If Sputnikfest had a soundtrack – I think it might sound something like this. A little spacey and a little retro, and a lot of funky fun. Les Baxter (1922 – 1996) was a musician and prolific composer whose varied body of work included singing with Mel Tormé, conducting for Capital Records, doing film scores, and creating theme music for Sea World amusement parks. He is even credited with writing the “Whistle Theme” from the Lassie TV Show.
One of Les Baxter’s works* that caught my attention when I was doing some Sputnikfest related research a while back was “Space Escapade.” Most of the tracks on the album remind me of theme music from one TV show or another from when I was kid (yeah, that was a long time ago) but what really got me was the album cover. I actually “borrowed” it as an image for a Sputnikfest promotional PowerPoint presentation a few years back.
(*there is some controversy regarding him being credited with this work, in that some people have made a case that it was actually ghost-written under his name by another noted composer – Nelson Riddle. As for me … don’t know, don’t care, I just know I like the music)
The album was released in 1958 – the year after Sputnik 1 was launched. The music was an attempt to tap into the nation’s fascination with outer space and the album art certainly captured the mood of the times, if a bit whimsically. One website notes that the record has sold for decades based on the album artwork alone. Its “astronauts with space cocktails and Martian chicks with go-go boots” make Space Escapade a sort of Holy Grail for album collectors. Current listings on eBay for nice examples of this vintage album list for between $150 and $200. Even copies in less than perfect condition sell for close to $50.
But, don’t despair. You no longer have to spend big bucks or even own a turntable if you want to enjoy this album. More than 50 years after the initial LP release, Space Escapade was released on CD. I’ll be picking up one of the CD’s to include in a “Space Pod” prize package for this year’s Sputnikfest. (See a previous post about the Sputnikfest Space Pods) In the meantime, you can find most of the tracks from the album on Youtube – just search “Les Baxter” and any of the track titles. The album notes advise that with the aid of this recording you can “drift into the future's lovemist with Les Baxter and make a spaceliner escapade by earthlight, tongue firmly fastened in cheek.”
Sounds a lot like Sputnikfest! Join us in Manitowoc on September 7 for a "Space Escapade" and “drift with us into the future’s lovemist … tongue firmly fastened in cheek.” Planet Terry