As well as controlling our tides, the moon (like the sun) is responsible for some incredible songs.
And boy does it crop up a lot!
As you’d expect, the Apollo moon landings in ’69 was a catalyst for a lot of new space-related songs such as Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocketman. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon helped with the obsession too, as did Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
So, grab your space face, strap yourself in, and get ready to blast your way to the best songs about the moon. Bon voyage!
- ‘What a Little Moonlight Can Do’ by Billie Holiday
- ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo and the Bunnymen
- ‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- ‘Moon Is Up’ by The Rolling Stones
- ‘Moonshadow’ by Cat Stevens
- ‘Mr. Moonlight’ by The Beatles
- ‘The Whole of the Moon’ by The Waterboys
- ‘Moon at the Window’ by Joni Mitchell
- ‘Walking on the Moon’ by The Police
- ‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake
- ‘Song about the Moon’ by Paul Simon
- ‘Blue Moon’ by Billie Holiday
- ‘Sisters of the Moon’ by Fleetwood Mac
- ‘Drunk On The Moon’ by Tom Waits
- ‘How High The Moon’ by Les Paul And Mary Ford
- ‘Moon River’ by Sarah Vaughan
- ‘Man On The Moon’ by R.E.M
- ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ by Frank Sinatra
- ‘Moonage Daydream’ by David Bowie
- ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ by Elvis Presley
- ‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison
- ‘Harvest Moon’ by Neil Young
- ‘Moonlight Shadow’ by Mike Oldfield
‘What a Little Moonlight Can Do’ by Billie Holiday
From the beginning of Billie Holiday’s short but extraordinary career, ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’ showcased Holiday’s dexterity as a singer.
Holiday’s unique vocal style was in fact inspired by jazz instrumentalists. Miles Davis famously said, “Billie Holiday doesn’t need any real horns, she sounds like one anyway.”
Here’s the definitive version of the song, with Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra.
“Ooh, what a little moonlight can do, wait a while, ’til a little moonbeam comes peepin’ through.”
Recommended: Our pick of Billie Holiday’s top songs.
‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo and the Bunnymen
In an interview for The Guardian in 2015, writer and frontman Ian McCulloch said of this song “I’ve always said that The Killing Moon is the greatest song ever written. I’m sure Paul Simon would be entitled to say the same about Bridge Over Troubled Water, but for me, The Killing Moon is more than just a song. It’s a psalm, almost hymnal.”
McCulloch credits half the moon song to God, and claims a little divine intervention in its writing.
He said: “I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: ‘Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin. He will wait until you give yourself to him’”.
‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival
In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty recalled that he penned ‘Bad Moon Rising’ after he had watched the movie The Devil and Daniel Webster.
The song is about “the apocalypse that was going to be brought upon us,” according to Fogerty, who claims it was inspired by a scene in the film involving a hurricane.
‘Moon Is Up’ by The Rolling Stones
The Stone’s have one or two moon songs. ‘Moonlight Mile’, from their classic ‘Sticky Fingers’ album, is great. And so is ‘Moon Is Up’, one of the best Stones songs in recent years from their 1994 Voodoo Lounge album.
The distinctive drum sound was captured in a stairwell where drummer Charlie Watts used a trash can and brushes. The song also features Benmont Tench (a long-time member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) on accordion air whoosh.
Another great drum song recorded in a stairwell is Led Zepellin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’.
‘Moonshadow’ by Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens (known since 1978 as Yusuf Islam) called this song the ‘optimist’s anthem”.
The song is about finding hope in any situation. To consider your life as it is right now, rather than comparing it to the lives of others or previous periods of your life.
It’s a great message. Every minute of our lives is rich and distinct, try not to waste it getting caught up in life’s woes!
Cat Stevens got the idea for song on a holiday in Spain. Appearing on The Chris Isaak Hour in 2009, he remarked that coming from London “I never got to see the moon on its own in the dark, there were always streetlamps. So there I was on the edge of the water on a beautiful night with the moon glowing, and suddenly I looked down and saw my shadow. I thought that was so cool, I’d never seen it before.”
