How the Beatles’ Music (Almost) Got to Outer Space

“Here Comes the Sun” is one of the most famous of all Beatles songs. It’s one of the Fab Four’s simple anthems of hope, like “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and “All You Need Is Love.” It’s delicate, beautiful, and universal. It’s been covered by everyone from Gothic rock band Ghost to soul legend Nina Simone.

“Here Comes the Sun” almost became the Beatles song that conquered outer space. Sadly, it was not to be. NASA was more interested in Chuck Berry.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John Lennon | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

NASA meets the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’

Noted skeptic Carl Sagan oversaw the construction of two NASA space probes: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Each of these probes included a disc of sounds representing Earth called the Voyager Golden Record. The record included sounds of storms, sounds of birds, and classical music compositions. If an extraterrestrial life form found the probes, they could use these discs to get a sense of life on the blue planet.

As important as classical music is, there’s more to Earth life than high culture. A big part of Earth culture is pop culture. Who better to represent pop culture on the Voyager Golden Record than the Beatles?

One of Sagan’s collaborators, Jon Lomberg, discussed Sagan’s desire to put “Here Comes the Sun” on the Voyager probes’ records. “In some ways, the Beatles were the most obvious choice to include on the music. They were still at the peak of heir fame, even though they’d broken up five years before…The Beatles were sort of the absolute peak of Western musical achievement at the time.” He compared the Beatles’ musical prowess to the literary prowess of William Shakespeare.

“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles

In addition to its musical merit, “Here Comes the Sun” was chosen for the Voyager Golden Record because, well, the sun is in outer space. How incredibly witty. Despite any silly wordplay, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr each liked the idea of “Here Comes the Sun” going into outer space. However, Sagan and company changed their minds about including the track.

What replaced ‘Here Comes the Sun’

Rumor claims the scientists behind the Voyager probes were denied the rights to “Here Comes the Sun” by EMI. What actually happened was the scientists came to the decision including “Here Comes the Sun” on the probes was not as funny as they originally thought. Instead, another rocker’s music got included on the record: Chuck Berry.

“Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry

Sagan was initially hesitant to include Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” on the Voyager Golden Record. He felt Berry’s classic was terrible and “adolescent.” However, a colleague convinced him Earth has many adolescents. The record was designed to encapsulate Earth, so the record should include adolescent music. Sagan may have been a genius, but many Berry fans would say his musical taste needed something to be desired!

Maybe the Beatles didn’t make it to space. However, Berry did. That’s still a major victory for classic rock.

Also see: Beatles: Did Paul McCartney Write ‘Let It Be’ for Aretha Franklin?