Hello again folks! Welcome to our ongoing journey to catalog the best, the worst, and the most blase science references in all of music. We started out with ten good science references (Part 1 and Part 2 here), and now we’re working on those songs that get a rating of “decidedly mediocre”. We did the first 5 here, and now we’re moving on to finish off the list. Ready? Fantastic! Let’s get started:
Scientist by Dandy Warhols
Nominated line: whole song
Bethany: Wow, when Ben nominated this song, he mentioned there was not much too it. Having now listened to it and reviewed the lyrics….he’s completely right. This song keeps seeming like it will ramp up in a clever reference or two, but it pretty much stops at “we’ve got to live on science alone” and some grunting. Also, at the 6 second mark the girl in the video drinks something directly out of a beaker, and that’s just not safe. I’m starting to doubt her credentials.
Ben: I also have real questions about her decision to avoid wearing safety goggles and spend her lab hours lounging on a uncomfortable-looking couch licking her lips at the camera. How did she ever find the time to finish her graduate degree? Her work ethic seems questionable, and her lab seems to exist solely of two beakers and a microscope. Maybe it’s a lack of funding.
I do like the Dandy Warhols, but this is a blah nothing of a song and a blah nothing of a music video, so it gets the blah nothing of a review it deserves.
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Nominated line: “Thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening Galileo Galileo Galileo” (3:17 mark)
Bethany: Okay, there’s a strong argument to be made that this song should never appear on any list that includes the words “meh” or “mediocre”. I mean, it’s a great song and it was awesome in Wayne’s World. I get that. I really do. HOWEVER….this science reference is pretty lame. While Galileo is an awesome historical scientific figure and his contributions to science are many, he does not appear to have done any particular work on thunderbolts, lightening, things that were very very frightening or Figaro.
Scratch that: Galileo did champion heliocentrism, which was very very frightening to some. I also like to hold out hope that there’s something very frightening on one of Jupiter’s moons, which he also discovered.
Ben: The problem with discussing “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that it’s impossible to talk about for more than two minutes without someone jumping in with a “GALILEO! [distant voice] galileo! GALILEO! [even more distant voice] galileo!” and then someone else coming in with “GALILEO FIGARO!” and all of a sudden it’s a contest to prove that you can sing all the lyrics all the way up until the end and I’ve lost nine minutes of my life and gotten kicked out of Arby’s.
I appreciate that Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moons, since most of our best moons are up there.
Current Moon ranks:
1. Titan, orbiting Jupiter. It’s massive, has weather, and might be a second earth.
2. Europa, orbiting Jupiter, which has a vast frozen ocean underneath.
2. Our moon, but the way poets talk about it.
3. Charon, orbiting Pluto. The best moon an ex-planet could ever have. At least they have each other.
4. Io, orbiting Jupiter, which has hundreds of active volcanoes.
5. Our moon, but the way Buzz Aldrin thinks about it.
6. Triton, orbiting Neptune. Also gigantic, and deserves to be a planet. Got a raw deal by orbiting Neptune.
7. Our moon, but the way Dean Martin thinks about it.
8. Mimas, the moon that looks like the Death Star.
9. The brief stretch we thought the Death Star was a small moon.
10. A harvest moon.
57. Phobos, orbiting Mars. If we ever fly to Mars, we’ll probably land on it first. Has no other interesting qualities of any kind.
314. Supermoon. Supposed to be impressive, but always disappointing. The Fourth-of-July parade of moons.
Bethany: So I promised up front I was going to get a little bored and space out with the meh list….BUT NOW WE’RE RANKING MOONS AND I WANT BACK IN!!! Not only am I angry with myself for not doing this before Ben did, but now I’m in “scrambling for an angle” mode. The first thing I can think of is the best moon gifs I could find on short notice:
- 4 of Jupiter’s moons, including Callisto and Ganymede that are feeling a little put out at Ben right now:
- Jupiter and Io, just hanging out being cute:
- Our moon rotating and showing us it’s dark side and reminding me we left Pink Floyd off this list by accident:
- This one, that shows moon gravity and why I should stick to earth:
Okay, I feel better now.
Race For the Prize by The Flaming Lips
Nominated Line: whole song
Bethany: So this song is a thoughtful meditation on scientist engaged in a race for the good of all mankind. It’s beautiful, inspiring, and really dramatizes and humanizes scientists and their struggle. So what’s my problem?
I don’t know what it’s about.
Seriously. Watch the video. There are guys running with electrodes attached and men in raincoats with tubas, but no explanation. There’s a suggestion they’re looking for a cure, but for what? Are we supposed to believe this is just how everyday scientist operate? Because it’s really not. Who are these guys? This is like having a friend tell you an awesome story about a run in with a celebrity, only to tell you that they can’t actually legally name the celebrity. NO TELL ME THE WHOLE THING OR DON’T TELL ME THE STORY.