‘Mr. Moonlight’ by The Beatles
With a stunning vocal performance from Lennon (listen to that intro…MISTER! Moonlight), the song appeared on the fab fours 1964 album Beatles For Sale.
When they played it live, it was a real jaw-dropping moment for the crowd, as John had to find that note from nothing (there’s no preceding chord).
The recording features Latin-style percussion and a Hammond organ solo that was quite unusual for them.
‘The Whole of the Moon’ by The Waterboys
Do you ever wonder if you’re seeing the bigger picture? Are you just getting glimpses of the real world, a bit like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?
The ‘whole of the moon’ is – rather surprisingly for a mid-’80s chart-topper – a metaphor for knowledge.
“I saw the crescent” the protagonist sings, while “You saw the whole of the moon”. “I was grounded” he laments. “While you filled the skies”. “I spoke about wings” while “You just flew”.
‘Moon at the Window’ by Joni Mitchell
From her 1982 album Wild Things Run Fast, ‘Moon At The Window’ is one of her most underrated songs.
It’s a jazzy outing that turned off a few of her folk audience: it’s a fantastic track nonetheless, with some stunning lyrics.
The words to ‘Moon At The Window’ take their inspiration from the poem, The Thief Left It Behind by Ryokan, a Japanese Buddhist priest. To Ryokan (as was the case for most zen priests) the moon is a metaphor for enlightenment. To his amusement, nobody can take the moon from his window.
Here, we see Mitchell list all the woes in her life, and concludes “at least the moon at the window, the thieves left that behind”.
‘Walking on the Moon’ by The Police
Ever been so in love that it felt like walking on the moon? Well, that’s how Sting felt when he penned this.
“Walking back from your house” his “feet they hardly touch the ground.”
The narrator is in the ‘honeymoon period’ of a relationship, where the simple act of being with his new gal makes him giddy, lightheaded, and, well, probably quite annoying to his friends who are all going steady and whose girlfriends would rather watch a boxset than spend time with them (lol).
‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake
‘Pink Moon’ is a wonderfully evocative song by the brilliant English songwriter Nick Drake. As beautiful as the song is, it’s also quite foreboding and at times, apocalyptic “And none of you stand so tall / Pink moon gonna get ye all.”
Nick Drake was known as “the great silent enigma of our time” – even his record company Island didn’t know when or if he’d appear (he refused to tour or promote his records).
The arrival of the album Pink Moon (from whence this song comes) has become music folklore. Drake supposedly rocked up to Island’s HQ with the big sixteen-track master tape with no prior warning he was even working on it. He left it with the receptionist and took off.
‘Song about the Moon’ by Paul Simon
From his ’80s album offering Hearts And Bones, Simon’s ‘Song about the Moon’ is one of Simon’s best-unknown tracks. Everything about it is first class. The chord progression, the production, and lyrically….wow, it’s brilliant.
Here the narrator offers the songwriter some advice.
If you want to write a spiritual tune / a song about the heart / a song about a face / the human race… then write a song about the moon.
How about a half moon? Or a hollow moon? Assuming they’re just as good 🙂
‘Blue Moon’ by Billie Holiday
The second song on the list by Lady Day (there’s no such thing as too many Billie Holiday songs).
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote the popular song ‘Blue Moon’ in 1934. Since then, it’s been covered by just about everyone (including Billy Eckstine, Mel Tormé, and Elvis Presley).
‘Blue Moon’ became an international number-one success for the doo-wop group The Marcels in 1961, topping the Billboard 100 chart and the UK Singles Chart.
Here’s one of the earliest versions, recorded for her 1952 album Billie Holiday Sings.
‘Sisters of the Moon’ by Fleetwood Mac
From their 1979 album ‘Tusk’, the ballad ‘Sisters of the Moon’ was written and performed by the great Stevie Nicks.
The song is no doubt autobiographical, with Nicks wrestling with her ‘mystic’ stage persona and the barrage of abuse she got by people who didn’t get it (she got accused of being an actual witch by some religious groups!).
