and now for the songs — September 19, 2021 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY SPECIAL EDITION: THAT’S A HAL OF A WAY TO RUN A SPACESHIP!

“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage. I can’t afford the carriage. But you’d look sweet on the seat of a bicycle built for two.”

It is one of the most iconic scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Discovery’s supercomputer HAL murders astronaut Frank Poole after suffering a”mental” breakdown by being put in the position of having to lie to the ship’s crew about the true purpose of its mission. Commander David Bowman must then wrest away control of the Jupiter-bound space ship by turning off HAL’s “consciousness” module by module. HAL is fully-aware if what is happening, and expresses existential angst:

HAL: I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m afraid.

HAL: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.

David Bowman: Yes, I’d like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me.

HAL: It’s called “Daisy.”

This moment elicits tremendous sympathy in the audience for HAL, which is quite an achievement by Kubrick as 1) HAL is a computer, and 2) HAL has just murdered almost the entire crew of the Discovery. But consciousness is consciousness, and we can all imagine what it must be like to witness ours slipping away. HAL is experiencing a sort of self-aware rapid onset dementia, which is in common parlance today in a way it wasn’t in 1968.

OK, but what does any of this have to do with the greatest songs of the 1960‘s that no one has ever heard? The scene is famous, and, anyway, “Daisy” was written in the 19th Century! Well, as Cary O’Dell with the Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound division of the Library of Congress explains, there is a connection, one whose first link was forged in 1892:

The song “Daisy Bell” . . . was written in 1892 by an Englishman, Harry Dacre. Legend has it that Dacre . . . came upon the idea for the song during a visit to America. On his trip . . . Dacre had brought with him his bicycle and, when he docked, much to his chagrin, he was promptly charged a duty on it by US customs. Later, bemoaning the fee to fellow songwriter William Jerome, Jerome stated it was a good thing Dacre didn’t bring with him a “bicycle built for two” as he’d be charged a twin duty. Smitten with the phrase “a bicycle built for two,” Dacre decided it would work well in a song. And so “Daisy Bell” was born. “Daisy” was first made famous by British music hall performer Katie (Kate) Lawrence. Since being introduced into the musical vernacular, the song has been endlessly revived, recorded, expanded, lyrically rewritten, parodied, and translated.

The story picks up again in 1961 and involves a cover version of “Daisy,” one distinguished by being performed by an IBM computer:

One of “Daisy Bell’s” most radical and interesting uses . . . arrived in 1961 via IBM and a team of visionary computer programmers. That year . . . Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, made, for the first time, an artificial device “sing.” And the song it sang was the turn of the century ditty . . . . For years the demonstration was part of the formal tour of Bell Labs. In the early 1960s, when science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke visited . . . he took special note of this singing and talking computer. Later, as the author of . . . “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Clarke incorporated it into its screenplay. In the 1968 film, when . . . HAL (whose anagram coincidentally is just one letter alphabetically away from IBM) is switched off (essentially killed), “he” (the voice of actor Douglas Rain) sings “Daisy Bell” as power ebbs out of his circuits.

https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/DaisyBell.pdf

So, to make a long story short, here is #135 of the greatest songs of the 1960’s that no one has ever heard, IBM’s 1961 cover version of “Daisy Bell”:

And here is the original 1894 hit by the original artist:

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