Ben: I like that the scientists chose to have their subject run outside, attached to a number of diodes, while they pursued him on foot wearing full-body chemical suits, but no facial protection of any kind. It’s guerrilla science. Sure, their data is unusable and they used up all their grant money, but THEY COULD FEEL THE SCIENCE IN THEIR HAIR AS THEY RAN.
I have no idea what this song means, either, but I find it somehow moving anyway. I don’t know how Wayne Coyne’s voice always does this to me. Also, who gave Wayne Coyne a trumpet for this video? Did Wayne Coyne also not know what to do with his hands? Is this how we eventually ended up here?
You stay you, Wayne.
Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles
Nominated Line: whole song
Bethany: This is another song I hate to criticize because it got used well in a movie I love, but my art compels me. This is not a song about science. This is a song about the impact developing technology has on the experience of day to day life. While that’s cool and all, it’s really more a philosophical and ethical issue than a science issue. I really hate it when people try to use the two interchangeably. That’s physics for poets level crap right there. To get to the pantheon, this song would have to actually cite some of the technology used. I mean, the only advancement specifically called out is the VCR? Come on, you can do better than that. Granted not much rhymes with “farnovision“, but you could have worked something in.
Ben: Well, I might have taken some shots at this song earlier, but your intro got me into an entirely different moves. I can’t take shots at “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Not today…
This song, permanently famous for its portentous place in MTV history, is a catchy bit of pop made by a producer who felt the winds of change coming long before they actually did. It’s so perfect as a metaphor for what happened to pop music in the following decades that it seems impossible that it really existed in its real time and place, and wasn’t written snidely after the fact as a commentary on the effects of the need for pretty faces and flashy visuals.
That said, Bethany is right. There’s no science here, unless the “supernova scene” is something much more impressive than what I imagine it to be. It’s only tangentially connected to the subject at hand, and as such, it only gets partial credit.
Bethany: Wait, what if that Supernova Scene involves a Champagne Supernova?
Also, pedants note: The line “Supernova Scene” was not in the original, but rather in the POTUSA cover.
Space Oddity by David Bowie
Nominated Line: whole song
Bethany: Since I’m yet again complaining about a great song that simply doesn’t have enough “science” for me, I thought I’d point out that I know how ridiculous I sound:
That’s me and this song. I like you David Bowie, but you call your ship a tin can. No comment on the technological marvel that got you 100,000 miles away from earth? Your only comment on your view of earth is “it’s blue”? Really? And you’re meditating on your death and your love for your wife but not one word on what possible mechanical failure precipitated all these thoughts?
I really don’t understand why anything with even the briefest of references to something vaguely scienc-ey gets called a science song. I mean, we don’t cite “Charge of the Light Brigade” as a primer on international relations, so lets just all admit “Space Oddity” has very little to do with science.
Then again, it was pretty darn awesome when Chris Hadfield took this song up a notch with his recording of this on the International Space Station….so I’m a little torn.
Ben: First off, let’s give a quick doff of the cap to longtime Earth resident and almost certain alien, David Bowie, who is no longer with us and has likely returned to his home world.
Second, ALLOW ME TO CORRECT YOUR SCIENCE, BETHANY. During the period of space travel that Bowie was singing about, the walls of the Saturn rockets were basically made of reinforced aluminum foil. His comparison to a tin can is apt both in visual and in practice – an aluminum soda can’s experior is about .1 mm thick, parts of the Saturn shuttles were a mere .3 mm thick. Our early astronauts really were barely more than a hairsbreadth away from outer space.
Not to mention, the Earth does look awfully blue when seen from space. And, should I ever find myself in a situation where my spaceship tumbles endlessly away from earth to my certain death, I should be pleased if my last thoughts were with those I love rather than whatever cataclysmic event had caused my death. There’s no poetry in “Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still, and it looks like an oxygen tank has exploded and I’ve lost control of my thrusters, the hull is breached and the cabin is decompressing, I’m certain to die of oxygen loss in just a few minutes now.” At least not without a good backbeat to it.
Putting this one in the anti-science camp is the fact that it sprang from Bowie going to see 2001: A Space Odyssey “several times, stoned out of my gourd.” So maybe let’s call this one a draw.
Bethany: You’ve kind of sold me. I feel like this is one of those songs that if I’d put it on the good list I’d regret it, and now it’s on this list and I regret it. Like many a straight man in the 70s, Bowie has left me with confused feelings of uncertainty where I’ve never had them before. I’ll give him an A-, but if any of his friends try to pass in similar work they’ll have a C so fast it’ll make their head spin.
Ben: That about wraps us up for the week. It’s downhill from here, right, Bethany?
Bethany: Oh yes.
Want to read our list of bad songs? We start that here.