“The people, they love her / but still they’re the most cruel” says it all.
‘Drunk On The Moon’ by Tom Waits
Waits has recorded more ‘moon songs’ than possibly anyone else. They’re all brilliant too. Songs like ‘I’ll Shoot the Moon’, ‘Grapefruit Moon’, ‘9th and Hennepin’, and this one from his superb ’74 album The Heart of Saturday Night.
We see Waits in full crooner mode here. It’s a song to be played in a smoky bar at 3 am after a head full of bourbon.
‘How High The Moon’ by Les Paul And Mary Ford
Do you know those Les Paul guitars? Well, the man who made them was a great guitarist too. Here we see him in action (with his wife Mary Ford) playing a Fender guitar. Only joking.
This song was written by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis for the musical Two For The Show.
‘Moon River’ by Sarah Vaughan
A song that appears on our list of songs about water too, the standard ‘Moon River’ has been covered by just about everyone (one of the more surprising covers of it recently was from the one and only Morrissey!).
Here we see one of the best versions by the brilliant Sarah Vaughan.
‘Man On The Moon’ by R.E.M
As a teenager, Michael Stipe used to love watching the late comedian Andy Kaufman on the standup comedy show Saturday Night Live.
The stream-of-consciousness lyrics are reminiscent of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ (included on our fire songs playlist). Stipe reels off everyone from Moses to Elvis Presley and Charles Darwin, and some old-school board games (Life and Monopoly).
‘Fly Me To The Moon’ by Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra recorded ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ with the Count Basie Orchestra arranged by Quincy Jones.
Although this was never a hit for Sinatra, it’s considered the definitive version and was closely associated with NASA’s Apollo space program (the moon landing one) when Neil Armstrong made that famous walk on the lunar surface.
It’s a favorite wedding song and was the first song at, well, my own wedding 🙂
‘Moonage Daydream’ by David Bowie
Bowie is no stranger to songs about space, thanks in no small measure to his success with the song ‘Space Oddity’ and his ‘Major Tom’ character.
‘Moonage Daydream’ appears on Bowie’s seminal album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and is one of the best songs on the album (thanks in no small part to the epic solo at the end by celebrated guitarist and collaborator Mick Ronson).
He sings about ray guns and pressing “your space face close to mine, love”.
‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ by Elvis Presley
Bill Monroe was known as the ‘Father of Bluegrass’. Such was his influence that the term ‘bluegrass’ originates from his band ‘The Blue Grass Boys’.
This bluegrass waltz was a favorite at the Grand Ole Opry concert hall. Presley version, however, is more rock-oriented, turning it from a waltz into a bluesy rocker!
‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison
As a song writer and performer, Van Morrison was pretty untouchable in the ’70s and still remains strong to this day.
With the song ‘Moondance’, and the album by the same name, he hit upon the rhythm and blues style we know him best for today (probably his move to upstate New York at the time, where he hung out with other musos, helped with that).
If you loved this, then also check out our list of best Van Morrison songs.
‘Harvest Moon’ by Neil Young
Neil Young supposededly has a bit of a thing with the moon. He is more likely to take on a project if it coincides with a full moon, apparently.
He said in a 2005 interview with Harp, “It can be dangerous working in a full moon atmosphere, because if there are things that are going to go wrong, they can really go wrong. But that’s great, especially for rock ‘n’ roll.”
This gorgeous song was written as a tribute to his wife Pegi who passed away recently, and celebrates longevity in relationships.
From the soft brush strokes on the drums, to the picked steel guitar and beautiful background vocals, it sounds other-worldly.
‘Moonlight Shadow’ by Mike Oldfield
No list of moon songs would be complete without the mysterious, evocative ‘Moonlight Shadow’.
Writer Oldfield admits the song was originally inspired by the film ‘Houdini’, but that John Lennon’s murder (Oldfield had just arrived into New York that fateful night, and was staying a few doors down from the Dakota Building) probably sunk into his subconscious and came out in the song.
“Carried away on a moonlight shadow…” sounds a lot like being taken away.