By the time you likely read this, I’ll be in the air to Chicago, on my first flights since literally just before the pandemic fully bit hard.
/Subject /Flying, Flight
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /167/I Get Around /Tuesday Ten/Index
/Assistance /Suggestions/139 /Used Prior/16 /Unique Songs/115 /People Suggesting/57
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/53:28
So what better time than to celebrate flight in song. It’s an interesting subject, as it turns out, with endless metaphors for escape making up most of it.
Thanks, as ever, for everyone that offered a really strong list of suggestions.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/The Final Frontier
Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson open this week’s post, and how could they not? The band’s own Ed Force One (a converted Boeing 747) has gained an identity like few other band’s travelling methods, and in some respects it was an obvious decision, when your lead singer is a fully-trained commercial pilot in addition to fronting one of the biggest metal bands in the world (although he apparently has now ceased piloting the plane, seeing as he is older than the regulated commercial pilot age limit now).
This song, from their 2010 album The Final Frontier, sees Dickinson in a wistful frame of mind, as he describes the odd feeling of constant movement around the world when on tour, across borders, languages, cultures and time, and how it feels to get back home.
Incidentally, Dickinson has recorded a lot of songs about flight and planes (perhaps most notably the galloping, Battle of Britain set Aces High), and almost 10% of the suggestions this week were either his solo songs or Iron Maiden songs!
/Learn To Fly
/There Is Nothing Left to Lose
Probably one of Dave Grohl’s best-known songs, at least partly thanks to the hilarious video set on a flight (at least in part a homage to Airport ’77) that features Jack Black and Kyle Gass as criminals disguised as crew, while Dave Grohl plays at least five roles and his bandmates a few more, as they save a flight from a drugged crew. The song – which saw the Foo Fighters move to a more melodic, mainstream-friendly sound, perhaps (and paid off in spades, paving the way for them filling arenas in the decades since) – has Grohl pleading with a paramour to stick with him as they try to make a better life, broadly, and it’s a song delivered with such passion that it is hard not to get swept along.
/Approved by the Motors
To fly, of course, you need an airport, as a general rule. Some of those can be very small and even transient (such as Barra in the Outer Hebrides, where the runway is only usable at low tide, as it is on a beach!), and some can be enormous, city-sized conurbations, like Heathrow, which covers nearly five square miles and over 70,000 people work there. Often rather soulless places, frankly, The Motors’ one big hit lends some humanity to these locations, as somewhere someone might use as starting points for life-changing events (even if the other party, as in this song, is rather heartbroken by what’s going on).
That said, I want to get through security, get on my flight and get on with the journey. I hate all that waiting around.
/Ballad of Tindersticks
A band who, over their thirty year life, have seemed to live in an alternate universe to the rest of us – one of desire, regret, smoke-filled rooms and gentle, mellowed-out music – burst back into the real world with the epic Ballad of Tindersticks, where they offered their own opinions on the world of touring, one of expensive alcohol, tabs picked up by record labels and hangers on, and the world passing in a blur.
But the references to flying are the most fascinating here, as Stuart Staples reminisces about cheap, uncomfortable flights in their early days, before success suddenly sees them flying First Class in luxury. One day, I’ll be able to fly like that. In the meantime, I’m happy with Economy.
/Pop Will Eat Itself
/Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
/Cure for Sanity
I was a late starter flying – I had never been in a plane until my first year at Uni, when we flew to Alicante for a Geography fieldwork week (and, of course, a fair bit of drinking), and thus that might have had something to do with the fact that I’ve never been an especially keen flyer. I’m better than I was – in the years since, I’ve now flown to/from fourteen countries and three continents on multiple occasions, and I generally now see flying as a necessary chore to get to some places that I want to go, and longer flights are simply boring. That said, I do try and reduce my flying, and have no issue taking long train journeys where they are possible (for example, despite multiple visits to Belgium, I’ve never flown there, always using Eurostar).
Clint Mansell of the Poppies clearly had a different view (he’s credited as the writer of this one), as this song has his nerves and unhappiness about being a plane all the way through it, and the processed sounds backing him only add to the feeling, with processed guitars squealing and a twitchy beat pattern that never settles.
