On June 11, 1982, Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial opened in movie theaters and immediately the world lost its collective shit. The movie was a celebration of friendship whose appeal was universal, har har, and it also spoke to a generation of children of found out the hard way that the traditional nuclear family had melted down long before Reagan even took office. While I’ll leave it to the film scholars to expound on how E.T. is every bit the examination of the impact of divorce as Kramer vs. Kramer is, it must be said that the film had a clear and profound impact on the world — both from a sociological and a pop culture perspective.
Like Star Wars and Spielberg’s own Jaws before it, E.T. wasn’t so much a motion picture as it was a force of nature. This thing was absolutely everywhere from the time it was released until Return of the Jedi gave the world another global blockbuster to freak out about nearly a year later. As could be expected, the attempts to cash-in on E.T. mania were severe. From the toy aisle to the supermarket to the shoe store, products emblazoned with E.T.’s creepy visage were everywhere — and that’s not even counting the various rip-off items and cash-ins like Mac and Me which were released after the glow of the alien’s chest had dimmed in the eyes of a fickle culture.
As someone who has spent a large portion of his adult life obsessing over pop culture detritus like the forgotten Howard the Duck videogame or that time Robocop hung out with Pee-Wee Herman at the Oscars, I’m more than a little convinced that these things matter and shouldn’t be lost to time.
Fortunately, we live in a glorious age (at least until Net Neutrality ruins it) when all of this stuff is at our fingertips. And to me, the most interesting thing about E.T.’s pop culture footprint is just how many songs were written about him in an attempt to make money and top the charts…with limited success. Here’s a selection of my personal favorites.
Neil Diamond, “Heartlight”
Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight” is to adult contemporary what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is to rock and roll. I genuinely believe this. Think about it.
E.T. got so deep into the soul of Neil Diamond that he immediately had to write a song about it. And here’s the kicker, the song is sincere. Pretty much everything else you’ll read about here was made with commerce in mind. Now, I’m not naive enough to think that didn’t play in to Papa Neil’s decision to record this, but I believe that first and foremost he was moved by the flick and had to do what he does and, with the help of co-writers Burt Fucking Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, let this flow from his heart into our ears.
It reached #1 on the charts, and still makes a happy glow for all the world to see.
Kitty Terry, “E.T. Phone Home”
Spotify tells me that this was my most-listened to track of 2016. Given the absolute bizarro hellscape that year was, this factoid makes perfect sense.
Beginning with a not-bad E.T. imitator spouting the Coors-loving galactic creepoid’s catchphrase, “E.T. Phone Home” is my personal pick for the greatest E.T. song of all time. Sung by musician/ex-Miami Vice production coordinator/all-around fascinating person Kitty Terry, this track is the sort of thing Laura Brannigan should have been igniting dancehalls with alongside of her own hit track “Gloria.” (A song that my childhood self was convinced was about E.T. due to the fact that I mistook the line “I think they got the alias” for “I think they got Elliott”).
Anyway, this one bridges that weird chasm between disco and new wave, and would be terrific even if it weren’t created to cash in on E.T. mania.
Michael Jackson, “Someone in the Dark”
OF COURSE Michael Jackson had a song about E.T., too bad it’s such a stinker. This one was released as a track on his 1982 storybook album dedicated to the film. Despite being released around the same time as Thriller, this one is a forgettable throwaway that is closer to his Free Willy work than “Billie Jean.” Hard pass.
Katy Perry, “E.T.”
To clarify, I don’t think this song means that Katy Perry would be into getting it on with E.T., but maybe just loves aliens in general?
The Chipmunks, “E.T. & Me”
1982’s The Chipmunks Go Hollywood had the eternally shrill rodents covering soundtrack staples like “Eye of the Tiger” and, bizarrely, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” alongside of original material inspired by the greatest films of the era. Naturally, they set their capitalistic sights on everyone’s favorite extra-terrestrial in “E.T. & Me.”
