by Jeremy Allen: Unidentified flying objects have been streaking across the sky since time immemorial…
Carl Jung’s 1958 book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen In The Sky notes vivid descriptions recorded in newspapers from the 15th Century, while helicopter-like images appeared in Egyptian hieroglyphics from 5,000 years ago.
As our post-war obsessions with the space race and science fiction grew, so too did sightings of UFOs. Pop music has always reflected the world around it, so naturally these ‘living myths’, as Jung called them, began to make it into song, from the Ella Fitzgerald hit Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer from 1951, through to Katy Perry‘s E.T. featuring Kanye West in 2010, via the Carpenters‘ bonkers Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft and more left-field noise from Link Wray, Pixies, David Bowie and countless prog bands.
People see fewer UFOs these days for all sorts of cultural reasons and, as sightings have decreased, so too has their ubiquity in song. UFOs, like rock ‘n’ roll, are becoming an anachronism, though the following musicians might beg to differ…
Black Francis (Pixies)
There was a flying saucer floating above the house for half an hour and everyone just stood there and watched it
Arguably no other musician has done more for extraterrestrial awareness than Black Francis, whose oeuvre is permeated with songs about silver, cigar-shaped saucers – from Pixies‘ 1990 album Bossanova to The Cult of Ray, his 1996 solo album as Frank Black. “We’ve tried to elevate the sci-fi thing, make it more opera-ish, more of a serious rock thing,” Francis told Sounds when Bossanova was released. “We want UFOs to be an acceptable topic. They’re romantic.”
His obsession stemmed from a UFO sighting in 1965 (the year he was born) witnessed by his mother and several cousins. In Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies, compiled by Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz, he said: “I think there’s a small percentage of people who have seen them, and I’m one of them.”
Regarding the incident, he added: “There was a flying saucer floating above the house for half an hour and everyone just stood there and watched it… it was just hovering. Then the state police came and chased it but they couldn’t catch up with it. My mother’s weird but she’s not that weird. She’s got no reason to make this stuff up.”
The King had a thing for UFOs. According to Larry Geller, Elvis‘s multitasking spiritual advisor and hairstylist, Presley shared telepathic visions with aliens when he was eight years old, including one featuring a future Elvis in a white jumpsuit (the singer apparently didn’t know what the images meant at the time).
Geller said the pair had also seen bright objects in the sky while out driving in the desert, and then hovering above Graceland at a later date. An unidentified flying object was also allegedly seen hovering in the sky by Vernon Presley when his son was being born. Geller said: “His father told us he’d gone out to have a cigarette at 2am during the delivery, and when he looked up into the skies above their little shack, he saw the strangest blue light. He knew right then and there that something special was happening.”
After his death, UFO-spotting and Elvis-spotting became somewhat synonymous with certain sections of the press.
Reg Presley (The Troggs)
Another Presley (no relation) obsessed with UFOs (and corn circles) was Reg Presley, singer of The Troggs, whose hits included Wild Thing, With a Girl Like You and Love Is All Around. The latter ballad, which he said he wrote in 10 minutes flat, went to No.1 for 15 weeks when covered in 1994 by Wet Wet Wet for the soundtrack of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
In an interview with the Independent in 1994, he promised to invest his royalties into researching messages spaceships were trying to leave in cornfields, as well as funding travel to UFO hot spots around the world and helicopter surveillance. For a while, Reg had his own TV show on local cable television, The Reg Presley UFO Show, and he even wrote a book in 2002, Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us.
An electrical storm started and these two big massive balls of light started dancing in the sky
Undoubtedly the most famous alien fanatic in the pop world of recent years is Robbie Williams, former singer with Take That. Possibly smarting from the reviews and sales of his 2006 album Rudebox, he decided to take a sabbatical which turned into three years off, much of it spent chasing UFOs.
In 2008, as reported by the Mirror, Robbie told singer Joss Stone in an interview that he was planning on giving up being a pop star to become a full-time ufologist. He shared a number of experiences with her, including the “weirdest one yet”, while he was playing his own song, Arizona, about alien contact.
“I stood on the balcony and there was this big ball of gold light that turned up,” he told the singer. “We thought it was Venus or Mars or something. Then the song stops playing and it disappears. But then we put Arizona on again and the ball turned back up. It happened four times. After that a massive electrical storm started and these two big massive balls of light started dancing in the sky. It was like a whole light show for about an hour.”
In 2008, he also popped up with a bushy beard in a Guardian article written by Jon Ronson. Williams implored the writer to accompany him to a convention in the Nevada desert to listen to testimonies of supposed abductees. At one point Robbie likened megastardom to an extraterrestrial intervention: “I think joining Take That was like leaving on a spaceship, and coming back and all your friends going, ‘He’s weird now.'”
Tom DeLonge (Blink-182)
“Aliens exist!” Blink-182‘s Tom DeLonge told Kerrang! in 1999, “they’re in your butt.” And although the interviewer clearly assumed the singer/guitarist was kidding, it turns out his interest in UFOs is no laughing matter. DeLonge has gone on record to say he met aliens near United States Air Force facility Area 51 in Nevada – according to the Independent – and has suggested authorities are looking for him because he’s getting too close to the truth.
