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Over the years, there have been many sci-fi themed hit songs, such as Mr. Roboto and The Final Countdown. Which was the first?

I would define "hit" as appearing on the Billboard Hot 100, or other countries' equivalents.

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They’re certainly not the first, but I like I Told Her On Alderaan and Space Tech Banana Clip. – Paul D. Waite Feb 20 at 15:15
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@T.E.D. "We're heading for Venus (Venus) And still we stand tall 'Cause maybe they've seen us (seen us) And welcome us all, yeah. With so many light years to go And things to be found (to be found) I'm sure that we'll all miss her so." – Rogue Jedi Feb 22 at 2:58
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@RogueJedi - You're right. I always ignored that part because it made no sense to me, but its most definitely there. Deleting previous comment. – T.E.D. Feb 22 at 19:08
    
I was looking at how we could implement first-appearance. More than half of the history-of questions would be candidates for first-appearance, so it might be easier to rename history-of to first-appearance and then add history-of back in on the questions where first-appearance doesn't apply. It would still be a lot of retagging though. In other words, I sort of like the idea of first-appearance, but adding it one-by-one instead of renaming history-of might be too much work. – armadillo May 12 at 19:21
up vote 45 down vote accepted

Billy Murray - Come Take a Trip in my Airship (1905)

The Billboard 100 didn't exist at the time of its release, but from the small amount of information I can find online, I understand that this was a popular phonograph recording. Certainly Billy Murray was a very popular artist at that time, but I don't have hard information on whether was one of his greatest hits. It is, however, listed as a hit in this almanac of early 20th century hits. (Google books link).

The song itself pre-dates Murray's recording and is obviously originally written for a female singer. The airship in the title takes a tour around the Solar system and the Milky Way, making it very clearly influenced by the science fiction of the time.

I love a sailor, the sailor loves me
And sails every night to my home
He's not a sailor that sails on the sea
Or over the wild briny foam
For he owns an airship and sails upon high
He's just like a bird on the wing
And when the shadows of evening draw nigh
He'll sail to my window and sing

Come take a trip in my airship
Come take a sail among the stars
Come have a ride around Venus
Come have a spin around Mars
No one to watch while we're kissing
No one to see while we spoon
Come take a trip in my airship
And we'll visit the man in the moon

One night while sailing away from the crowd
We passed through the Milky-white Way
Just idly sailing and watching the clouds
He asked me if I'd name the day
And right near the Dipper, I gave him my heart
The sun shines on our honeymoon
We swore from each other we never would part
And teach all the babies this tune

Come take a trip in my airship
Come take a sail among the stars
Come have a ride around Venus
Come have a spin around Mars
No one to watch while we're kissing
No one to see while we spoon
Come take a trip in my airship
And we'll visit the man in the moon

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Great find! +1. – Wad Cheber Feb 20 at 4:32

TL;DR: I can think of two early Science Fiction songs - one made the Hot 100 charts; the other predates the Hot 100 charts, but was recorded by one of the most successful musicians of the early 20th century. Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley, and Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer by Ella Fitzgerald.


Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley

This one definitely meets all your criteria.

No. 1 in the Billboard pop charts in 1958 from June 9 to July 14, and reached no. 12 overall.

You're not going to find an earlier sci-fi song that made the Billboard Hot 100 charts, because this song was released the same year that the Billboard Hot 100 charts began.1

The song is about a man-eating alien who comes to earth to join a rock band.

Well I saw the thing comin' out of the sky
It had the one long horn, one big eye
I commenced to shakin' and I said "ooh-eee"
It looks like a purple eater to me

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (One eye?)

Well he came down to earth and he lit in a tree
I said Mr. Purple People Eater, don't eat me
I heard him say in a voice so gruff
"I wouldn't eat you cuz you're so tough"

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
One-eyed, one-horned flyin' purple people eater
One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (One horn?)

