The Truth Is Out There: A History of Alien Songs

by Amanda Flinner

Starting in 1993, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully began investigating the FBI's paranormal cases, known as The X-Files, hoping to solve the mystery of an alien abduction that had haunted Mulder since childhood. Former blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge is a real-life Mulder of sorts, only without the badge or the baggage. Since he left the band in 2015 to investigate UFO phenomena, the "Aliens Exist" singer says he's gotten close to the truth with the help of sources within the Department of Defense and NASA.

A little too close.

The government tapped his phone. An elderly engineer warned him to back off before he got hurt. He inexplicably lost three hours of time during a pilgrimage to the Nevada test site Area 51. All that's missing is the Cigarette Smoking Man.

DeLonge isn't alone in his curiosity. Flying saucers, little green men, and the mysterious men in black who hunt them, have been invading song lyrics for years. In pop culture, aliens represent an idea that something exists beyond our own broken world that will either save us from ourselves or destroy us once and for all. Are they our enemies or our saviors, our greatest fear or our greatest hope? That depends who you ask.
"The Flying Saucer"
Goodman and Buchanan, 1956

In 1939, future Citizen Kane star Orson Welles unwittingly tricked the American public into believing it was under attack by Martians through a dramatic radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel War of the Worlds. Historians reject the claims of pandemonium, but rumors of nationwide mass hysteria and suicides have fueled the legend ever since.

Twelve years later, Dickie Goodman, later known as the King of Novelty, and songwriting partner Bill Buchanan re-wrote the hour-long drama as a 4-minute parody about a flying saucer landing in a metropolitan city.

We interrupt this record
To bring you a special bulletin
The reports of a flying saucer
Hovering over the city
Have been confirmed
The flying saucers are real

The novelty tune is more of a collage than a song. Using a technique called the "break-in," a predecessor of sampling, clips from 18 Top 20 hits of the era are spliced together to create the story. For example, the president responds to the invasion with Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame" and the aliens bid farewell with Bill Haley's "See You Later Alligator."

Like Ella Fitzgerald's "Two Little Men In a Flying Saucer" from 1951, the aliens are curiosity seekers rather than fearsome creatures intent on taking over the planet. In that song, the visitors with green antennas and purple hair stick around long enough to take in a Western movie, a baseball game, and a political speech and decide that Earthlings are nonsensical creatures. But they leave us be.

Two little men in a flying saucer
Flew down to Earth one day
Looked to left and right of it
Couldn't stand the sight of it and said
'Let's fly away.'

The sentiment, however, doesn't translate to the silver screen where science fiction is exploding with tales of alien horror: Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Thing From Another World, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and, of course, The War of The Worlds. And don't forget the classic 1962 Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man," where seemingly altruistic aliens land on earth on a peaceful mission to share culture and technology only for humans to realize too late that "To Serve Man" is the title of a cookbook.

David Bowie, 1972

But aliens really do want to serve man, and not on a platter, according to Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie created the persona of a glam rock star who acts as an earthly messenger for extraterrestrials for his concept album The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Bowie had already explored his fascination with outer space in tunes like "Space Oddity" and "Life On Mars?" but it came to a head with Ziggy Stardust, a character partly inspired by the British rocker Vince Taylor, whose downward spiral into drugs led him to believe he was an alien god.

Rocking an orange mullet and the latest alien couture, Ziggy himself is an egomaniac, a "leper messiah," but through "Starman," the album's lead single, he delivers a message of hope as humanity is on the brink of destruction:

There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
'Cause he knows it's all worthwhile

"Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman... this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the Earth," Bowie explained in a Rolling Stone interview. "Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real, because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world. And they tear him to pieces onstage during the song 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide.'"

Bowie was forced to retire Ziggy when the myth threatened to become reality. "I became convinced I was a messiah. Very scary. I woke up fairly quickly," he said.

You can take Bowie out of Mars, but you can't take Mars out of Bowie. In 1976, he starred as an extraterrestrial in search of water for his planet in The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Space-themed songs were on the rise in the '70s in the wake of the 1969 moon landing, with many artists pondering life on other planets. In the meantime, real-life UFOlogists reexamined the 1947 Roswell Incident to support initial claims that a spaceship crashed on a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico, and aliens were removed from the wreckage to be dissected by government scientists. The US Air Force later claimed that the UFO was really a surveillance balloon for the top secret Project Mogul and no little green men were harmed in the process.

