"Walking on the Moon," "Bad Moon Rising," "Moonlight Shadow" ... Countless lunar-themed pop songs invoke a timeless musical motif. But for all the odes to love under moonlight, there's also a dark side.
When John Fogerty saw the 1941 horror/fantasy film The Devil and Daniel Webster with its tale of an apocalyptic hurricane, he was inspired to write the song that became one of Creedence Clearwater Revival's biggest hits. In the story, the survivors of the hurricane that nearly destroyed everything and everyone make a strange discovery — the only area left intact is a cornfield owned by the man who had previously sold his soul to the devil. "Bad Moon Rising" is about the evil moon that rises as a harbinger of great misfortune. As the chorus goes: "Don't go around tonight, well it's bound to take your life. There's a bad moon on the rise."
Pink Moon is the full moon at the beginning of spring — and for some, it does not bode well. Nick Drake's Pink Moon album from 1972 was his last: The 26-year-old troubadour died two years after the release. Drake suffered from depression. After recording Pink Moon, he moved in with his parents in the English countryside and withdrew from his music career. The brilliant but distant and ever aloof songwriter was eventually found dead in his bed, having overdosed on antidepressants. Nick Drake's music has inspired generations of musicians from Robert Smith of The Cure to Norah Jones. He recorded the album Pink Moon in just two days, mostly with just guitar and vocals. The title song "Pink Moon" includes a warning: "Pink moon is on its way. And none of you stand so tall. Pink moon gonna get ye all."
First off: It's not about astronauts. The R.E.M. song about the legendary comedian Andy Kaufman was the second single from their 1992 album Automatic for the People. It also became the title, and theme song, of director Milos Forman's 1999 film about the eccentric comic, who was played by Jim Carrey. The "Man on the Moon" lyrics describe Kaufman's bizarre antics in the 1970s and 80s when he impersonated Elvis and competed as a semi-professional wrestler. Invoking the conspiracy that Kaufmann, who died in 1984, faked his own death, it links this rumor with conspiracy theories surrounding Elvis' death and the veracity of the moon landing. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, rumor even had it that Donald Trump was actually Andy Kaufman in disguise.
Ten years after the first Moon landing, English reggae rock band The Police released one of their biggest hits. But the moon-themed ditty didn't have much to do with lunar-inspired love. "I was drunk in a hotel room in Munich, slumped on the bed," recalled band leader Sting about writing the song, "when this riff came into my head. I got up and started walking round the room, singing 'Walking round the room, ya, ya, walking round the room'. That was all. In the cool light of morning I remembered what had happened and I wrote the riff down. But 'Walking Round the Room' was a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid which was 'Walking on the Moon'." The song went on to become the band's second number one hit in the UK.
Cat Stevens, later known as Yusuf Islam, grew up in London's Westend, where it never really gets dark. "I'd never seen the moon, there were only street lights everywhere," he later recalled. But on a trip to Spain he did see the Moon clearly and decided to write a song about it. Explaining his inspiration for the song, he said, "Moonshadow? Funny, that was in Spain, I went there alone, completely alone, to get away from a few things. And I was dancing on the rocks there … the moon was bright, you know, and I started dancin' and singin', and I sang that song and it stayed. It's just the kind of moment that you want to find when you’re writin' songs."
"Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance, with the stars up above in your eyes, a fantabulous night to make romance." The title track to Van Morrison's Moondance album from 1970 saw the Northern Irish singer-songwriter combine jazz and pop influences to create an anthem of the era — and served to make the artist more commercially accessible. This was despite the fact that the single was not released until 1977. One of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, "Moondance" also featured on the Moon-themed soundtrack to the 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London.
An intergalactic electro-pop song written by Richard Anthony Hewson in 1985 and performed by his RAH Band for their album Mystery, the single reached the top ten in the UK. Set in the future when a century-year long war on Mars has sent clouds across the universe, the absurdist lyrics see a woman trying to make contact with her husband a million kilometers away on Mars before her call is ended via a bad "space communication" connection. "Now, when I look at the clouds across the moon," she sings, "here in the night I just hope and pray that soon. Oh baby, you'll hurry home to me."
Neil Young's sentimental love song from 1992 celebrates his relationship with then-wife Pegi Young. "But there's a full moon risin'," he sings, "let's go dancin' in the light." In the music video to the hit song that was performed by the same band from Young's acclaimed 1972 album, Harvest, the musician dances with his wife to the lyric: "Because I'm still in love with you, I want to see you dancing again. Because I'm still in love with you, on this Harvest Moon." The harvest moon has ancient cultural import, with farmers using the lunar event marking the spring equinox to take in their crops.
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters teamed up with award-winning jazz singer Norah Jones in 2005 on the silky bossa nova-inflected ballad set under the blue moon on a Virginia night: "Stay there, soft and blue. Virginia Moon, I'll wait for you tonight. Sweetest invitation, breaking the day in two. Feelin' like I do, Virginia Moon, I'll wait for you tonight," the duo sing before harmonizing on the verse: "And now our shades become shadows in your light." For the hard rocking Foo Fighters, it was a change of pace, with "Virginia Moon" part of a second disc of acoustic songs on their 2005 double album, In Your Honor.