An Intergalactic Phone Call – “Clouds Across the Moon”

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In March of 1985 a one hit wonder of galactic proportions took European charts by storm, touching down at number nine in Sweden, number six in Britain, and number five in the Netherlands. The song “Clouds Across the Moon” by The RAH Band is a soulful ballad set in the future in which a woman is attempting an interstellar phone with her husband who is stationed far out in space. The band actually had another one hit wonder in 1977 with the instrumental single “The Crunch,” but their legacy is truly “Clouds Across the Moon.”

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In many ways the story told in the four and a half minutes of the song is akin to some classic science fiction short story, complete with twist at the end. The narrative of the song starts with the Intergalactic Operator connecting a phone call between the singer and her husband, Flight Commander P.R. Johnson, who is stationed on Mars. The RAH Band are British, and there is a quintessential Englishness in the lyrics right from the beginning of the song when the first she apologizes to her husband for waking him up with the phone call. She continues to ask questions about the weather on Mars, whether or not his cold has gotten better, and relays a message from their kids.

RAH BandInfidelity plays a part in the subtext of the song, first introduced when she sings “Oh I’m sorry, is there someone there with you?” It is just a hint that he is not being faithful to her, but in contrast she overtly declares her fidelity “Oh, I’ve had a million different offers on the phone, but I just stay right here at home,” but it is absolutely clear that she is extremely lonely. Despite the silliness of the sci-fi synth beeps and pops, and the ostentatious use of B-movie imagery in the video, it is the way in which that the song manages to distill an utterly desperate sense of loneliness that captures the heart of the listener.

The Rah BandThe narrative turn, or twist of the tale, is foreshadowed when the Intergalactic Operator interrupts the phone call with a warning that the connection may be lost, and then moments later contact with Mars 247 is severed. Our protagonist clearly is upset when the call does drop suddenly, with hints that something deadly has happened at the other end of the call, but then the song peaks in its utter Englishness when her response is to tell the operator “Okay, well thank you very much.” One is reminded of the great Pink Floyd line “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way,” and indeed this is so true of the song’s actual twist when she says “I’ll try again next year.” This last line echoes out into the song’s fade and we realize the further tragic nature of this sad tale of intergalactic loneliness . . .

Remixes of the song have emerged, and in 2007 Richard Anthony Hewson (the man who essentially is The RAH Band, those are his initials) released “Clouds Across The Moon 07” featuring vocals by Emma Charles instead of Liz Hewson (his wife was the vocal on the original version). 

Despite its campiness, “Clouds Across the Moon” displays a deep poetry of the human condition and the alienation resulting from technology. Like much of science fiction, it is asking “what if?” questions and using the answers to create an engaging narrative. Good story telling is not about the use of clever words, it is about leaving your audience with an emotional memory of the tale, pathos for the characters, and this song managed to affect enough people in the Spring of 1985 to make a lasting impression.

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