This is Part 2 of our piece on “Ten Songs That Get Science Right”. Missed Part 1? Read it here.
“Champagne Supernova” by Oasis
Nominated Line: “Like a Champagne Supernova in the sky”
Bethany: I loved this song in high school. In fact I loved this whole band, and even in 2016 two out of the last three concerts I’ve been to are Noel Gallagher concerts. Conflict of interest aside, that’s not why this made the list. It made the list because it’s the only song I know of that actually summoned the scientific phenomena it referenced in to existence….or at least got something really cool named after it. Basically, when this song was released in 1996, the term Champagne Supernova had no real astronomical meaning. That changed in 2006, when researchers discovered a supernova that exceeded the Chandrasekhar limit and decided that “extreme explosions that offer new insight into the inner workings of supernovae are an obvious cause for celebration”. Ergo, they dubbed it a “champagne supernova”. And yes, they clarified they did know the song and it was not a coincidental naming.
Can’t wait to see what a Wonderwall turns out to be.
Ben: Donald Trump is building it right now.
As someone who just aggressively defended my BNL fandom, I’m not going to sit idly by and let you feel exposed by expressing your love of Oasis and one of the Gallaghers, though I coudn’t remember which one was the good one, so I had to Google it.
Perhaps* I am biased, but I think 90’s alternative rock has aged much better than most genres, and Oasis has aged as well as anyone. Both “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” are still magnificent recordings, and both deserve to have pieces of scientific wonder named after them into time immemorial, even though spending more than an hour or two in either brother’s presence seems like a fate nigh unto death.
Bethany: You don’t have to defend me. My love for somewhat whiny British men with livers of steel is not a thing I’m ashamed of. Also, my google says this:
C₁₁ H₁₇ N₂ O₂ S Na by Anthrax
Nominated Line: Song Title
Bethany: Do I even have to explain my love for this? It’s a chemical formula. Who puts a chemical formula for their song title? The same guy who named his bio “The Story of That Guy From Anthrax” that’s who. Anyway, that’s the real formula for sodium pentathol aka “truth serum” and the whole song is about wishing you could force someone to tell the truth. No further science references at all, just a chemical formula you have to google. While in reality sodium pentathol probably doesn‘t work that well, I’ll let that slide as poetic license.
Ben: Well, this led me down a whole rabbit hole of the history of sodium pentathol and its use in police confessions, and eventually to the bizarre case of Sybil Dorsett, a fascinating story that I will never be able to work into a conversation as long as I live.
I’m no particular fan of thrash metal in any context, though Anthrax is one of the better examples of the genre, and I appreciate the cleanliness of the recording rather than hiding a lack of musicianship behind fuzz. The thing I like the most about the song is that it was recorded in 1993 – therefore, Googling or even Altavista-ing the song title was out of the question. You had to know someone else who knew what it meant, or go to an actual library. Anthrax: supporting libraries!
Well, they always did seem like a studious lot.
“Stuck To You” by Josh Ritter
Nominated Line: whole song
Bethany: I will admit, I had never heard this song before Ben put it on the list. Color me ashamed. This is every pedantic nerds dream song, wherein a man takes common love song cliches and corrects them with more scientifically accurate answers. It’s a beautiful thing, and a little more elaborate than just declaring someone your statistically significant other.
Ben: I found this one on a hunt for “science songs,” and while I’d listened to a fair bit of Josh Ritter before, I’d never stumbled across this one. It’s a neat, concise statement that’s both tongue-in-cheek and mournful, like a lot of folk songs used to be. I wish more artists had this sort of song in their quiver.
Bethany: Especially once we get to the next section, we’re going to look back at this song wistfully. Spoiler alert: I will definitely use the line “Why couldn’t you be more like that nice Josh Ritter fellow Ms Duff” at some point.
“The Elements” by Tom Lehrer
Nominated Line: whole song
Bethany: How can we do a “best of” list and not include the Elements Song? I mean, I spent a whole day at my grandfather’s house one summer attempting to memorize this in the days before DVR and easy rewind. I think I broke his VHS, and he made me watch Pirates of Penzance as penance. Anyway, this was written in 1959 and it falls 16 elements short of today’s periodic table….but it’s still a great song. Damn catchy too.
Ben: My dad and I used to listen to old comedy records together in our living room, which is a very old-fashioned thing for someone who is technically considered a Millennial to say. One of the ones we played most frequently was An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer, which contains such ditties as “Poisoning Pigeons In the Park,” “The Masochism Tango,” and also “The Elements,” which I saw no less than three different math majors perform at talent shows while in college. Singing all the words to this song aloud is the nerd equivalent of peacocking. In fact, here’s Daniel Radcliffe doing it right now!
Whoops, ended up on a whole celebrities-rapping-on-talk-shows YouTube jag. Got distracted there for a minute.
“Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine” by White Stripes
Nominated Line: whole song
Bethany: I’m not entirely sure about this song, but I think I like it. It appears to be a song about placebo effects, drugs that work, and people who won’t take drugs that are too familiar because they need something different. I put it on repeat for an hour to see if I ended up feeling differently, and I didn’t. I think this is an anti-alternative medicine theme song. Probably.
Ben: Like all White Stripes songs, your mileage is going to vary considerably depending on whether what Jack White does is your jam or not. I dig the White Stripes, but I have no particular feelings towards this song one way or the other. I think it fits neatly into the album, because I recall liking Elephant very much, but that was a long time ago.
I was surprised that you didn’t break down the “strip the bark right off the tree and hand it this way” line (Aspirin is made from the bark of a willow tree). That seemed like your lane.
Bethany: Ben, aspirin hasn’t been made from willow bark since the late 1800s. Don’t be a hippie.
Ben: I probably shouldn’t have forged that pharmacist’s license, then. Someone’s bound to catch on eventually.
Well, that covers the good songs, so I’m expecting this to get meaner as it goes. I’m looking forward to it.
Want to go directly to the mediocre songs? Find Part 1 of that here.