The decade also saw Star Trek develop a cult following and the debut of sci-fi classics like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien. Meanwhile, everyone from Elton John ("I've Seen The Saucers") to Paul St. John ("Flying Saucers Have Landed") had their eyes on the skies. Even the Carpenters went intergalactic with "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft."
"Silver Lights"
Sammy Hagar, 1976

Silver lights, in my eyes
Silver lights, in my eyes

Future Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar already had the lyrics to "Space Station #5" written when he became Montrose's singer in 1973. Electrified by Ronnie Montrose's guitar riff, the tune became a popular fixture in the band's live sets. When Hagar embarked on a solo career, he wrote another space song, "Silver Lights," about riding a flying saucer to another planet. For Hagar, this one was autobiographical. Sort of. "[It] friggin' happened," he revealed to MTV Hive while promoting his memoir Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. "Aliens were plugged into me... Either a download or an upload. They were tapped into my brain and the knowledge was transferred back and forth. I could see them and everything while it was happening... Like an experiment: '[Let's] see what this guy knows.'"

Hagar was 18 at the time, but had an earlier encounter at age 4 when he witnessed a UFO flying low over the California foothills and promptly blacked out.

He's not the only one with silver lights in his eyes. Two years earlier, John Lennon reported seeing a flying saucer in the skies near his New York apartment. He noted in the liner notes of his Walls and Bridges album: "On the 23rd August 1974 at 9 o'clock I saw a U.F.O. - J.L."

"Take Me Away"
Blue Öyster Cult, 1983

Strange shapes light up the night
I've never seen 'em though I hope I might

Over 30 years after writing the lyrics to "Take Me Away," Blue Oyster Cult frontman Eric Bloom is still ready to leave the planet. "If the aliens come, I'm ready to leave," he told Songfacts in 2016. "If they're 'good guy' aliens."

That's a pretty big "if" by '80s standards.

On the one hand, maybe aliens aren't so bad. E.T. landed in 1982, followed by Jeff Bridges as Starman (unrelated to Bowie's song) a few years later. Both just wanted to go home and needed humans to help them do it. The alien in E.T. is so benign, his heartlight inspired a happy-hands hit from Neil Diamond.

Plus, any supernatural powers were used for good. E.T. allowed Elliott to soar through the sky on his bike and the Starman resurrected a dead deer. The real villains were the shadowy government agents intent on capturing the extraterrestrials and keeping a tight lid on alien activity, what would become the whole premise for The X-Files.

Years before Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones popularized the term when they starred as the Men In Black, Bloom used the phrase, which dates back to 1956, in "Take Me Away":
Don't ask if they are real
The men in black, their lips are sealed

Still earlier, Blue Oyster Cult's "E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)," an album cut from 1976's Agents of Fortune, did the same: "Three men in black said, 'Don't report this.'"

Human curiosity screws things up, anyway. Kurt Russell's team would've been fine if they hadn't gone digging around in the Arctic, unearthing The Thing. Ed Harris should've stayed out of The Abyss. So before Bloom goes all Richard Dreyfuss and boards a spacecraft bound for another universe, he might want to recall a few bad guy aliens, like the Killer Klowns from Outer Space or the slime-coated Aliens that terrorized Sigourney Weaver. Remember, in space, no one can hear you scream.

"Hangar 18"
Megadeth, 1990

Possibly I've seen to much
Hangar 18 I know too much

Located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, Hangar 18 is where the government allegedly brought the recovered alien aircraft after the Roswell Incident. Dave Mustaine was more interested in futuristic technology when he wrote the music for Megadeth's "Hangar 18," but the band's drummer, Nick Menza, was a big believer in aliens and wrote the paranoia-tinged lyrics about extraterrestrials and government cover-ups.

When Menza suggested that Jesus was actually an alien (see Chris de Burgh's "A Spaceman Came Traveling") who could levitate, the claim got him kicked out of the band. That didn't stop his alien exploits. In 2014, he filmed an alleged UFO sighting and uploaded it to YouTube. He also believed that human intelligence was a gift from extraterrestrials:

"Before, back in the Stone Ages, like when we were just regular humans, we didn't have brains in us and then the aliens came down and they intervened and they put brains in our heads and now we're all smart and we're starting to figure things out, ascending to the next level and a higher level of conscious awareness and that sort of stuff."

As for Mustaine, he said of the song: "'Hangar 18' is about military intelligence – two words combined that don't make sense. I can't understand why they're hiding stuff from us. It's our country, too. But see, they run it, and the more I get into politics, the less I become a musician."