This headscratcher that was actually released as a single begins with a brief and very meta prologue in which Dave reminds Alvin that E.T. “isn’t real.” Undaunted by this most existential of revelations given that he himself doesn’t actually exist, Alvin then launches into an irksome singalong about the myriad ways he could exploit E.T. – from doing his homework to reviving a dying fern to making public appearances that would rack in merchandising dollars. None of this is actually surprising given The Chipmunks’ own cozy relationship with being cute for cash, but perhaps the most troubling thing about “E.T. & Me” is that Alvin actually has some respectable business acumen. (If he were real, he probably would have been busted for insider trader by the time ‘87 rolled around).
Actually, scratch that, the song reaches it’s disturbing apex when Alvin predicts the rise of Trump by suggesting that E.T. could become president based on his cult of personality alone. Shudder.
Spaze-Da Kett, “ET in America”
What’s the only thing worse than a Chipmunks song about E.T.? This song about E.T. from The Chipmunks rip-off band Spaze-Ka-Dett.
Very little is known about this pitch-shifted single that was released on Emerald International Records in 1982, and I suppose that is for the best. Some mysteries are too strange to be solved.
Equally strange: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s “Boobs in California” feels influenced by this track.
Popitos, “ La Canción De E.T. El Extraterrestre”
Let us travel now to Spain for this foreign example of E.T. musical magic.
Popitos consisted of singers Francisco and Esther, former classmates-turned-pop stars who recorded this snappy tune (which translates as “The Song of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”) in 1982. It’s easy to imagine this burning up the airwaves due to its sugary vocals and high-energy melodies. Or maybe not, you tell me.
Clearly I’m on the wrong side of history when it comes to loving this sort of trash.
Donna Rhodes, “Extra Terrestrial”
What’s the over/under on how much chlamydia was spread at Studio 54 when this s-e-x-x-y offering filtered through the club like the scent of a broken bottle of poppers?
Extra T’s, “E.T. Boogie”
Yet another song that kicks off with a faux E.T. saying “phone home,” this classic from Miami electro pioneers Extra T’s is pretty legit. Its bleeps and looping melodies were memorable enough for Busta Rhymes to sample in his track “Dangerous,” and the fact that it is largely instrumental means that it lacks the forced lyricism that dominate most of these sorts of cash grabs. If anything, the E.T.-centric refrains of the song actually take away from the great beats. And yeah, this one will be kicking around your brain for a few days.
Sorry. Nah, I’m not at all.
Barnes & Barnes, “I Had Sex with ET”
The mad geniuses behind “Fish Heads” (including Bill Mumy from the original Lost in Space) gave us this Dr. Demento favorite about what it would be like to fornicate with a cosmic botanist. And for those of you who are deeply offended by the idea of E.T. getting busy, you’ll probably want to avoid this absolutely NSFW link.
Paula Lepun and Christian Bruhn, “Nachhause Telefonieren”
Translated from the German phrase for “phone home,” Paula Lepun and Christian Bruhn’s “Nachhause Telefonieren” is a post-Kraftwerk journey into synthy dissonance. It does a credible job of musically representing a message that one so desperately needs to be received and yet won’t be because the world is cruel and random and ohmygodwhatdidTrumpdotoday?
I can’t help but listen to this and think that it is a dispatch from a parallel world where Werner Herzog directed E.T. and had the title character die by the creekbed an hour into the flick, with the rest of the runtime consisting of a time-lapse shot of him decaying, being picked apart by raccoons, and so forth. So I suppose that this song wasn’t so much created with a desire to hop aboard the E.T. money train as it was to make a statement about what it felt like to feel disconnected from the world, and friend, you best believe that I can dig it.
Kaliandro, “E.T. Help Me”
The greatest song never recorded by Jem and the Holograms. That’s the best way to describe Italo disco artist’s Kaliandro’s “E.T. Help Me.”
