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H2G2 @ 42 – Mostly Chartless: The Hitmaker’s Guide To The Galaxy

When it comes to the topic of music, the wholly remarkable book and standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, will tell you Disaster Area – a plutonium rock band hailing from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones – are generally regarded as being not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but also the loudest noise of any kind at all.

What it won’t tell you is that the name of the lead singer – Hotblack Desiato – was taken from a successful Islington estate agent, who are still around today. It seems some of the true stories that lie behind The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy are even stranger than the fiction.

Music has actually played a significant part in the story of Hitchhiker’s Guide, both in the live action versions and – oddly enough – on the printed page. The latter being the last place you’d expect music to find a natural habitat. But then, when you manage to make a trilogy fit into six parts, there’s probably very little that would surprise you about certainly the most successful book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor (as well as Pan Books on Earth).

         
         
       
       

This, then, is a brief look at the music of, in and around The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Not so much a ‘Top 10’ as a ‘Top 42’, if you like. We start, then – perhaps a tad too literally – at the very beginning.


’Journey Of The Sorcerer’ – The Eagles

According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, it is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. Just look at the the famous theme music used on the radio series, the TV series, the movie and – in all probability – the towel. This isn’t, as might perhaps be thought, an original composition that was done especially for Douglas Adams’ brainchild.

It is, in fact, a track written by Bernie Leadon – at the time a founding member of American rock band The Eagles, and later a conductor – for the 1975 Eagles album entitled One Of These Nights. Hailing from a background of bluegrass, Leadon had managed to incorporate elements of this style of music into his time as part of The Eagles, most notably in this six-and-a-half instrumental piece.

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Adams is said to have wanted something which sounded sci-fi, while also evoking the sense of travelling, so this banjo-heavy track – with strings recorded, appropriately enough, by the Royal Martian Orchestra – fitted the bill perfectly. However, even picking a theme tune proved not to be a mostly harmless task, due to the various ins and outs of copyright law and commercial wranglings.

The BBC had only negotiated for use of the track for the Primary and Secondary Phases, so when it came to putting them out on LP, they substituted a re-recorded version by Tim Souster, which was also used for the TV adaptation in 1981. The CD releases of the later radio series – plus the broadcast of the Hexagonal Phase – used a cover by Philip Pope and The Illegal Eagles.

It might have been much easier – not to mention cheaper – if the BBC had sent their version back in time to before 1975, and then sued The Eagles for breach of copyright, all things considered.

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The Radio Series

The original radio series made use of a significant amount of incidental and background music which seems to have been taken chiefly from Douglas Adams’ personal record collection. From the aforementioned Eagles, to pieces by such diverse artists as Stockhausen, Jean Michel Jarre, Brian Eno, and György Ligeti. For good measure, they even threw in ‘That’s Entertainment’ from MGM’s 1953 film The Band Wagon.

The radio (and, subsequently, TV) series made use of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of ‘What A Wonderful World’, for the sequence where Ford and Arthur find themselves seemingly trapped on prehistoric Earth with a load of alien marketing executives and telephone sanitisers. Richard Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (best known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) gets an outing when Marvin the Paranoid Android starts playing it.

In fact, it’s Marvin’s musical abilities which have resulted in some very brief snippets of Hitchhiker’s Guide you may not have heard before. At one point, Marvin is humming Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, before switching to The Beatles’ rendition of ‘Rock And Roll Music’. However, with all of the strictures of Galactic copyright law, this bit has been removed from all commercial releases of the radio series. I guess you had to be there.

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One original song featured in the radio series was ‘Share And Enjoy’ by The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Division. Taken from the slogan of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Division, ‘Share And Enjoy’ was a song which a choir of robots would sing during special occasions. In order to reflect the often shoddy and substandard goods that they produce, the choir of robots’ voiceboxes are a flattened fifth out of tune, making the whole piece sound just as awful as the company’s output.

The departmental motto was erected as a three-mile high illuminated sign near the Complaints Division spaceport on the planet Eadrax. Sadly, it collapsed under its own weight, and the now half-visible sign reads in the language of the natives as “Go stick your head in a pig”. Which is precisely what composer Paddy Kingsland appears to want producer Geoffrey Perkins to do in behind-the-scenes footage from the radio series after asking him to have a choir consisting of two million robots perform the song.


’Reg Nullify In Concert’ – Reg Nullify And The Cataclysmic Combo

When the Primary Phase was re-recorded for release as an LP, the sequence at Milliways included a song performed by Reg Nullify and his band, the Cataclysmic Combo, which is a tuneless little ditty most comparable to Vogon poetry set to music. With Nullify played by Graham de Wilde, the track ended up being included on the B-side of the single release of the Hitchhiker’s Guide theme in 1980, alongside: ‘Only The End Of The World Again’ by Disaster Area.

Supposedly the only recording of Disaster Area, the track follows the fictional group’s established theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason. The song – which has repeated references to the phrase “Don’t Panic”, plus Douglas Adams on electric guitar – is credited on the label to Godwin/Wight, who appear to be Peter Godwin and Colin Wight of English rock band Metro.

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‘Marvin’ / ‘Metal Man’ / ‘Reasons To Be Miserable’ / ‘Marvin I Love You’ – Marvin The Paranoid Android

This unlikely quartet of pop songs, performed by an even more unlikely artist, hit record shops in 1981, off the back of the Hitchhiker’s Guide TV series. Written by Douglas Adams, John Sinclair and – the voice of Marvin himself – Stephen Moore, the Paranoid Android’s short-lived assault on the pop charts was heralded by an appearance on Blue Peter.

