Sleeping Satellite

Album: Great Expectations (1992)
Charted: 1 32
Play Video


  • This evocative song sounds like it could be about a broken relationship, but its meaning is much more literal. The "sleeping satellite" is the Moon, and the song is about how humans stopped going there in 1972 after the novelty wore off. Archer sings:

    Did we fly to the Moon too soon?
    Did we squander the chance
    In the rush of the race

    Once the "space race" was won by the United States, which landed a man on the moon in 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission, interest in lunar exploration waned - for many it was more about competition than discovery. Archer asks:

    Have we lost what it takes to advance?
    Have we peaked too soon?
    If the world is so green
    then why does it scream under a blue moon?

    This brings up the question of how we treat the planet we live on. Global warming wasn't much of a concern in 1992, but environmentalists warned that we would face consequences if we kept polluting the planet. Also, any thoughts of colonizing the Moon were long forgotten, leaving us all stuck on Earth but at the same time, willing to destroy it. Few were thinking about these things at the time, which is one reason the meaning of the song remained latent, but decades later the message proved prescient, as there were still no more manned moon landings and the threat of climate change proved very real.
  • Some of the references in the lyrics:

    "The Eagle's flight" - The Eagle was the name of the lunar module carried on Apollo 11 that touched down on the Moon.

    "Are the Seas still dry?" - The Sea of Tranquillity is where The Eagle landed.
  • Archer is an English singer of West Indian descent. She wrote "Sleeping Satellite" in 1988 with John Beck (who also co-wrote "Put Your Records On" by Corinne Bailey Rae) and John Hughes, whom she met while working at Flexible Response Studios in Bradford, England. They became members of her band and her writing partners - every song on her first album is a collaboration amongst the trio. At first, they called themselves The Archers, but they got a better response from record labels when presented as a solo act.

    EMI signed her in 1990, but it took about a year to record the album - the first producer didn't work out. Another year went by with the label sending Archer on the road to get in sync with her 6-piece band. During this time, EMI developed a marketing plan for Archer, sending her on industry showcases and buying radio ads to promote "Sleeping Satellite," her first single. The plan worked: When the song was released, it went to #1 in the UK and Archer earned lots of positive press. She was not keen on celebrity though, and recoiled from the media blitz surrounding her, admitting in interviews that she wanted it to stop.

    Archer didn't release more material until 1994, when she put out an EP called Shipbuilding with no original songs, just four Elvis Costello covers and a few live or alternate versions of songs from her first album. Her next album, Bloom (1996), was filled with original songs but failed to chart. She and EMI parted ways and Archer took a few years off from music. She appears from time to time with new material, but keeps a low profile.
  • In America, this song managed just a lowly chart placement of #32, but the song had a long life, playing as a recurrent for years on many radio stations after it was released.
  • Thanks to this song, Archer won Best British Newcomer at the BRIT awards in 1993.
  • The album title, Great Expectations, was Archer's idea. It comes from the book by Charles Dickens about a boy who comes into money and lets it go to his head. It's a reminder to Archer to stay grounded.
  • Archer is in the contacts list for someone at the European Space Agency (ESA). From time to time, she sings "Sleeping Satellite" to astronauts on missions for the agency.

Comments: 5

  • Rich from Rhode Island UsaLove this song and whole "Great expectations" Album
  • Tezzerii from EnglandIt wasn't just a loss of interest in the space program. Lots of people were protesting the amount of money spent on space exploration, while people were starving in many parts of the world. Public opinion turned against the space program. Politicians cut NASA's funding to appease the voters. That's why it died.
  • Dave Walker from Philadelphia, PaI play it as part of my Walk-In Music list at our local Planetarium.
  • Simon from MaputoWho was the bass player? Can't find it listed anywhere, but the bass really drives the song!
  • Daztoot45 from North Wales United KingdomI've always said that the song was about the Apollo moon landings. I knew it!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Brian Kehew: The Man Behind The Remasters

Brian Kehew: The Man Behind The RemastersSong Writing

Brian has unearthed outtakes by Fleetwood Mac, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello and hundreds of other artists for reissues. Here's how he does it.

Wolfgang Van Halen

Wolfgang Van HalenSongwriter Interviews

Wolfgang Van Halen breaks down the songs on his debut album, Mammoth WVH, and names the definitive Van Halen songs from the Sammy and Dave eras.

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith

Steven Tyler of AerosmithSongwriter Interviews

Tyler talks about his true love: songwriting. How he identifies the beauty in a melody and turns sorrow into art.

Grammar In Lyrics

Grammar In LyricsMusic Quiz

Lyrics don't always follow the rules of grammar. Can you spot the ones that don't?

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New York

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New YorkSong Writing

Our chat with Barney Hoskyns, who covers the wild years of Woodstock - the town, not the festival - in his book Small Town Talk.

Graham Nash

Graham NashSongwriter Interviews

Graham Nash tells the stories behind some of his famous songs and photos, and is asked about "yacht rock" for the first time.