"Mr. Spaceman" is a song by the American rock band The Byrds and was the third track on their 1966 album Fifth Dimension.[1] The song was initially written by band member Jim McGuinnas a "melodramatic screenplay" but it soon evolved into a whimsical meditation on the existence of extraterrestrial life.[2] After its appearance on Fifth Dimension, "Mr. Spaceman" was released as the third single taken from that album in September 1966.[3] The single reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 but failed to chart in the United Kingdom.[4][5]

Written in early 1966 by McGuinn, the song was—along with "5D (Fifth Dimension)"—one of two science fiction-themed songs on the Fifth Dimension album.[6] Upon its release as a single, the music press coined the term "space-rock" to describe the song, although since then, the term has come to refer to a genre of rock music originating from 1970s progressive andpsychedelic music.[6][7] Musically, "Mr. Spaceman" has a country-style backing, albeit with touches of psychedelia, and can clearly be seen as a precursor to the band's later exploration ofcountry music on Sweetheart of the Rodeo.[8][1][9] As such, the song is often cited as being one of the earliest examples of the country rock genre.[10] The title also recalled that of The Byrds' earlier worldwide smash hit and debut single, "Mr. Tambourine Man".

The single release of the song was accompanied by a spoof press announcement from The Byrds' co-manager, Eddie Tickner, stating that he had taken out a $1,000,000 insurance policy withLloyd's of London against his clients being kidnapped by extraterrestrial visitors.[11] Despite Tickner's statement being an obvious publicity stunt and the deliberately tongue-in-cheek nature of the song's lyrics, both McGuinn and fellow band member David Crosby felt hopeful about communicating with alien life forms through the medium of AM radio broadcast.[2] In a later interview with Pete Frame for ZigZag magazine, McGuinn explained how he believed that this would have been possible: "I was interested in astronomy and the possibility of connecting with extraterrestrial life and I thought that it might work the other way round, if we tried to contact them. I thought that the song being played on the air might be a way of getting through to them. But even if there had been anybody up there listening, they wouldn't have heard because I found out later that AM airwaves diffuse in space too rapidly."[6]

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the band performed the song on the television programs The Smothers Brothers Comedy HourWhere the Girls Are and The David Frost Show.[12]Additionally, the song would go on to become a staple of The Byrds' live concert repertoire, until their final disbandment in 1973.[13] The song was also performed live by a reformed line-up of The Byrds featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman in January 1989.[13]

In addition to its appearance on the Fifth Dimension album, "Mr. Spaceman" also appears on several Byrds' compilations, including The Byrds' Greatest HitsHistory of The ByrdsThe Original Singles: 1965–1967, Volume 1The ByrdsThe Very Best of The ByrdsThe Essential Byrds and There Is a Season. Live performances of the song are included on the live portion of The Byrds' (Untitled) album as well as on Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971.[14]

The song "Mr. Spaceman" written by Jim McGuinn (aka Roger McGuinn) should not be confused with the Steve Weber song "Mister Spaceman", found on The Holy Modal Rounders' self-titled debut album.[15]

Cover versions[edit]Edit

"Mr. Spaceman" has been covered by artists including Jimmy Buffett and Gonzo, on The Muppets' album Kermit Unpigged,[16] and Alvin and the Chipmunks on the album The A-Files: Alien Songs. The song has also been covered by The Flying Burrito Brothers on their 1985 live albumCabin Fever,[17] and by Miracle Legion on The Byrds' tribute albumTime Between – A Tribute to The Byrds.[18] In addition, Velvet Crush covered the song and their version is included on the band's 2001 compilation album, A Single Odessey.[19] Limbeck also released a version of the song on their 2006 Tour EP.

"Mr. Spaceman" is one of the songs featured in the Jukebox musicalReturn to the Forbidden Planet.

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