Transcript 86: First Man on the Moon

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.

Greetings! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.

My name is Claude Call, and I’m glad to be with you. 

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Since this weekend is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, today’s trivia is going to be related to that. Specifically: the Apollo 11 astronauts left a plaque on the surface of the moon. I’ll have a picture of it for you at the website, but I’ll also read it to you here. The plaque reads: 



JULY 1969, A. D. 


And then it has the names and signatures of all three astronauts and US President Richard Nixon. Now, on that plaque there’s an error. What error appears on the Apollo 11 moon plaque? 

As usual, I’ll have that answer at the end of the program. 


In the summer of 1969 I was a small child, six years old. So this was the early fringe of my awareness of world events. So it was the night of July 20 that year when my father woke me up and brought me into the living room to see human history being made, as Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on some place other than the planet Earth. I don’t claim to have had any great understanding of what was happening at that time, but I do have that memory. 

It’s kind of tough to quantify the excitement that people had for events that affected the entire nation in those years. And I don’t know if it’s a symptom of the death of monoculture, or if there really hasn’t been something that’s done such an amazing job of galvanizing everybody in the nation since that time. I’m kind of hoping that the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution will have a similar effect, the way it did in 1976. 

But anyway: the United States was genuinely excited about our space missions. Politically it was a win for the US because we’d beaten the Soviet Union to the moon, but I don’t think that people in general viewed it in those terms. 

Certainly that was the initial impulse. When President John F. Kennedy was first approached about a moon shot, he turned down the NASA administrator. But then two things happened: In April of 1961 the Soviets put a human being into space, and then a few days after that came the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. So I’m almost certain that Kennedy needed something that was going to push the Bay of Pigs off the front pages. So it was that on May 25, 1961, Kennedy made an announcement before a joint session of Congress: 


NASA took an incremental approach over the next few years, with each step getting them closer to getting the job done. Apollo 8 did an orbit of the moon and returned. Apollo 9 linked the command module with the lander in Earth orbit, then Apollo 10 did the same in lunar orbit. Then on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and “Buzz” Aldrin aboard, and traveled 240,000 miles over three days, entering a lunar orbit on July 19. On the 20th, Armstrong and Aldrin tool the Eagle lander down to the surface. It was much more dangerous than anyone suspected, because of a computer error, among a couple of other things, causing them to miss their target by several miles. Now, Neil Armstong had to find a good place to land, and he was short on fuel. It was literally moments before he ran out that he was able to land. The lander touched down at 4:17PM Eastern time, but it wasn’t until over six hours later that the hatch opened and Armstrong touched down on the moon’s surface. 

Now, as it happens, MGM Studios had cut a deal with NASA to make a film about the Apollo moon landing that would be released about a year afterward, in 1970. But for some reason MGM backed out just a few weeks before the launch. A lot of that footage was finally used in a documentary called Moonwalk One, which didn’t get a lot of attention. But a lot of it was also used in the recent film Apollo 11. All of which leads up to the thing I’m about to share with you. 

Shortly after the mission’s successful completion, MGM Records released a 45 record commemorating the event. I couldn’t find a specific release date, but this had to be quite soon afterward, so they could take advantage of the excitement. I’m going to play both sides of the recording, with just a few seconds’ pause between side 1 and side 2. 

[MOON LANDING] (mostly spoken-word; no transcript available because of copyright issues)

Now, how well the record sold isn’t really known to me. And if you want to purchase your own copy, you can find it ranging anywhere from under a dollar to about fifteen dollars, or you can get a copy autographed by Buzz Aldrin on his website for a few hundred bucks. I have to note, I found a copy of this record over a year ago, and I sat on it all this time, specifically so I could use it this week. For the record, I got mine for six bucks. 

But there’s another record that was rushed out shortly after Apollo 11 that DID manage to make the charts. 


John Stewart was obviously moved by the event, and ran into a studio to lay down this track…

…the song, called “Armstrong,” peaked at Number 74 on the Billboard chart in September of 1969. If the name John Stewart isn’t familiar to you, he was with the Kingston Trio. you may remember a song he did in 1979 called “Gold,” which had Stevie Nicks singing backup. He’s also the composer of the Monkee’s hit “Daydream Believer”.

But wait! I have one more! This next record was also released as a single, as near as I can tell at the end of 1969 but I’ve also seen notes that suggest it was released in 1970. However, it was written specifically for President Nixon’s State Dinner honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts, and performed at Century City in Los Angeles on August 13. This is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing with the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, on a track called One Small Step:


Again, I don’t think it charted specifically, but I do know that you can also find it on their Greatest Hits, volume 3 album. And at that time it was one of their most requested songs. 


And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I mentioned that there’s a plaque on the moon, but it has an error on it. What was that error? 

You didn’t need to look at the plaque to pick it up; if you were listening carefully you would have heard it, because it’s a grammatical error. When we typically refer to historical dates, most people nowadays will break it down into B.C., which stands for “Before Christ” , and A.D. which is short for the Latin phrase “Anno Domini”, meaning “in the year of Our Lord.” You might see B.C. as B.C.E, meaning “Before the Christian Era” or “Before the Common Era”, but there’s no important difference and you get the point.


Because of their literal meaning, A.D. is supposed to come before the date, and B.C. comes after. So we’d say that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. but Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79. Thus, it’s grammatically incorrect to say that something happened in July 1969, A.D. Also, if you really want to nitpick, there’s a comma between 1969 and A.D. that doesn’t belong there at all. 


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