DEBORAH AMOS, host:
We're going to remember an achievement that marked the beginning of the space age. Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union - the first time, a satellite was successfully catapulted into space. That dramatic accomplishment that started the space race.
And it also left a pop music legacy as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: When David Hoffman was doing research for his documentary "Sputnik Mania," he says he came across dozens of songs that were much lighter than the general mood at the time.
Mr. DAVID HOFFMAN (Director, "Sputnik Mania"): When Sputnik hit, and all the fear - people going underground in fallout shelters, kind of the end of the world mixed with the beep, beep, beep of this satellite - it touched off American pop culture at its best.
BLAIR: Especially music. At the time Sputnik launched, Jerry Engler was living in Rochester and working for Kodak. He was also something of a local celebrity with his rockabilly music. He says while a lot of people were fearful of flying Soviet spacecraft, he was excited.
Mr. JERRY ENGLER (Songwriter): I happened to read in the paper, when it did go up, this reporter said that we should be celebrating it and somebody should write a song about it.
BLAIR: So Engler went to work. He wrote a song about a trip he and his girl would take together in outer space.
(Soundbite of song, "Sputnik")
Mr. ENGLER: (Singing) Oh! we're gonna get our kicks on a little old thing called a Sputnik. I said spoo-spoo-spoot-a-nick-a-chick.
BLAIR: Sputnik inspired all kinds of songwriters.
Mr. BILL GEERHART (Editor, conelrad.com): You have the rockabilly artists who are essentially having a great deal of fun and basically swapping out hot rods for spacecraft.
BLAIR: Bill Geerhart runs a Web site and the Atomic Platters record label, both devoted to Cold War music.
Mr. GEERHART: And then you have the country songs which are by and large, you know, very nationalistic and, in some cases, paranoid.
BLAIR: Geerhart points to a song by Ray Anderson and the Home Folks called "Sputniks and Mutniks," referring to the dog Laika, the Soviets also famously sent into space.
(Soundbite of song, "Sputniks and Mutniks")
Mr. RAY ANDERSON (Vocalist, Ray Anderson and the Home Folks): (Singing) Sputniks and Mutniks, flying through the air, Sputniks and Mutniks, flying everywhere. It's so ironic. Are they atomic? Those funny missiles have got me scared.
BLAIR: And many were scared of what might launch next and that the U.S. was falling behind in the space race. But some songwriters took a just-you-wait attitude toward the Soviets, like this song by blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes.
(Soundbite of song, "Satellite Baby")
Mr. ROOSEVELT SYKES (Blues Pianist): (Singing) Now, listen Mr. Khrushchev, I heard a lot of talk about the satellite and missiles and the president's fault. You'd better listen to what I got to say. The things I'm gonna tell you are gonna make your hair turn gray. I got a satellite baby with a red-hot style that's new. Well, she got more speed than Sputnik No. 2.
BLAIR: "Sputnik Baby," "Sputnik Dance," "Santa and Satellite, Parts 1 and 2," this major world event ushered in the space race and a lighthearted moment in musical history.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
INSKEEP: Listen to more songs inspired by Sputnik at npr.org.
(Soundbite of song, "Satellite Baby")
Mr. SYKES: (Singing) Now, listen Mr. Khrushchev, I heard a lot of talk about the satellite and missiles and the president's fault. You'd better listen to what I got to say. The things I'm gonna tell you are gonna make your…
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.