A plea for “happiness and desire,” E.T. isn’t even mentioned until the two-minute mark into the song. Pointless conspiracy theory: This was a pre-existing song that Kaliandro had that he decided to throw some E.T.-ness into after the fact. (A la the 1980s musical equivalent of the Cloverfield films). Whatever the truth behind the tune’s genesis is, I have to say that I’m absolutely picking up the Alphaville-style vibes this one is throwing down.
Don’t be surprised when you see this one resurface on Den of Geek’s next comic con playlist.
Uncle Vic, “E.T. Phone Home”
Having experienced some success with his song “Space Invaders,” the mysterious bearded crooner known only as Uncle Vic gives us this, the most straightforward E.T. pop song to appear here.
“E.T. Phone Home” is fairly quick retelling of E.T.’s attempts to transform a Speak & Spell toy and some other junk into an intergalactic telephone. This one is everything you want from an E.T. novelty song. E.T. impersonation? Check! Memorable chorus? Check! Somewhat arbitrary plot recap? Check!
It’s not the best of the E.T. bunch, but it’s workmanship is appreciated and it gets the job done.
Buckner & Garcia, “E.T. I Love You”
The “Pac-Man Fever” duo flew too close to the sun with this one, a turgid ballad about E.T. that makes “Froggy’s Lament” sound like “Stairway to Heaven.”
Marty Merchant, “E.T.’s Helping Santa”
So here’s the thing, in 1982 there was a strange push to make E.T. a part of Christmas celebrations. There were special E.T. holiday decorations and even some copyright-defying appearances by Santa E.T. at shopping malls. This movement didn’t really catch on, which is a goddamn shame because country singer Marty Merchant’s “E.T.’s Helping Santa” deserves to get at least a fraction of the airplay that sludge like “The Christmas Shoes” or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” does each Yuletide.
Walter Murphy, “Themes from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial”
Walking a fine line between the cinematic dancefloor theatricality of Meco Monardo (he of Star Wars disco legendry) and the specific kind of torturous music that only plays when you are on hold with your student loan provider, Walter Murphy’s “Themes from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” is a largely forgettable affair when compared to some of the other bangers featured here.
Murphy is best known for work on various Seth MacFarlane projects and his late ‘70s fuckjam “A Fifth of Beethoven” (as heard on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack). Not that his reworkings of John Williams’ various E.T. suites approach the success of these other works.
Dickie Goodman, “Hey E.T.”
As an indoor kid, I don’t have many great memories about the year my parents extorted me into playing sports in exchange for my monthly supply of Archie digests. But there is one joyful recollection of this era that is firmly embedded in my mind: It was October of ’82, and I had just finished a successful (i.e. I didn’t fall in a ditch or get the wind knocked out of me) football practice and was enjoying some celebratory French fries from the local ball field’s snack bar when I heard Dickie Goodman’s “Hey E.T.” blaring from the PA system.
Goodman reached a certain degree of musical infamy by pioneering the so-called “break-in” record, in which he would take samples from preexisting songs and fuse them together with a supposedly humorous narrative thread he conceived of. For a kid like my who wore out his copy of Ronco’s Funny Bone Favorites LP, I thought his schtick was just about the funniest thing in existence. Helping matters, “Hey E.T.” featured samples from a bunch of my favorite songs of the time, including “Don’t You Want Me” and “867-5309,” which was in this tune E.T.’s home phone number. Even as a kid I remembered thinking that Goodman’s connecting material seem stilted and forced, but I didn’t care, because this was comedy revolving around the biggest movie at the time and it was as magical as E.T. biking across the moon.
Now? I can’t make it through ten seconds. Innocence dies. That should be your takeaway from all of this nonsense.
What is your favorite E.T. song? Let it shine wherever you go, below.
Chris Cummins is a Den of Geek contributor and the creator of Sci-Fi Explosion, a travelling video comedy show focusing on the weirdest aspects of contemporary science fiction. He’ll be speaking about all things ET-spolitation at Nerd Nite NYC this Friday at Littlefield in Brooklyn. For more information, follow @scifiexplosion and @bionicbigfoot on Twitter.