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.
5. Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow
John says: Jon Anderson is the lead singer of Yes. This solo album of his made the cut over the classic Yes records of the ’70s because it hangs together better on both a lyrical and musical level. As brilliant as those Yes albums are, it was always five egos fighting for attention. On Olias of Sunhillow, Jon was able to present his musical vision in a more focused and unencumbered way.
Jay says: This is basically a trippy 1970s new wave sci-fi short story about interplanetary colonization set to music. Good, prog-rock music.
4. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
John says: As you may gather from the title, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots sounds like the indie rock version of a wacky anime feature; and that’s a good thing. The album is majestic in sound and scope and envelops your brain with complex synthesizers and robotic drums and bass.
Jay says: It’s a quasi-concept alt-rock album about an anime spacefarer. So, you know, nerdy. Everybody knows “Do You Realize??” from this album. Almost nobody has heard the Grammy-winning “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)”, which is a crime, because that’s both about exploring Mars and an awesome instrumental.
3. Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV: Volume Two
John says: You can really list any Coheed and Cambria album here, as they all tell different parts of an ongoing sci-fi tale. Musically, this band is a wonderful update of classic progressive rock, with a leaner, more metallic sound.
Jay says: Coheed and Cambria are like a post-millennial reincarnation of Rush, so that’s a good start. This album is actually just one part of the audio portion of the band’s multimedia sci-fi project, The Amory Wars, which chronicles the life and times of the messianic savior of a mystical interplanetary empire. That’s got to be worth a listen.
2. Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
John says: At a time when metal was all about spandex and teased hair, Queensryche released a dystopian rock opera. This metallic masterpiece features complex, interlocking riffs and the soaring, operatic vocals of Geoff Tate.
Jay says: One of the better-structured storylines for a concept album, depicting the tale of brainwashed dissident Nikki and his inescapable fate as an amnesiac political assassin. That it’s a complex prog-metal set is just icing on the cake.
1. Rush – 2112
John says: 2112 is the science-fiction rock album. From the ominous synth chords that introduce the piece to the spoken message of “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation” of The Grand Finale, it doesn’t get any more rockin’ or science fiction-in than 2112.
Jay says: Was there ever any doubt who would top this list?
Think we missed an all-time science fictional rock record, or just want to jam about the relative merits of the deep cuts on our list? We’re layin’ down tracks in the comments section.