In advance of the Feb. 10 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, music-loving aviators can recognize musicians with an aviation playlist that honors selections by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and others who embraced aviation as a means to engage their adoring throngs of listeners. Presley converted a Convair 880 passenger jet into an efficient concert touring machine, and “The Fab Four” crossed the Atlantic from the United Kingdom to sell out stadiums throughout the United States.
Early Morning Rain performed by Elvis Presley plays on a video screen adjacent to the Graceland exhibition of the late rock and roller’s two jets in Memphis, Tennessee. Although The King had his heart set on a Boeing 707 until the deal fell through, a Convair 880 and a Lockheed JetStar called to him instead. Presley’s version of Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad came to our attention during a pilgrimage to Presley’s home
Jet from 1974’s “Band on the Run” album by Paul McCartney and Wings thunders from McCartney's Rickenbacker bass while wife Linda bops along on keyboards during the Top 10 hit. According to The Beatles Bible, the bizarre lyrics refer to either a puppy, a pony, or Linda’s father, depending on Sir Paul’s recollections. The bottom line: It’s hard to ignore anything from a band named Wings.
Draggin’ by Roger McGuinn and offered by AOPA member Richard Factor pays homage to an aerial cross-country drag race in a Boeing 747. A jazzy sax solo augments McGuinn’s stellar guitar work on his first album after splitting from The Byrds as he sings, “Draggin’ draggin’ cross the U.S.A., draggin’, draggin’ from New York to L.A.” Acute listeners can pick out the sounds of skidding tires in the background.
Flying by The Beatles is one of the Fab Four’s few instrumental songs, released on "Magical Mystery Tour" during the summer of love in 1967. The liquid tune opens with McCartney’s thumping bass and bounces along with Ringo Starr’s simple drum rhythm. John Lennon and George Harrison float in with guitar fills, keyboards, and background humming in a compilation that listeners either love or loathe.
Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum is a 1970s ballad about death with religious overtones that AOPA member Dan Gibson says makes him feel “energized by the spirit in the sky, whatever that is, when I’m flying.” Greenbaum was a folk musician and he was Jewish, so the rock song with a fuzzy Fender Telecaster and a reference to Jesus was somewhat unusual. Greenbaum told the The New York Times that he penned the ballad after inspiration by gospel great and country musician Porter Wagoner.
Believe it or Not, the introduction to the TV show The Greatest American Hero, was composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, the kings of 1970s and 1980s TV theme music. They also wrote memorable intros for the A Team, CHiPS, Magnum P.I., and others. A high school teacher (played by William Katt) was presented with a red flight suit that gave him secret superhero flying powers that he applied to 1980s crime-stopping sprees. Melissa Whitehouse, AOPA eMedia production assistant and student pilot, said she was inspired by the song’s lyrics and catchy melody.
Sky Bo by Merle Haggard introduces a new word into pilots' aviation vocabulary. The country musician sang about a “sky-bo” and described a professional pilot as a “new kind of hobo for planes” who loses his “blues in the sky.” Slipstream Aviation chief mechanic Kyle Stewart, of Dallas, offered up the catchy tune.
Airwolf’s theme music by Sylvester Levay is a synthesizer-driven instrumental that rises in crescendo and dips into musical valleys, much like the TV show’s top-secret helicopter and crew who battled evil with a heavily armed Bell 222. The stealthy chopper steals the show with help from stunt pilots Peter McKernan and his son Peter McKernan Jr. The series starred veteran actor Ernest Borgnine, with Jean Bruce Scott, Alex Cord, and former heartthrob Jan-Michael Vincent. The Airwolf background music changed weekly depending on the plot, and a double CD compilation is available online.
Somewhere in the Sky by the Portland-based Christian band Kutless “sums up what we as pilots feel on a sunny morning,” said AOPA member Wayne Walker, who recommended the hard-driving rock tune.
Watching Airplanes by Gary Allan starts with the country musician parked near an airport under a colorful sunset as he thinks about his significant other. He laments that he’s “just sittin' out here watching airplanes, take off and fly, tryin’ to figure out which one you might be on.”
A Sky Full of Stars by British rockers Coldplay starts out soft and soars into the sky with a pleasing piano and a pounding bass that transforms the easy listening piece into a danceable song. The band is most known for headlining the Super Bowl 50 halftime show with Bruno Mars and Beyoncé.
Flying by Cody Fry begins as light as a cloud with peaceful piano work and a falsetto by the Nashville-based pop rocker who says it’s his favorite song on the album. The tune builds into an orchestra-driven performance with violins, French horns, and strings as he asks and then answers, “Where did my wings go?”
Back in the U.S.S.R. by The Beatles begins with jet noises as they recall how they “Flew in from Miami B.O.A.C” and “didn’t get to bed last night” because their Sic-Sacs were on their knees during an apparently “dreadful flight.” The surf-music inspired tune opens their White Album, and SongFacts.com reported that Mike Love of the Beach Boys helped inspire the lyrics and the bouncy composition.
The Aviators by Helen Jane Long is an instrumental that honors pioneering aviators as it builds into a crescendo, and it’s sometimes played to honor graduates during Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University commencement ceremonies. AOPA eMedia Production Assistant Elizabeth Linares says the song’s salute to British Airways was “one of the best commercials, ever.” The visuals of early propeller aircraft transitioning to wide-body jets and the composition’s contrasting lightness stir powerful emotions for the instrument-rated private pilot that cause her to “still tear up watching it.”
That’s Alright Mama by the Australian hard rock band Jet is a tribute to The King of rock and roll Elvis Presley, who released it as his debut single in 1954. The performance by brothers Nic and Chris Cester with a driving distorted guitar, shouted lyrics, and speedy pace adds a hard edge to a pop classic. The lyrics aren’t about aviation, but with a band named Jet, we couldn’t resist including the song on this year’s aviation playlist.
Add these selections to your aviation playlist and enjoy the feeling of flight through music even if you aren’t in the air.