Yes, Apollo 11 Astronauts Did Have A "Playlist" For Their Walk on the Moon

16 Jul 2019

Miami Herald| ByHoward Cohen

Long before Playlists were a thing, the astronauts aboard Apollo 11 chose their favorite tunes to listen to on the space flight and for their historic moon walk.

As the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins' moon landing on July 20, 1969, approaches, it seems everyone is suggesting a moon-oriented Spotify Playlist. These are filled with the usual suspects that mention the moon or are about space flight.

Naturally, that means Elton John's "Rocket Man," David Bowie's "Space Oddity," The Police's "Walking on the Moon," Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" and Zager & Evans' trippy "In the Year 2525" -- which was actually No. 1 on the national music charts throughout July 1969, the week man flew to, and first walked, on the moon.

But only one of those songs actually was played by Apollo 11's astronauts on their moon mission. (Nothing against Elton or the Police, but their spacey tunes were still light years away.)

Vanity Fair tracked down the man behind the primitive Playlists -- we'd call them "mixtapes," but even that term didn't seem part of the pop culture lexicon until the 1980s.

According to Vanity Fair, Mickey Kapp, son of the founder of Kapp Records and now in his late 80s, was pals with some of the astronauts. He was chosen to compile the songs onto cassettes the astronauts said they wanted to hear en route to and from the moon. They wanted to hear their favorite tunes.

The audio cassette was still a relatively new format 50 years ago when popular music was defined by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Simon & Garfunkel, but its compact size -- smaller than the portable 8-track tape cartridge -- made it an ideal sound vessel for space travel.

NASA began equipping astronauts with small Sony TC-50 cassette recorders -- similar to the portable stereo Walkman, which would hit the world in 1979 -- for the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968. The idea was so that they could log mission notes more easily than scribbling onto paper. But they could also use the cassette players for entertainment.

Apollo 11 soundtrack

Here's what Kapp said Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins asked him to provide for the Apollo 11 mission -- a taste of their "Astro Mix Tapes," as Vanity Fair dubs the recordings.

"Fly Me to the Moon," Frank Sinatra.

The swinging 1964 Sinatra version recorded with Count Basie and arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones, was already a favorite of NASA space missions. "Old BLue Eyes' "Fly Me to the Moon" was played on the Apollo 10 mission to the moon in May 1969 -- a test run, if you will, for Armstrong and Aldrin's actual walk on the moon two months later.

But the Sinatra recording became immortal when Aldrin played it off of his NASA issued cassette player when he stepped onto the moon's surface shortly after Armstrong.

"The first music played on the moon. I freaked!" Jones told The New York Times in 1990, recounting how Aldrin surprised him at a party to tell him how he'd chosen "Fly Me to the Moon" as the soundtrack for his space walk.

"Galveston," Glen Campbell.

Aldrin was clearly into what Billboard charted as "Easy Listening" music back then. Or, the tunes your Dad played on the record player console in the family den. Among his picks: this Jimmy Webb-written classic by Campbell, which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart soon after its February 1969 release.

Webb has said "Galveston," was written as an anti-war song when protests of the Vietnam War during President Nixon's first administration were building to a crescendo.

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