I said Mr. Purple People Eater, what's your line
He said "It's eatin' purple people and it sure is fine
But that's not the reason that I came to land
I wanna get a job in a rock and roll band"

Well bless my soul, rock and roll, flyin' purple people eater
Pigeon-toed, undergrowed, flyin' purple people eater
(We wear short shorts)
Flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me

And then he swung from the tree and he lit on the ground
He started to rock, really rockin' around
It was a crazy ditty with a swingin' tune
Sing "a boop boop aboopa lopa lum bam boom"

Well bless my soul, rock and roll, flyin' purple people eater
Pigeon-toed, undergrowed, flyin' purple people eater
(I like short shorts)
Flyin' little people eater
Sure looks strange to me (Purple People?)

And then he went on his way, and then what do ya know
I saw him last night on a TV show
He was blowing it out, a'really knockin' em dead
Playin' rock and roll music through the horn in his head


Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer by Ella Fitzgerald

Released in 1951, this single didn't hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts because the Billboard Hot 100 charts weren't invented until 1958. However, Fitzgerald had been one of the most popular musicians in the world for decades by the time she released this song, so it is worth mentioning.

The song is about two aliens who visit earth, decide humans are psychotic morons, and quickly leave.

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

They took a look at a Western movie,
somebody heard them say
If a horse can be a star,
think how dumb the people are
We’d better fly away

Then they shook their little green antennas,
scratched their purple hair
Said this planet is an awful menace,
let’s go back to where
we came from

Two little men in a flying saucer
just didn’t care to stay
Said it’s too peculiar here,
headed for the stratosphere
and quickly flew away

Now they took a left in Ebbet's Field in Brooklyn
when the Dodgers played a baseball game
Heard all the screaming,
said we must be dreaming
‘cause this planet is insane

During intermission,
heard a politician
making speeches as they traveled by
But they departed
faster than they started
‘cause the holler blew them sky high

Two little men in a flying saucer
flew down to Earth one day
Listened to a radio,
saw a television show
and said let’s fly away

They got their fill of commercial jingles
and they were heard to say
All the people seem to be living in a nursery
we’d better fly away

Traveled all around and once they’d seen us
said let’s head for space
We were better off on Mars and Venus,
goodness what a place to live in

Two little men in a flying saucer
just didn’t care to stay
Crossed a crowded thoroughfare,
saw the hats the women wear
and quickly flew away
And quickly flew away


Honorable mention:

Thirteen Women (and Only One Man In Town), Bill Haley and His Comets - 1952/19552

Mr. Spaceman, The Byrds - 1966

In the Year 2525, Zager and Evans - 1969

A Space Oddity, David Bowie - 1969

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (album), David Bowie - 1972

It Came Out of the Sky, Creedence Clearwater Revival - 1969

2000 Light Years From Home, The Rolling Stones - 1967

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell - 1970

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan - 1963


1Prior to 1958, Billboard had charts of popular songs (beginning in 1941), but they were limited to the bestselling song of each week; because songs tended to be bestsellers for many weeks, the charts for a year might include as few as 3 songs.

I looked through the bestsellers lists from 1941 to 1957, and there are no songs that clearly fit the sci-fi criteria. The ones that come closest are as follows:

The Gypsy, The Ink Spots - 1946

(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend, Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra - 1949

Swinging on a Star, Perry Como - 1944

Mr. Sandman, The Chordettes - 1954

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Gene Autry - 1950

2B-Side to the hit Rock Around the Clock; credit to user14111 for the suggestion. The single Rock Around the Clock/Thirteen Women was released in 1952 with the latter track as the A-Side; it didn't do very well. When the song Rock Around the Clock was used in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, the single was re-released with Thirteen Women as the B-Side, and topped the charts.

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@user14111 - He specified the Hot 100. I didn't. I've edited to clarify that I am talking about the Hot 100, since that's what he asked for. – Wad Cheber Feb 20 at 2:02
    
I guess you can debate about whether Phil Harris's 1950 hit "The Thing" is "sci-fi themed" or not, but it deserves at least an Honorable Mention. – user14111 Feb 20 at 2:08
    
@user14111 - Added. Thanks. – Wad Cheber Feb 20 at 2:24
    
Martian Hop, The Ran-Dells - 1963, reached #16 on the BBH100. – user14111 Feb 20 at 3:46
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Well, I guess that explains why it's so difficult to find any purple people these days... – Baard Kopperud Feb 20 at 13:23

This may (also) be a controversial answer. It's hard for me to address the popularity of this song in the context of a country, such as the United States, because it's not meant for that demographic.