The first single – consisting of ‘Marvin’ and B-side ‘Metal Man’ – barely troubled the UK music scene, charting in the low ‘50s. The follow-up – ‘Reasons To Be Miserable’ (a play on Ian Dury’s ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3’) and ‘Marvin I Love You’ – sadly made even less impact. Wretched, isn’t it? Still, a cover version of ‘Reasons To Be Miserable’ performed by Stephen Fry ended up on the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie soundtrack.

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‘Krikkit Song’ – Krikkit Civilians

With words from Douglas Adams and music by Philip Pope (who, amongst other things, appeared in BBC comedy series Radio Active and KYTV, as well as co-writing with Richard Curtis a Bee Gees spoof, ‘Meaningless Songs’, along with the music for Spitting Image’s ‘The Chicken Song’, with lyrics by Red Dwarf’s Rob Grant and Doug Naylor), ‘Krikkit Song’ was featured in the radio series’ Tertiary Phase.

It tells the story of the people of Krikkit, performed by the citizens of the planet (in reality, Philip Pope), who are cut off from the rest of the universe by a giant dust cloud that blocks out all the other stars and galaxies, leading them to think they’re truly alone in existence. A full version of the song was included as an extra on the 2006 DVD release of the Tertiary Phase (yes, an audio CD release alone couldn’t contain it).

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‘The Teleportation Blues’ – Left Brain

The lyrics for ‘The Teleportation Blues’ had been written by Douglas Adams as part of his novel The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. When putting together the live show, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show – Live, producer Dirk Maggs had asked Philip Pope to put Adams’ words from the novel to music, so that it could be included as a part of the production.

In creating the final radio series – the Hexagonal Phase – Maggs decided to incorporate it into the story, having it sung by Zaphod’s Left Brain during Karaoke night aboard the starship Heart of Gold. Left Brain was portrayed by comedian and musician Mitch Benn, who’d also been both heads of Zaphod Beeblebrox in September 2013 during the tour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show – Live, when he took over the role.

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’So Long & Thanks For All The Fish’ – Hillary Summers, Kemi Ominiyi and the R’SVP Voices

Also the name of Douglas Adams’ fourth book in the series, the song ‘So Long & Thanks For All The Fish’ was co-penned by composer Joby Talbot (best known for his work on The League Of Gentlemen), conductor Christopher Austin, and director Garth Jennings for the 2005 movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

With vocals sung by Hillary Summers, Kemi Ominiyi and the R’SVP Voices, it reflects the last message of the dolphins to humanity when leaving Earth shortly before the planet was destroyed by the Vogons. This version was played as part of the opening titles, with another rendition by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy being used during the end credits.

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’Vote Beeblebrox’

To tie in to the release of the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, a campaign music video was released online in April 2005, imploring people to vote Zaphod Beeblebrox as President of the Galaxy. Performed by Neil Hannon, the song was on the film’s soundtrack album as a bonus track, yet didn’t actually feature in the movie itself.


’And Another Thing’ – The Blizzards

It isn’t often a book gets its very own theme tune. In 2009, however, to mark the publication of the sixth Hitchhiker’s Guide novel – And Another Thing…  author Eoin Colfer put out some feelers to see whether there happened to be any acts who were fans of the series, with a view to having some musical tie-in to the new publication.

Penguin Books drew up a shortlist of likely candidates, with Irish band The Blizzards coming right at the very top. Colfer approached them about the notion of doing a song for the book’s launch, and so ‘And Another Thing’ came to pass. With the lyrics making reference to the Heart of Gold and “Don’t Panic”, Colfer was drafted in by The Blizzards to play percussion on a space age china tea seat.

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And Some Other Things…

To say Hitchhiker’s Guide has been an influence on many musical artists would be something of an understatement. In fact, there are many examples of Douglas Adams’ works having played a part in a significant number of groups’ and musicians’ works.

Perhaps the most obvious one would be Level 42 having got their name from the answer to the ultimate question – the story goes that they’d put ‘Level’ at the front to apparently give the name some balance. However, it was erroneously believed it came from: Tower 42 in London; the floor where Jonathan Pryce’s character lived in Brazil; or the number of levels in the world’s tallest car park.

As there are far too many to comprehensively detail, here are just a few notable cases:

  • The name of the song ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead
  • The track ‘Starship Heart Of Gold’ by Alien Mutation
  • The title of American punk rock band NOFX’s seventh album, ‘So Long And Thanks For All The Shoes’
  • Magister Espresso Orchestra‘s instrumental piece ‘Towel Day
  • The inspiration for the name of the group BeebleBrox
  • So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish’, a track by the American rock band A Perfect Circle
  • The album ‘At The End of the Universe: Hommage A Douglas Adams’, by Klaus König Orchestra
  • Josh Fix’s ‘Random Dents, Constant Moans’, written for – and inspired by – And Another Thing…
  • Toyah’s song ‘Pop Star’ namechecks Hitchhiker’s Guide, and her track ‘Jungles Of Jupiter’ mentions “Sad androids of time”

It seems now’s as good a time as any to say: So long, and thanks for all the hits.

Check out the rest of our H2G2 @ 42 coverage, with more coming soon!

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