He even eschewed the day job with the pop-punk pioneers in 2015 when his extracurricular extraterrestrial interests conflicted with his musical ones (DeLonge has become a full-time ufologist). Blink-182 released a statement complaining: “A week before we were scheduled to go into the studio we got an email from his manager explaining that he didn’t want to participate in any Blink-182 projects indefinitely, but would rather work on his other non-musical endeavours.”
Other non-musical endeavours include an extensive bibliography. His most recent book, Sekret Machines: Gods, Man & War, written with ufologist Peter Levenda, apparently “plays the role of an intellectual Indiana Jones, expertly guiding readers through crumbling, vine-laden Mayan temples; the stunning iconography of ancient Egypt and the esoteric creation myths of antediluvian India, Africa and China”. It’s all a far cry from Enema of the State.
I remember waking up and being shocked by all this electricity
Chicago-born rapper Lupe Fiasco admitted to having an “extra-worldly experience” with aliens as an 11-year-old, which he claims left a scar on his ankle. “I’ve never had surgery; I don’t know where it came from,” he told Power 106 FM in Los Angeles in 2012, as reported by HipHopDX. The Superstar hit-maker, real name Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, recounted the encounter at his home in Illinois, where he said he had to sleep top-to-toe with his cousin given that the family was so poor. “I remember waking up and being shocked by all this electricity,” he said. “I was trying to call and wake my cousin up and I couldn’t move. And then I saw all this blue light dancing around… really weird, right?!”
I went up at terrific speed to another dimension, another planet
Anyone who’s listened to the wild music of Birmingham, Alabama avant-jazz afrofuturist Sun Ra – or the Sun Ra Arkestra who’ve been performing his music since he died in 1993 – will probably not be surprised by the UFO connection. What may surprise some, though, is that, while many of his players indulged, Sun Ra was clean-living.
Sun Ra often recounted his “space experiences” with journalists. In 1992 he related a ranty jeremiad to Mark Sinker at the Wire about the first experience he had with aliens: “I was told that they wanted me to go somewhere; that I had the type of mind that could do something to help the planet. I was going out, but it was a very dangerous journey. I had to have a procedure and a discipline; I had to go up there like that in order to prevent any part of my body from touching the outside, because I was going through time-zones, and if any part of my body touched the outside I couldn’t get it back… I went up at terrific speed to another dimension, another planet.”
He concluded by saying: “Anyway, they talked to me about this planet, and the way it was headed and what was going to happen to teenagers, and governments, and people. They said they wanted me to talk to them. And I said I wasn’t interested.”
Little Johnny Allen Hendrix (his parents would later change his name to James Marshall) insisted on being called Buster for a time, so obsessed was he with Flash Gordon, played by actor Buster Crabbe in the 1936 science fiction film serial. This fascination with all things space was compounded by a UFO sighting out of his back window in Washington state one night, also witnessed by his brother Leon. For Hendrix, who grew up in penury, an interest in aliens conflated with a love of a no-holds-barred new musical format called rock ‘n’ roll would be his means of escape. Before getting his hands on his first six-string, Hendrix apparently took a broom to school pretending it was a guitar, and then spent hours at his desk dreamily doodling UFOs in his school book. Space-themed anthems like Purple Haze, Third Stone from the Sun and Up from the Skies would help change the course of rock music.
I saw a thing with ordinary electric light bulbs flashing on and off round the bottom, one non-blinking red light on top
John Lennon was so convinced he saw a craft of some description that he wrote in the liner notes of 1974 album Walls and Bridges, “On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O.”, signing off with his initials.
The happening was alleged to have taken place during Lennon’s notorious ‘Lost Weekend’, though the singer claimed he was “very straight” at the time. When asked about it by Interview magazine in November that year, he provided a vivid description of what he saw from the window when “just dreaming around in my usual poetic frame of mind”.
Lennon said he saw “a thing with ordinary electric light bulbs flashing on and off round the bottom, one non-blinking red light on top” around 100 feet away and hovering over an adjacent building.
His girlfriend at the time, May Pang, concurred, saying: “As I walked out onto the terrace, my eye caught this large, circular object coming towards us. It was shaped like a flattened cone, and on top was a large, brilliant red light, not pulsating as on any of the aircraft we’d see heading for a landing at Newark Airport. When it came a little closer, we could make out a row or circle of white lights that ran around the entire rim of the craft – these were also flashing on and off. There were so many of these lights that it was dazzling to the mind.”
As the frontman of Motörhead, bass player with Hawkwind and a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, it’s fair to say Lemmy Kilmister must have seen things that would make your hair curl. His UFO encounter happened before all this, however – in 1966, back when he was playing in a beat combo, The Rockin’ Vickers.
“This thing came over the horizon and stopped dead in the middle of the sky,” he told Inked, as reported by Rolling Stone. “Then it went from a standstill to top speed, immediately. We don’t even have aircraft that do that now, never mind then. So that was pretty eye-opening for me.”
I’ve seen a few, but nothing that any of the ministries would believe
In 1968, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards became convinced UFOs were landing at his Redlands estate in West Sussex. Having been famously raided by police the year before, he was more hospitable towards the supposed paranormal intruders.
“I’ve seen a few, but nothing that any of the ministries would believe,” he told Melody Maker that year. “I believe they exist – plenty of people have seen them. They are tied up with a lot of things, like the dawn of man, for example. It’s not just a matter of people spotting a flying saucer… I’m not an expert. I’m still trying to understand what’s going on.”
Richards said he had it on good authority his house was a landing site for UFOs.