This song is a Latter-day Saint hymn, first published in 1842. Among the LDS, the song is incredibly well know. I'm sure the 6 million+ LDS living in the US alone have all heard the song, or will here this song, many times in their life. That's a population greater than all but the top 110 or so countries, and that's without including international LDS members. There are also over 9000 (yes, seriously!) covers of this song on YouTube (and that's after removing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

The song is titled If You Could Hie to Kolob. While it is a religious piece, it has some very science-fiction-like elements when pondering the universe:

  1. If you could hie to Kolob
    In the twinkling of an eye,
    And then continue onward
    With that same speed to fly,
    Do you think that you could ever,
    Through all eternity,
    Find out the generation
    Where Gods began to be?
  2. Or see the grand beginning,
    Where space did not extend?
    Or view the last creation,
    Where Gods and matter end?
    Methinks the Spirit whispers,
    "No man has found 'pure space,'
    Nor seen the outside curtains,
    Where nothing has a place."
  3. The works of God continue,
    And worlds and lives abound;
    Improvement and progression
    Have one eternal round.
    There is no end to matter;
    There is no end to space;
    There is no end to spirit;
    There is no end to race.

It has lyrics about being instantly transported to a distant planet named Kolob. Note that Kolob is the inspiration for Kobol in Battlestar Galactica.

Then, the lyrics are about flying through space, throughout eternity, to see the beginning and end of the universe. It also addresses a continuum of space and time.

Disclaimer: I don't mean to offend anyone by suggesting this religious piece, as I'm not calling the religion fiction. Just as Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson have used their Sci-Fi and Fantasy to do so in their novels, I've always found these lyrics to be very Sci-Fi, as a way to ponder the ways and mysteries of the their god.

I would like to point out that I suggested this in appreciation of a song I've always enjoyed.

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@amaretto Teleporting and flying through space aren't a stretch, to me. – CreationEdge Feb 20 at 4:46
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By the standards I asked for, this doesn't qualify as a "hit" song. – Rogue Jedi Feb 20 at 5:25
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@RogueJedi There's no "Billboard" for this, so I used the best equivalent I could find - known popularity, YouTube views and covers, what have you. – CreationEdge Feb 20 at 5:42
    
The commentary on this post has become an extended religious debate, so I've moved the comments to chat - please continue the discussion there. I left intact the comments that bear most directly on the post; please ping me if you think I've deleted anything I shouldn't, and I can undelete. – Rand al'Thor Feb 20 at 15:40
    
@randal'thor Usually it gives me that option but not this time! Although personally I'd remove all but Rogue's comment. – CreationEdge Feb 20 at 15:47

Allow me to be a little loose with the definition of "sci-fi" and I'll give you Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, first premiering in 1934.

It became an instant hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music and more than 30,000 records sold within 24 hours.

While it was a bit too early in pop music history to have accurate numbers on popularity, at least one cover of the song, by The Four Seasons, made it to #23 on the Billboard charts.

This answer, of course, depends on whether or not you consider Santa Claus to by supernatural sci-fi, or supernatural fantasy. But the lyrics "sees you when you're sleeping" and "knows when you're awake" seem like clairvoyant powers, to me!


If you like Santa Claus songs, there's also "Up on the Housetop" by Benjamin Hanby, written in 1864. The song is one of the oldest about Santa Claus. It's been popular and famous since its inception, and some of the covers have been incredibly famous. Kimberly Locke's 2005 version:

broke a Billboard record when it made the largest leap into the Top 5 in the AC chart's history, moving from 32 to 5 in only a week. It was also the second longest Billboard holiday AC chart topper in the chart's history, sitting at #1 for 4 consecutive weeks.

The notable sci-fi element in this song is the reference to the flying reindeer with "Up on the house top reindeers paused," aside from the modern Santa Claus reference in general.

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