I’ve definitely got better, though – I would never have considered flying to Chicago with a stopover (in Dublin, as I’m doing today) in the past.
/Eight Miles High
Yes, I know the original is by The Byrds, and is seen as pretty much the first psychedelic rock song. But I rather like the fuzzy blast of the Hüsker Dü version (recorded – in one, raging take – as they were preparing to get Zen Arcade down on tape), as Bob Mould howls every part of his body into the song. Another song about – at least in part – the strangeness of travelling to unfamiliar places by plane, and the discombobulation of such change in a short time, especially on tour, but it was also inspired by drug use (something familiar to both The Byrds and Hüsker Dü, that’s for sure), despite being denied for rather obvious reasons in 1966…
(The other thing – planes usually fly between six and seven miles high, but apparently eight miles high worked better in the phrasing…)
/Bowling For Soup
/Fishin’ for Woos
Not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting an acoustic ballad from pop-punk purveyors Bowling For Soup in these song suggestions. A slightly mawkish, but clearly heartfelt, song about making it through the day and pushing on, it uses the metaphor of flight and dealing with turbulence, which makes sense.
That said, turbulence is one of my least favourite things about flying. I liken it to dealing with rollercoaster rides, which I don’t love at all either, and that really unpleasant feeling of leaving your stomach somewhere far above in the blink of an eye. I’ve had some pretty unpleasant flights in my time, I can tell you.
/Zeppelin – Extended version
/Zeppelin (Spacious Edition) EP
A very different way of flying – and thanks to a series of disasters, not to mention restrictions of the time, one that never saw the future that was potentially possible – was the rigid airship, the best known type being the Zeppelin. While used in war (particularly in bombing raids in the First World War), their eventual zenith in the 1930s saw absolutely enormous (well beyond 200m long) airships carrying some passengers in relative luxury across the Atlantic, at relatively leisurely speeds but still much, much faster than by ship.
The restrictions on selling inert helium to Nazi Germany meant that they developed these huge airships filled with hydrogen instead, which led to the Hindenburg disaster that pretty much stopped the technology in its tracks. Jet technology after the Second World War quickly resulted in faster planes, and Airships were no longer the future (not to mention their need for complex landing procedures, susceptibility to poor weather conditions, high staffing needs, as well as being very expensive for passengers). Development of airships continued, though, on a smaller scale, and the current hope seems to be the Airlander 10, being developed now in the UK.
As for Metroland’s song? This gentle, lighter than air piece feels like what it must be like to serenely travel through the air in an airship…
/The Postal Service
From, apparently, the second-biggest selling Sub Pop album of all (that, aside from Such Great Heights, passed me by entirely), is an unexpectedly electronic-based, slight song, that seems gossamer light, and once again is using elements of flying as a metaphor for something else. But that otherworldly feeling of seeing the world from on high, especially on a clear day, is something miraculous – I vividly remember one flight to Chicago that saw us flying down the track of the St. Lawrence River in Canada, and seeing much of the inhabited part of eastern Canada stretching away, and on another, as we crossed the mountains into Los Angeles, to suddenly get an idea of just how enormous the city was.
That said, the dry, cool air in a plane is something I never miss after I’ve got back onto terra firma. The first gulp of fresh air afterward is always something to savour.
We started with a 747, and we end with a song called 747 (and indeed is seven minutes and forty-seven seconds long) – the Swedish band Kent’s majestic epic that gained some unexpected traction outside of Sweden (and indeed an English version was recorded and released, but frankly stick with the Swedish version). A song about escape, the protagonist and another unnamed party make their move, and leave on a plane, with apparently tragic results.
The Boeing 747 changed the face of air travel, that’s for sure. Produced continuously over 54 years, it first flew with Pan-Am in 1970, and the last examples will be built this year (for cargo, with Atlas Air due to take the final example next month), and it became something of an icon of the skies, able to carry enormous numbers of passengers in one flight, and shouldering most of the transatlantic traffic in particular for many years.
Weirdly enough, I only ever flew on a 747 the once (on BA113 from Heathrow to JFK in New York, at the beginning of our honeymoon in 2016), and it was sadly a busy, cramped flight on an older 747 that was showing its age to say the least. My flights across the Atlantic this week will be on Airbus A330s, usually a rather more pleasant way to fly…