for Order are better examples of Queensrÿche albums with Sci-fi themes. Mindcrime was actually Queensrÿche's transition album from dark, apocalyptic progressive metal to more realistic cerebral progressive metal as Empire focused more on current issues and psychology.

adrich
adrich

Flash Gordon!!!!

dmace1
dmace1

I guess I won't blow any minds wit this one but has anyone considered Rick Wakeman's :Journey to the Center of the Earth" with the London Philharmonic Orchestra? I believe it was a live recording and had a narrator reading portions of the book. The album was pretty cool too as it came with a roll up plastic mirror sheet that you put on the cover and you could view the weird fish eye picture of Wakeman.

trancedylan
trancedylan

My first choice would be "The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony" by Dave Greenslade with a fantastic book and artwork by Patrick Woodroffe telling the story of the race who created a spacecraft found orbiting Jupiter. On my original copy (double vinyl) the package was stunning, although the reissued CD version was lacked the impact of the larger format.

orionluv
orionluv

I don't know many people who even know what the Intergalactic Touring Band album was, but how much more Sci Fi Rock can you get than a band that tours the galaxy, bringing music to the masses? Even if Meatloaf IS on it. Still good stuff.

TBone2k
TBone2k

For those who haven't listened in a while, Rush is currently touring to promote their new album Clockwork Angels which is a concept album based on a cyberpunk theme.

kenh
kenh

Billy Thorpe - Children Of The Sun Yes - Relayer, or any other Yes

w-chase
w-chase

Come to mind... both about as obscure as Hawkwind. Also Eela Craig's "Hats of Glass."

doug m.
doug m.

so I guess I'll have to check them out now. Or perhaps I have heard their music and didn't know their name. Either way it's always good to check out new tunes. This convo reminds me of a program I first encountered back around '83-84, called Musical Starstreams. It might still be around in some form or another. It featured lots of synthesizer-inspired, mystical sounding music. Was usually great to put on and fall asleep to.

thomaskent
thomaskent

...HP Lovecraft's "Little Neutrino"?

boplatt
boplatt

I'd add 'I Robot' from the Alan Parsons Project (1977) somewhere to this list.

zyzygy
zyzygy

Ok so its instrumental, but Vangelis' Albedo 0.39 has track names to inspire. And the title track is completely geek awesome. A man reading off the astronomical specifications of earth, orbit, mass, siderial day and so on, ending with a repeated "albedo 0.39"

GRH2112
GRH2112

Come on, Rush didn't even make the list??? "Attention all planets of the Solar Federation...We have assumed control. We have assumed control" :-)

rmc409
rmc409

Genesis album "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"

rmc409
rmc409

How about Alan Parsons Project "I Robot"

bob
bob

How could you miss such an obvious nod to godfather of robotics, Isaac Asimov!?! Parsons' production work was so precise, you could almost believe a robot created it. And the Hawkwind fans have a point, too. Break out the argon accumulators and have a great weekend!

kmurk
kmurk

Agents of Furtune or just about any of the albums from their heyday..

mckinnej
mckinnej

I'll freely admin there are a few in this list that I've never heard of and that's okay. Now I've got some "new" music to track down. 2112 was a given. It doesn't get any better. But Operation Mindcrime from Queensryche was unexpected and totally awesome! I've always loved that album. I even have the video version. It's a well thought out story and musically, it's just outstanding. It requires a good stereo system and plenty of volume for maximum effect. "Money and Sex are power plays. Manipulate the people for the money they pay. Selling sex, selling God. The numbers look the same on their credit cards." Now those are some great lyrics.

kkoss
kkoss

This Canadian metal band has been writing sci-fi themed music for about 30 years now. Their 1989 album Nothingface (with a cover of Pink Floyd's 'Astronomy Domine') is one of the best metal albums of all time.

JayInJersey
JayInJersey

I think Freddie Mercury might argue his album inspired from an old TV serial into a Major Motion Picture has some cred to get on here.

dmiller_it
dmiller_it

I really feel that Klaatu's album "Hope" belongs on this list...I still feel like "I'm the loneliest of all creatures in the universe..." How geekie is THAT!

wendygoerl
wendygoerl

When's the last time you listened to it, Jay? OK, I've never actually SEEN "Killroy Was Here" but it's one of a handful of records (yes, LP's) that I grew up with. And according to the liner notes, it's about government policing of morality and one rocker's escape from the system (posing as a "roboto"). Also, why is there no mention of the equally PC-dystopian Devo? C'mon sing it with me, guys: "Are we not men, we are Devo?"

cap james t kirk
cap james t kirk

jeff waynes war of the worlds double album should be in the mix, heck should be #1. sold well, had top 40 hit (forever autumn), great record.

berak1
berak1

A lot of "Heavy Metal" bands would fit in here nicely. Blind Guardian (namely "Nightfall in Middle Earth", "At The Edge of Time" and other albums), Iced Earth (namely "Framing Armageddon", "Crucible of Man", and "Dystopia") , Gamma Ray, et al. For Prog Rockers I would have to nominate Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Tarkus" as well as "Karn Evil Nine" from "Brain Salad Surgery". Crank it up!

