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20 more science songs for your lab playlist

“Music has no effect on research work,” said Einstein – but then he didn’t have the benefit of our lab-friendly soundtrack …

Alan-Turing-at-Manchester-Mark-I.jpg
Alan Turing – founding father of electronica? Yes, add that to his credentials as computer science mastermind and codebreaker. (In this photo, ca. 1951, he’s at the console of the Manchester Mark I computer, from Alan Turing: His Work and Impact, Elsevier, 2013)

Editor’s note: This month, Elsevier Connect is exploring “the creative face of science and medicine.” There is a creative side to the work being done by researchers, technologists, clinicians and medical students. With the ever-growing possibilities of technology, that creativity is being used to solve some of today’s toughest challenges. And on a lighter note, two of our colleagues at Elsevier share their favorite science songs to keep you creative in the lab.


Many thanks to those of you who commented and added song suggestions to the first article, 20 science songs to beat the lab playlist blues. You offered some stellar entries, including Warren Zevon’s Play It All Night Long, several tunes by David Bowie, a trio of science-themed kids songs by They Might Be Giants that even mature “kids at heart” can enjoy, Rocket Man by Elton John and the fantastic electronic mashup Symphony of Science – The Quantum Theory featuring Morgan Freeman, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Brian Cox, Richard Feynman and Frank Close.

Since then, we’ve been combing our personal music lists and getting inspiration from friends and colleagues to bring you more songs worth adding to your playlist.

Kira’s picks

1. Genetix, The Stranglers – My friend Scott S. reminded me of this melodic drone representative of the cell cycle itself, which directly quotes the Law of Segregation from the father of modern genetics himself, Gregor Mendel. You can’t get much more scientific than that.

2. Avant Gardener, Courtney Barnett – A catchy and clever musical story that details the symptoms and experience of going into anaphylactic shock from a gifted singer-songwriter.

3. I Am A Scientist, Guided by Voices. A (seriously) prolific yet underrated American rock band whose music defies categorization. The self-affirming song title says it all.

4. Mind, Talking Heads – David Byrne takes listeners with him wherever he’s going with his jazzy post-modern and distinctive music. “Science won’t change you,” or will it? Then there’s Air, also from the Talking Heads’ iconic Fear of Music.

5. Novocaine for the Soul, Eels – Speaking of quantum theory, songwriter and lead vocalist Mark Oliver Everett, aka E, is the son of mathematician and (controversial) quantum theorist Hugh Everett III. Needless to say, E gets science. Intelligent, melodic and ear-worm worthy.

6. Let X = X, Laurie Anderson – Credit to colleague Scott B. for calling out this influential performance artist’s album Big Science, including its title track and this most basic of algebraic expressions as a metaphor for … well, you decide.

7. Homosapien, Pete Shelley – One of the best songs the 80s had to offer that still sounds good. A danceable ode to acceptance and inclusivity.

8. Doctor of Philosophy, C.A. Quintet – You have to go deep in the vaults – 1968 – for this Psychedelic gem from their Dante-inspired Trip Thru Hell album. Two (plus) minutes of alternative reality bliss.

9. The Smartest Monkeys, XTC – A satirical and apt view about how “far” humankind has progressed in our evolutionary and social development from one of the smartest bands ever.

10. Wicked Gravity, The Jim Carroll Band – The world may have lost Jim (best known for his autobiography The Basketball Diaries) in 2009, but we’ll always have his pining for a world without gravity.

Keith’s picks

11. Blue Light, Prince – Some researchers say blue light levels from smartphones and other electronic devices may disrupt the circadian rhythms governing sleep. Here, the late Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson (“U like it in the dark but I like a / Blue light”) lends his support to this view.

12. Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, Tubeway Army – A song title whose willfully complex punctuation defeated a generation of DJs. This synth-pop classic sees a robotic but vulnerable Gary Numan pining for his malfunctioning android lover. No hooks, no chorus; just a huge crystalline onslaught of chilly Moog chords. Paranoia, check! Isolation, check! Repetition, check! Another day at the lab then.

13. Finding Higgs’ Boson, Frank Zappa – Sadly, Frank Zappa can no longer tell us whether this guitar-laden instrumental from his posthumous Trance-Fusion album celebrates the hunt for the “God particle” or its (then) anticipated identification. I like to see it as a celebration of the endless quest for knowledge, like the search for the Holy Grail. Incidentally, we have a grant proposal out on that one.

14. Dolphins Were Monkeys, Ian Browne – This solo outing from The Stone Roses front man sounds like a drunkard trying to expound the theory of evolution (“The dolphins were monkeys, that didn't like the land”). I’d be happy to lend my scratched vinyl version to fans of punctuated equilibrium.

15. Let’s Evolve, Sudden Sway - A deadpan DIY lesson in evolution, with white boy funk interludes. Starting out as an amoeba in the pre-Cambrian ocean, let Sway guide you toward your first faltering steps on shore. “So, take a look at your body and say, it’s good, but it’s getting better. …”

16. Computer Love, Kraftwerk – An everyday story of a lonely mitteleuropean techno-geek who accesses a computer dating site, then falls for the computer.

17. Biological Speculation, Funkadelic – Less biology than an existential meditation on humanity’s place in the universe and the relative claims of natural and divine law, backed up by a loose groove with country-and-western leanings. Think of it as George Clinton channeling Dostoyevsky.

18. Ordinary Joe, Terry Callier – “So don't let time and space confuse you / Don't let name and form abuse you,” urges Callier in this exhilarating statement of intent. Sir Francis Bacon couldn’t have put it better.

19. Weightless, Prefab Sprout – Paddy McAloon and friends liken the feeling of being in love to the sensations of Soviet space pioneer Yuri Gagarin.  Gagarin’s actual sense of “hanging in a horizontal position in straps” – and the fact that prolonged exposure to zero gravity results in dizziness, swollen sinuses and shrunken legs – more accurately sums up my own romantic experience.

Alan Turing: his work and impact 20. God Save the King, Alan Turing – Yes, the Alan Turing – code breaker, computer scientist, theoretical biologist and now founding father of electronica. Recently restored by researchers at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand, this 1951 recording is reckoned to be the first specimen of computer-generated music. Ever eclectic in his tastes, Turing throws in renditions of Baa Baa Black Sheep and Glenn Miller’s In the Mood for good measure.

For more inspiration, also read “The lab playlist: 16 great songs about science (and a bad one)” by Kit Buchan in The Guardian (February 14, 2016).

What's on your playlist?

Share your recommendations in the comments. Your bench mates will thank you.

The creative face of science and medicine

ElsevierHacks banner linking to Empowering Knowledge pageThere is a creative side to the work being done by researchers, technologists, clinicians — and those who aspire to be. With the ever-growing possibilities of technology, that creativity is being used to solve some of today’s toughest challenges. It also takes creativity to develop the tools and technologies that solve challenges for these students and professionals.

At Elsevier, we see that creativity every day in our employees and those they collaborate with in the world of science and health. Together, we create products and services that enable professionals and aspiring professionals to realize their inspirations and aspirations.

Acknowledging the creative face of science, technology and medicine empowers us to advance these fields and improve our performance for the benefit of humanity.

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