When people think of Sun Ra's "greatest hit," the obvious answer is "Space is the Place." It's Sun Ra's "Stairway to Heaven" (in terms of ubiquity—and in a celestial sense as well). Yet "Nuclear War" is a surprise contender. The 1982 recording originally appeared on the 1983 LP A Fireside Chat with Lucifer (Saturn Gemini 19841) and in Great Britain on a 12" single (Y RA 1). Since it's digital reissue in 2014, it has consistently been one of the top downloaded single tracks in Ra's catalog.
Thomas Stanley, in his ambiguously titled 2014 book, The Execution of Sun Ra, observes, "Throughout his life [Sun Ra] was consistent in his opposition to war and his art reflected this, perhaps most sharply in the space chant 'Nuclear War.' 'It's a motherfucker, don't you know,' Sun Ra and trombonist Tyrone Hill [joined by June Tyson] sing over a deceptively sparkly chromatic piano line played at a steady walking rhythm. It's worth noting that this spicy chunk of language is the only use of profanity in Sunny's vast recorded song repertory."
Indeed, the vocal and instrumental arrangements on "Nuclear War" are so matter-of-fact, so devoid of urgency, a listener unaware that it is a Sun Ra composition could be forgiven for thinking it was a parody of a punk rock anthem. "Nuclear War" is Punk Jazz.
The band Yo La Tengo has twice issued commercial recordings of the tune, and it has long remained in their repertoire. YLT has also performed other tunes associated with Ra: "Dreaming," "Somebody's In Love," "Interplanetary Music," and "Hot Skillet Mama."
Track 1 recorded at Variety Studios, NYC, September 1982
Vocals by Sun Ra, Tyrone Hill, and June Tyson. Other likely personnel: Marshall Allen, Vincent Chancey, Walter Miller, John Gilmore, Danny Ray Thompson, James Jacson, Hayes Burnett, Samarai Celestial [Erik Walker], Atakatune [Stanley Morgan]
Tape transfer by Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Music Archive
Digital restoration by Michael D. Anderson and Irwin Chusid
Track 2 recorded in Paris, 1983
Tape transfer by Peter Beckmann from a tape provided by Hartmut Geerken.
Besides Sun Ra, other likely personnel: June Tyson, Ronnie Brown, Haji, Tyrone Hill, Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Eloe Omoe, Danny Ray Thompson, James Jacson, James Glass, Rollo Radford, Clifford Jarvis, Marvin “Boogaloo” Smith, poss. Chris Henderson, Atakatune.
Issued under license from Sun Ra LLC
Thanks to Hartmut Geerken, Peter Dennett and Peter Beckmann
Cover design by Irwin Chusid, adapted from found art
A Helpful Guide to the Many Sun Ra Albums on Bandcamp: daily.bandcamp.com/2017/10/13/sun-ra-album-guide
figure in musical Afro-futurism and space-jazz. Keyboardist, composer, Arkestra leader, arranger, philosopher-jester, fashion icon, cosmic guide. Born Herman Blount in Alabama, 1914, left the planet in 1993, giving Earthlings a monumental catalog of recordings that transcend genre....more
supported by 8 fans who also own “Nuclear War (EP)”
My chill out band... Earth just never misses. That being said, there is still something awe-inspiring when Mark Lanegan begins singing on "There Is A Serpent Coming." Kind of like: "Everyone else knows how great this is, right?" bcb723