Signals from Mars


Raymond Taylor’s composition, A Signal from Mars (1901).

This sheet music cover turned up recently as one of the pieces of science fiction-related graphics which will be on display at the British Library’s Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it exhibition when it opens on Thursday. I don’t know what the music sounds like but the design is very familiar from a reworked version used for the cover of A Beacon from Mars, the second album by psychedelic band Kaleidoscope. It was always obvious that this cover had been copied from somewhere but I hadn’t seen the original until now. On the reissue CD there are no design credits so I’ve no idea who drew the cover; given its rather crude felt-tipped appearance that may be just as well. It’s a nice idea but poorly rendered.


A Beacon from Mars (1968) by Kaleidoscope.

There are two Kaleidoscopes among the psychedelic groups of the late 60s so it should be emphasised that it’s the American one we’re dealing with here. The UK group were very good, especially on their second album, Faintly Blowing (1969), but the US band are in a different league altogether. I’d rate them as highly as any other group you care to name from the period 1967–69, including The Beatles. A troupe of formidable multi-instrumentalists, they started out as the Baghdad Blues Band (the name change was prompted by their manager), and played a unique blend of psych-rock, blues, bluegrass, English folk and Middle Eastern instrumentals. Jimmy Page called them his favourite band of all time, and it’s notable that Led Zeppelin adopted a similarly eclectic formula shortly after. The last of Kaleidoscope’s trio of 60s albums is aptly titled Incredible; the standout piece on that opus is Seven-Ate Sweet which can be heard in its full 11-minute glory here. For more about the band, this fan site is the place to go.

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8 thoughts on “Signals from Mars”

  1. Thank you for solving this design mystery.

    I love both Kaleidoscopes, but have to mention the third, also a favorite, the Mexican Kaleidoscope!

    I haven’t delved too deeply into the side-projects of the US Kaleidoscope’s members, but I have a soft-spot for Chris Darrow’s solo work.

  2. Hi Will, and thanks for the tip on another Kaleidoscope.

    I’ve not heard anything from Chris Darrow but I’ve followed David Lindley through his associations with Ry Cooder and others.

  3. I’ve just returned from the British Library exhibition, featuring a certain JC’s Lovecraft work.

    It seemed a rather lazy show: all the usual suspects, and presented for the nth time as, “I bet you didn’t think this was science fiction!”

    Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of pictorial covers and internal illustrations on show—plain bindings and pages of text weren’t going to pull the punters in—, but credits for illustrators and book designers? Not so much. If it was a picture or comic book, yes, otherwise not. Sigh …

    The Female Man was there in one of its several hideous covers, and we were fobbed off with, “Is this cover subversive, or … ?” Ech! Russ deserved better. She always did.

    But, hey, the sun is out, and the parakeets are squawking in the park, so I shouldn’t complain.

  4. Hi Matthew. Lovecraft work…er, what? Do tell.

    A shame if they’re not crediting things fully. That’s not always easy if a cover wasn’t credited originally but there’s so many sources for that information now it’s not too difficult to find who did a cover for a specific edition. The V&A, say, would probably have been more thorough.

  5. The Call of Cthulhu, I believe … with your name attached.

    They’ve not even attempted to give picture credits. For example, there’s a copy of Who Goes There? with Bok’s name clearly visible on the cover, but no credit that I could see. Surely, more people recognize that cover than have ever read Campbell’s story.

  6. That’s a surprise. It’s a good job you told me, I might not have known otherwise. Thanks. A bit of an odd inclusion; yes, Cthulhu is an alien creature but that story has rarely been considered science fiction, unlike some of HPL’s later, longer works.

  7. Well, Superman and Doctor Who were admitted, so …

    Attempting to define science fiction is probably a mug’s game anyway, though, of course, one could give a history of the term’s use.

    Ooh! I’ve come over all Wittgenstein—it must be time to go cruise the Prater.

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