"Subterranean Homesick Alien"
Radiohead, 1997

I wish that they'd swoop down in a country lane
Late at night when I'm driving
Take me on board their beautiful ship
Show me the world as I'd love to see it

Not everyone who sings about aliens believes in them. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke started writing "Subterranean Homesick Alien" (a riff on Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues") as a joke, recalling a school essay he wrote about an alien's experience on Earth. But the song, found on the 1997 album OK Computer, turned into a commentary about America's preoccupation with the supernatural.

"I was interested in the fact that there was a lot of misdirected spirituality placed toward the 'X-Files Syndrome,'" he explained in a 1998 interview, the year the paranormal drama spawned its first feature film. "Like at the end of the last century, everyone started seeing bleeding statues of Jesus on the cross and so on. Suddenly, everyone sees sightings, though some people claim we always see them. It's the angels-vs.-aliens thing, which is fascinating, but not really the issue."

1997 also saw the release of Men In Black, starring Will Smith a year after he fought aliens in Independence Day.

"Aliens Exist"
blink-182, 1999

I got an injection
Of fear from the abduction
My best friend thinks I'm just telling lies

At the time, blink-182 fans thought "Aliens Exist," an Enema of the State album cut, was just a goofy song about the band's mock belief in aliens. That may have been the case for Tom DeLonge's bandmates, but the singer has long been obsessed with UFO phenomena, which eventually caused him to pull away from the group.

I'm not like you guys
Twelve majestic lies

The closing lyrics refer to the Majestic 12, an alleged committee started by President Harry S. Truman in 1947 to quietly investigate alien spacecraft.

DeLonge explains: "The very last line of that song references this urban legend in UFO folklore called Majestic 12; these documents that got leaked in the '80s that described an entire organization of top-level scientists, military people and intelligence officials that manage the information of this phenomenon. I put the name in that song, and the irony now is that I'm dealing with people from the modern version of whatever that group is called. It's a big deal."

Similarly, former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl calls himself a UFO fanatic. Not only did he call his record label Roswell, after the famous 1947 incident in New Mexico, but he borrowed the name Foo Fighters from World War II aircraft pilots who used the term to describe various UFOs. Inspired by a dream about flying saucers, he wrote the song "Floaty" for the band's self-titled debut album in 1995.

"Rosetta Stoned"
Tool, 2006

In Tool's "Rosetta Stoned," named for the ancient Egyptian artifact that held the key to deciphering hieroglyphics, a patient suffering from a bad LSD trip details his long, strange journey into Area 51, where he meets an alien (a "blue-green Jackie Chan with Isabella Rossellini lips") who delivers a surprising message.

E.T. revealed to me his singular purpose.
He said, "You are the Chosen One, the One who will deliver the message. A message of hope for those who choose to hear it and a warning for those who do not."

Fans who heed the call of Tool have argued that the song is about those who don't, the listeners who don't really listen. Frontman Maynard James Keenan has often lamented the fact, saying the alternative band is "trying to push the envelope of consciousness, trying to get people to think for themselves, question authority, and they pretty much haven't."

Katy Perry, 2010

Katy Perry kissed an alien, and she liked it.

Wanna be a victim, ready for abduction
Boy, you're an alien, your touch so foreign
It's supernatural, extraterrestrial

The electronic hip-hop ballad from Perry's Teenage Dream album was a #1 hit, and the music video cast Perry as the alien drifting towards Earth, where she kisses a broken robot back to life. Fresh from "Walkin' On The Moon" with The Dream, Kanye West joins Perry in outer space with rap verses as a "big-headed astronaut" preoccupied with alien sex. The concept is more down-to-earth than it sounds.

"E.T. is a metaphor about finding someone who is just obviously not from this world because how could they love me like this?" Perry explains. "Even though it's a metaphor, I'm very interested in all things futuristic... I look out into the sky and to the stars and I feel there is so much out there."

"Space Invader"
Ace Frehley, 2014

Another alien messiah is on its way to save us from our doomed fate, and his name is Ace Frehley.

He comes to save us from light years away,
Our space invader knows we lost our way

Frehley transformed into the The Spaceman during his tenure as lead guitarist for KISS, but it wasn't just a gimmick for the glam rocker, who admits an obsession with both the scientific and supernatural realms of outer space. Peter Criss, the original drummer for KISS, remembers Frehley's audition. "He told us his name was Ace and he was from the Bronx but he really was an alien from a planet named Jandel."

Decades later, Frehley, who says he once spotted a UFO on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to New York, is still confident in his extraterrestrial genealogy. "I'm completely intrigued by the idea that maybe human beings were spawned from aliens," he tells MTV.