RipVan
RipVan

But always a good read. Comments, too! Thanks.

budd100276
budd100276

Great article. Love Hawkwind. There - I've said it. So now that I've dated myself, I might as well put in a plug for I, Robot by Alan Parsons Project.

tech
tech

1st, I really appreciate Jay's articles and got a great kick out of this one. I also very much agree on the Queen comments. I must be old, but then I saw Rush 2112 and the Moody Blues reference. I always thought Uriah Heep's Demons and Wizards was the best, but too geeky for some of my friends - had to throw that hat in the ring.

astrosky
astrosky

While not a band but a compliation of music set to a SCI-FI movie most of the music was already recorded by various groups. Personally I think it should be included, but once voice does not overcome all.

MJRaeder
MJRaeder

Awesome group whose name was inspired by Robert Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers'. 1983 album - Planet P Project's 'Why Me?" is great.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

I call it sci-fi...it's a concept set in "the future" that incorporates genetically engineered Messiah figures, genocidal test-tube clones, global war... “Test-tube kid is born. He’s stolen by a woman clairvoyant who understands his life has some kind of martyred purpose. She raises him under horrible circumstances, and the kid is influenced by all the bad stuff around him. He becomes a small-time criminal, is sent to jail, has no remorse or sense of history. But then he has a near-death experience, and then a conversion experience. He realizes he has to connect himself to a higher purpose. At the time he’s having these experiences, the world is undergoing an apocalyptic war led by this Brother 33 character, who is sticking his fingers into ethnic conflicts around the world. So Vadikyn (the test-tube guy) goes off to war, becomes a war hero, and then his genetic background is revealed to him. He realizes he is made of some sort of engineered perfection, and if he donates his body to science, the world will basically be perfect.” It is a BRILLIANT album. Conceived and delivered as well as anything I've ever heard. It's Generation X's "The Wall," but for whatever reason, it stayed quiet.

mike21b
mike21b

I'll agree with Rush as #1 with 2112, but BOC albums were injected with a lot of Sci-Fi songs. Most featured at least one sci-fi cut, and they also did the soundtrack for the movie Bad Channels (could have also been called Bad Movie, but the music was good).

JeffDeWitt
JeffDeWitt

You REALLY blew it, the number one, by FAR rock album based on science fiction is Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds. It's the best, most accurate production of the HG Wells classic novel ever done, has been a top seller since it came out in the 70's, and even today they are producing a spectacular live version.

hoey187
hoey187

Left off was Arjen A. Lucassen's Star One band, album Space Metal. Pretty much every song on their is sci-fi inspired, from Dune to Star Wars to Stargate.

mjfulk
mjfulk

2112 is a good choice for #1, Rush has a lot of Sci-Fi inspired songs (Cygnus X-1 Books 1 and 2, Red Barchetta, Red Sector A just to name a few). But their latest album "Clockwork Angels" should probably have been at least #2 since there is a Sci-Fi novel that goes with it.

jhorton
jhorton

Anything from Be-Bop Deluxe or Bill Nelson. Practically every song the guy writes is sci-fi based and, frankly, the music is about the best prog-rock from the '70s.

Hazydave
Hazydave

You could probably have chosen a number of Yes albums, but I agree, Jon's solo "Olias of Sunhillow" is the superior Sci-Fi influenced album. It's a shame most folks have never heard of it -- you all established your Rock Geek cred here without a doubt. I first found my copy, on LP, in the used record store that lived over-top of a neighborhood bar near the CMU campus, back in the early 80s. Of course 2112 had to top the list. Thanks, this was fun!

johnhgy
johnhgy

What about Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds Based on H,G,Wells book of the same name.

JeffDeWitt
JeffDeWitt

Wasn't the Intergalactic Touring Band booked at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

mckinnej
mckinnej

You mean old RADIO serial. Seems like there was a movie serial too. I'm too lazy to do some research, but it's safe to say the Flash Gordon character is *really* old.

mckinnej
mckinnej

For APP. Still some great music.

mckinnej
mckinnej

Although they are my #1 favorite band of all time, they aren't sci-fi. They're more into WWII and the mental issues it caused with their former band mate, Syd Barrett. Their most popular music anyway. Their older albums were more in the sci-fi vein though.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

.This was one of the first scifi-based albums I bought.

ronatola
ronatola

The 1st album that came to mind. I thought I'd be #1, not omitted. The chances of anything coming from Mars.... I bet 90% of the peeps reading this can finish that lyric line. I have a good video doc of the making of. I'm scared to hear the remake they're doing. I think they should leave it alone.

fo128
fo128

...such as "Atronomy Domine". PINK FLOYD FOREVER!!! Greatest music ever created. Unique. On a more serious note - I do agree totaly with your statement above. Only the early Floyd albums are pervaded by space, cosmos, the unknown and strange. Starting with Atom Heart Mother, they began exploring the human essence and it's bizarre twists and turns, which followed with themes about the loneliness of the modern man (Dark Side of the Moon & Wish You Were Here - tribute to Syd Barrett, Animals), and later in their works (when Roger Water started to over-influence the feeling of their music) the effects of war on us and its lingering effect (The Wall and The Final Cut). Although not a rock band (despite having heard people label them as "space rock"), a notable mention is "Tangerine Dream"! Especially their early 70's albums which are an instrumental epic of ecliptic proportions.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But then, I didn't do up the list, did I?

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

This is the album I kept scrolling down to see. Not only is it Sci Fi Rock but it's based on one of the original Sci Fi stories.

jcbronson
jcbronson

While I definitely think this should be on the list, I don't see it bumping 2112. Attention all planets of the Solar Federation...

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