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New Wave Songs Once Enjoyed on Airplanes

31 August 2010 Stories and Appreciations 6,308 views 4 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

A Flock of Seagulls, “Space Age Love Song”

Whenever I hear this song by A Flock of Seagulls I’m reminded of two aspects of my teenage years: I remember the days when I still relished the idea of traveling by air, and I remember when I felt compelled to make mix tapes to underscore every single aspect of my life. I made a mix tape for driving Pacific Coast Highway between Dana Point and Corona del Mar; I made mix tapes for girls I liked, and twice as many for the girls who broke my heart; and I made a lot of mix tapes for flying, because that seemed romantic to me, too.

“Space Age Love Song” figured on most of those “music for flying” mixes because I thought this spacey, up-tempo rocker was the perfect song for take-off. I probably still would feel that way were I allowed to listen to it at a moment of my own choosing. Years ago, the major airlines didn’t give a flying freep if you played your electronic devices during take-off and landing, and I’d always have this Flock of Seagulls song cued up on my Walkman in anticipation of that thrilling moment just after the engines fired up and the plane began to roll.

Ultravox, “Reap the Wild Wind”

Once, during a layover at Dallas-Fort Worth, I stopped the cassette — needed to save the batteries; I’d burn through several in one trip — and tuned into local radio. This was the first song to emerge from the static, and it sounded like a gift from Juan Trippe himself. I added it to all my subsequent flying mixes, always immediately after “Space Age Love Song,” and to this day I can’t hear one song without thinking of the other. “Reap the Wild Wind” has nothing to say to the earthbound; it just keeps ascending and ascending into eternal blue sky. It is pure euphoria.

The Psychedelic Furs, “Heaven”

I always played this Psychedelic Furs song about ten minutes after takeoff because it had a way of bringing my heart rate down. It was the chorus that did it: “Heaven is the whole of a heart / and heaven don’t tear you apart.” My fellow passengers and I were in the tenuous grasp of the heavens, and I wanted the heavens to know that I was thinking as well of them as one possibly could. Go, heavens. Go.

INXS, “Don’t Change”

After the initial thrill of takeoff faded away, I’d feel a strange sort of disconnect. I would look out the window at the lands below — hills, deserts, oceans, small towns — and I would imagine that they were being generated solely for my own amusement. It was like being on some sort of World’s Fair ride, a flying simulator; the Earth below looked as phony to my eyes as a model train layout. Like “Reap the Wild Wind,” “Don’t Change” is forever airborne, and after a while I began to realize that the only time I truly love this INXS song is when I’m on a plane that has reached altitude. You have to go up to meet it.

The Stranglers, “All Roads Lead to Rome”

When I tired of looking out the window or the sun went down, I began to fantasize about lives I would never live. “All Roads Lead to Rome” was dark and mysterious and sexy and European, and while listening to it I could easily imagine myself a secret agent or international thief carrying a top-secret mix tape from New York to Paris. Everyone else in coach was there to stop me, but I’d thought my way out of tighter spots and I knew I’d deliver this mix to the CEO of Shimato Dominguez or whoever.

It was a lot easier to play spy on an airplane in the 1980s, because no one was looking for unusual behavior … and also, everyone smoked, so the air was thick with something like tension.

Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Dazzle”

By the time this Siouxsie song came on, I would have been flying for an hour or so. I needed the lush strings that open the song to remind me that what I was doing was an adventure. And I needed the breezy gallop of the verses to keep me engaged, because by that point I would start to get bored with the whole miracle-of-aerodynamics thing.

Men Without Hats, “Cocoricci (Les Tango des Voleurs)”

Nothing particularly fancy about this one. It’s simply a pretty song, and it usually lulled me to sleep. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to work anymore. I haven’t been able to fall asleep on an airplane in more than a decade.

Roxy Music, “Avalon”

When this song came up I’d swing back around to the spy/thief fantasy. In this version, the CEO had a willful daughter who looked like Claudia Cardinale but wore Diana Rigg’s “Avengers” outfits. We’d take her father’s money and high-tail it around the globe in a flurry of passion and larceny, always one step ahead of the gendarmes. Then an attendant would come by and ask if I wanted a soda and some honey-roasted peanuts, and I’d ask if I could have a soda and two packs of nuts. Larceny!

The Cure, “A Few Hours After This”

Like the Siouxsie song, “A Few Hours After This” has a grandiose string part — but where the former song is tethered to the moon, this one has roots that begin in the sky and reach into the ground. I’d usually play it a half-hour before landing, to slowly bring myself out of the reverie.

New Order, “Thieves Like Us (instrumental)”

As soon as I realized that we’d begun the final part of our descent, I’d cue up the instrumental of “Thieves Like Us” and glue my eyes to the window. The best landings were nighttime landings — watching the diffuse lights of a city become supermarkets, neighborhoods, baseball diamonds. For moment I was a giant jungle cat, bounding over city streets — but only for a moment. Well before the song ended we’d be on the ground and back at the gate, and I’d have to turn the tape off for the walk to baggage claim. No music is suitable for baggage claim.

Today I find that I’m just as content to fly without music on headphones, which is sadly ironic considering that my iPod Nano can hold pretty every mix tape I’ve ever made and has a battery that lasts eight hours. Flying quit being romantic or enjoyable for me long before 9/11, when I realized that the best coach seat is about equal to the worst seat on a city bus. But every once in a while, when the mood strikes, I’ll plug into Brian Eno or The Flashbulb or even “Thieves Like Us,” and suddenly I’ll remember that I’ve an urgent meeting with the CEO and his daughter.

Geoff Carter


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  1. I love so many of these. My go-to flying music was always Cocteau Twins’ “Victorialand” album.

  2. You really capture the best parts of flying in this (and making me look forward to my trip in a few weeks).

    I may have to make an 8tracks mixtape based on this article.

  3. @Less Lee: “Lazy Calm” found its way into some of my later flying mixes, usually bookended by Bel Canto’s “Mornixuur.” I could probably do another one of these columns featuring my favorite flying songs from the 1990s — 808 State’s “Pacific 707,” The Durutti Column’s “Otis,” Moby’s “Summer,” bunches of others. And that’s saying nothing of Bang on a Can’s cover of Eno’s “Music for Airports.”

    @Foxy: When you make that mix, send me a link!

  4. You have manage to stump 8 tracks with about half of these, tragically, but here’s the work in progress with a few place holders until I can get the correct songs, plus a few other things at the end…http://8tracks.com/biancajames/new-wave-songs-once-enjoyed-on-airplanes

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