It’s been a rough year for science in 2012. Christopher Monckton got far too much press for his wacky climate sceptic nonsense, when we really should have been freaking the hell out; the anti-vaccine movement gained momentum, proving that we might be able to eradicate smallpox, but there will always be stupidity; and Queensland announced it was considering removing flouride from their water supply. Sure, there was the marvel of the Mars Curiosity launch and a few other bits and pieces that were pretty good, but all in all, 2012 gave one of the most important sectors of our society and industry a bit of a beating.
In an attempt to soothe the wounds, I’ve tracked down ten tunes influenced by the scientific wonders of our universe, a musical salve for all those fantastic ladies and gents out there doing their best to make the universe a little bit better and a little less stupid. Some of them are a bit ridiculous, some of them are incredibly educational, and some reflect on the greater impact that science has had on us as a society and as individuals, but all of them have a special place in their hearts for the knowledge discovered by those amazing people in white coats.
1. Atom – Ani DiFranco
I confess, I am currently obsessed with Red Letter Year, the album this song comes from. I am also willing to confess that this was the song that led to me making this list in the first place. It’s almost a hymn for atheists, choosing to emphasise the power of science and the little bits of matter that make up the universe around us. It is caring and awe-inspiring in its rich, layered sound; yet it remains true to the earthy nature through its lyrical reflection on the connection between humanity and the environment exists in. As someone who identifies as a person of no faith, I find this song a gorgeous take on the spiritual side of scientific knowledge.
2. Strange Charm – Hank Green
I’ve been a fan of the Vlogbrothers for a significant amount of time (go on, click that link, and thank me later), but I have to say that Hank’s songs have never really sold me, hence this one flew straight by me. Thankfully, my magnificent friend Alex (who co-incidentally wrote a marvellous piece about the personal side of the global warming problem) pointed me in the right direction, bringing me to this highly educational take on the breakdown of matter. As someone who is generally bewildered by this sort of scientific intricacy, this song is completely confusing, but incredibly enthusing! Excuse me while I go and Google ALL OF THE THINGS.
3. Doctor Oz – Amanda Palmer
This isn’t a song about labs and chemicals or astronomy and the universe, but hey! Medicine is an important science! Sure, Palmer may not be reflecting on the merits of penicillin or running us through a list of symptoms, but this tune could easily be read to be an analysis of the power and mystique of the medical profession. I know that’s what I thought, anyway.
4. The Periodic Table – Oort Kuiper
This is one I stumbled across by accident while looking for another tune which is a little further down on the list, and was immediately taken by its bad-ass take on the Table of Elements. The beats and backing track leave a bit to be desired, but it does give some pretty cool extra details to put to the names, as well as explaining the positions of the elements on the chart. It’s a little bit Dizzee Rascal, a little bit Doctor Karl. I just can’t help digging it!
5. Medication – Bluejuice
Again, we wander down the path to medicine, this time looking more towards addiction and adverse reactions. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but the music is manic yet sinister, giving us cause to wonder whether the medication in question is the cure or the cause of these symptoms. Once again, Bluejuice deliver a song that seems really simple on the surface, but is actually open to a little more analysis than one might have anticipated.
6. No Longer There – The Cat Empire
The Cat Empire aren’t particularly known for their ballads, but this is easily one of their best. Taken from their So Many Nights album, it’s a sombre reflection on the effects of global warming on future generations. Lead vocalist Felix Reibl asks the listener what they intend to leave to their children and grandchildren once they’re gone, indicating that current actions will likely lead to it being an unattractive inheritance.
7. This Bastard Disease – Clare Bowditch and The Feeding Set
This song was written while Bowditch’s father was undergoing treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and is one I briefly mentioned in my Moving On playlist a few weeks ago. It plays on a mixture of feelings: the faith we put in medicine to heal those we love, the betrayal felt when it doesn’t succeed, and how helpless we feel when we realise that without the right knowledge, there is nothing we can do but hope and pray and put our trust in those who do have the required skills.
It’s a hard truth to have to acknowledge at times, but science can’t always fix all of our problems. Those who work in fields like medicine and physics and chemistry and all the other fields can only do their best with what they have at that point in time, but they need us to keep faith in their work in order to do their jobs to the best of their ability. We need to allow them the space they need to make the technology that might not be around today to save a loved one, but might be around tomorrow to save another.
8. State of the Art – Gotye
While it’s easy to romanticise science as a field that deals solely with big questions and discoveries, the more regularly utilised, smaller achievements should also be celebrated, such as those innovations that have brought us the world of entertainment options we enjoy today.
In this tune, Gotye does just that, telling the story of a family entranced by their brand new Cotillion organ. (Okay, yes. You might want the lyrics for this one.) It’s a beautiful piece of nostalgia that is still incredibly relevant in the Apple era, where the latest technology is still prized incredibly highly, and drives a significant amount of our social interaction.
Also, I had to include this song, because it gives me an excuse to link to this amazing picture of Wally De Backer and Adelaide’s King of Organs, Mr Barry Morgan, who recently made a significant sale to the Grammy-nominated musician. (Again, click the link. If you haven’t discovered Barry Morgan yet, you are in for a real treat.)
9. The Elements – Tom Lehrer
Okay, this was the song I was looking for when I found #4, but that’s irrelevant now, because I found it and it is amazing and impressive and WOW. Tom Lehrer used to be scientist, so you know that he knows his stuff, but listen to this damn song! The piano work is brilliant and how the hell can anyone remember all those words and say them so fast? The mind boggles, really it does.
Oh, and for extra points? Singing this song is Daniel Radcliffe’s party trick. Be still my beating heart!
10. Robots – Flight of the Conchords
What would a list of science songs be without at least one about a robot uprising? I don’t care what you say. I had an excuse to put a Flight of the Conchords song in, so I took it. Put it this way: when the machines do eventually take over the earth, I want them to know I was on their side all along.
What science based tunes are you putting on your iPod for the android apocalypse? Do you have a favourite science story of the last 12 months? Let us know via the oh-so-tech-savvy channels of Facebook and Twitter, or in the comments below!