A shot of alien DNA can do wonders for your career. "Space Invader" is the title track to Frehley's space-themed solo album that landed at #9 on the Billboard 200, his highest-charting solo release to date. The citizens of Jandel are very proud.

August 30, 2016
More Song Writing

Comments: 14

  • Alain from Montréal There’s also « Flying Saucer » from « United Future Organization » featuring Dee-Dee Bridgewater, a no-nonsense jazzy fun song with a delirious scat by Ms. Bridgewater (I don’t freak with no birds).
  • Nebuchednezzar from Wisconsin UsaAll these songs from so many artists, but not one mention of Phish "Scent of a Mule".
  • Broooook from San FranciscoAstro Zombies and I turned into a martian by the Misfits are songs actually influenced by early syfi/horror movies
  • Dave from Central VirginiaYou left out a classic! Hypnotized by Fleetwood Mac. Bob Welch wrote it in 1973.It's the same kind of story
    That seems to come down from long ago
    Two friends having coffee together
    When something flies by their window
    It might be out on that lawn
    Which is wide, at least half of a playing field
    Because there's no explaining what your imagination
    Can make you see and feel
    Seems like a dream
    (They) got me hypnotized

    Now it's not a meaningless question
    To ask if they've been and gone
    I remember a talk about North
    Carolina and a strange, strange pond
    You see the sides were like glass
    In the thick of a forest without a road
    And if any man's ever made that land
    Then I think it would've showed

    Seems like a dream
    (They) got me hypnotized

  • Askyourmother from Atlanta Is that you, Mo-dean?
  • Bele Dorin from Tg. Trotus , RomaniaI like all the stuff above , special " The Flying Saucer " !
  • Meow from WashingtonCan't believe you'd taint this list by adding Katy Perry tbh
  • My Name Is from HereKinda forgot Styx come fly away " I thought they were angels but to my surprise we climb abort there starship and headed for the sky's
  • Karol from SládkovičovoWhat about Robbie Williams: Arizona?
    It has a great story!
  • Mark from Riwhere are CARPENTERS with their "calling all occupants of interplanetary earth" cover? there is even a video!!
  • John from Kensington, MdHi Amanda. Nice roundup of Alien Songs. I really enjoyed your article. Years ago I was the sound recordist on a Discovery documentary called UFO’s Down to Earth, which prompted me to create this compilation. So here are a few more songs on the topic for your consideration:
    Life Up In the Stars - Captain Sensible
    Arriving UFO - Yes
    Flying Saucer Attack - Rezillos
    Space Invader’s Manifesto - Phil n’ the Blanks
    Kissing Galaxy - Scruffy the Cat
    Space Baby - The Tubes
    They Came and Took Her - Scars
    Supersonic Rocket Ship - The Kinks
    Moorage Daydream - David Bowie
    Sirens of Titan - Al Stewart
    Space Invader - The Pretenders
    Watcher of the Skies - Genesis
    Corn Circles - The Waterboys
    Mr. Spaceman - The Byrds
    Here Come the Martian Martians - Jonathan Richman
    Space Junk - Devo
    A Fun Bunch of Guys From Outer Space - Sparks
    Nasty Little Green Men - Classic Nouveaux
    Earth Girls are Easy - Julie Brown
    Praying to the Aliens - Gary Numan
    Spacehead - The Primitives
    Lost in Space Theme - Apollo 440
    Moons of Jupiter - Scruffy the Cat
    Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft - Klaatu
    Adventure Rocket Ship - Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
    Lost in Space - Aimee Mann
    Silver Machine - Hawkwind
    Galaxies - Laura Veirs
    Space Age Love Song - Flock of Seagulls
    A Space Boy Dream - Belle & Sebastian
    Satellite of Love - U2 / Lou Reed
    Starman - Nena
    Outa’ Space - Billy Preston
    Lost in Space - Fountains of Wayne
    Space Truckin’ - Deep Purple
    Out in Space - Travis
    Where’s Captain Kirk? - Spizzenergy
    I’m the Urban Spaceman - Bonzo Dog Band
    Destination Venus - The Rezillos
    2000 Light Years From Home - Rolling Stones
    We are All Made of Stars - Moby

  • Bobby H from Austin, TxYou forgot Elton John's "I've Seen The Saucers" :)
  • Tony Redman from TexasHere's an outer space oddity from 1964 by (of all people) Jimmy Durante!
  • Wendy from WisconsinHey! Where's "Slime Creatures from Outer Space"? Or, for that matter, the "Purple People Eater"?
see more comments

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