Soundtrack to a Genre #1: “Beyond the Sea”

This may be part of a series or it may just end here if I don’t come up with any more. As sci-fi, fantasy and horror fans, do you notice when some songs turn up again and again in the genre? I guess I do otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post. None has stuck in my mind more than Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea (or other versions of it) where I have experienced it no less than three times in speculative fiction. Wikipedia lists more instances than that but I’ll discuss my own experiences.

Lost

Recently, my girlfriend and I started rewatching Lost. We’re about halfway through season 1. That means we’ve met Danielle (played by the excellent Mira Furlan). In the last episode, Sayid reveals that he acquired some papers from Danielle but the annotations are in French which he does not speak. He takes them to Shannon (Maggie Grace) who claimed she spoke some limited French during the pilot. Her skills are not great but she does manage to translate some of the words. She said they sounded familiar but to Sayid they just sounded gibberish. This makes him question both Shannon’s French proficiency and Danielle’s sanity. Later in the episode, Shannon has a penny drop moment back to a time she dated a single father whose kid liked to watch a cartoon. This cartoon was dubbed in French with a version of Beyond the Sea.

Bioshock

Bioshock is one of the most immersive video games you are ever likely to play. In some ways, it’s a complete mind-fuck and not everybody’s cup of tea. I still think it’s wonderfully emotive and harrowing. I think one of the reasons it has stuck with me so long is because of the environment. It’s immersive because of the detail. It’s immersive because she much effort has gone into the visuals – not to show off, but to make it feel like a real place. The designers carefully constructed a 40s-50s vibe to the game because that is when the city of Rapture that features in the first two games was built. Nostalgic and vintage music are part of that experience from the loading screens through to the haunting radios that play in the deserted environments of the crumbling city. Beyond the Sea is one of the most identifiable tunes in the game (Ella Fitzgerald’s Ten Cents a Dance is another: here is a list of all licensed tracks appearing in Bioshock). Beyond the Sea is apt because of where the city is located – on the bottom of the ocean. They even used the song as one of the flagship trailers.

The X-Files

This was probably my first introduction to the song. The 13th episode of the first season was named after this song. Why? It was Dana Scully’s father’s favourite song and it was played at his funeral (played by Don S. Davis who would go on to play Genera Hammond in Stargate SG1 – he died in 2008). Later on, Scully makes contact with a convicted serial killer who unnerves Scully by singing this song. He’s trying to get a death sentence commuted by offering information about a recent kidnapping about which he has had a vision. So in a way, he sings the song to kind of prove that he has these abilities. She also has several instances of seeing a vision of her father where he is mouthing the words. The song features prominently throughout the episode, the title linking together many elements of the mystery.

There are several other examples of this song in our favourite genre but these are the three with which I am most familiar.

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