Born under a bad sign
“Capricorn, Scorpio, /Taurus, Gemini, Virgo, Cancer, /Pisces, Leo, Libra, Aries, /Aquarius, Sagittarius… /No matter what sign you are, /You’re gonna be mine, /Can’t let astrology chart our destiny…”
These lyrics to a 1969 tune by Diana Ross and The Supremes called “No Matter What Sign You Are” reinforce my basic viewpoint about astrology: It’s interesting to contemplate, but it isn’t science.
My natural skepticism has kept my interest in astrology at arm’s length since I first encountered it as a teen. Initially, I was fascinated by the notion that everybody born in the same 30-day period — say, mid-March to mid-April, like I was — essentially share the same personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. Eventually, I found it all just too far-fetched, too generalized. The belief that there are only a dozen different types of personalities for billions of people just doesn’t make sense to me.
Historically, astrology claimed the ability to predict human behavior and earthly events based on the position of celestial objects during a given calendar year. By the 19th Century, researchers exposed it as pseudoscience with no scientific validity. Still, there are areas of the world today where astrology is enthusiastically embraced, including the U.S., where thousands of books have been published on the subject.
Among those who do so are the world’s artists — poets, painters, novelists, musicians. Astrology has inspired so much literature, fine art, and music, and I figured I’d find plenty of examples of popular songs about astrological signs in the annals of classic rock of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Curiously, this was not the case. I had to broaden my search to include material from more recent decades and from other musical genres just to find enough suitable tracks to represent each of the 12 signs of the zodiac for the Spotify playlist that you’ll find at the end of this blog entry.
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” The 5th Dimension, 1969
Any discussion of songs about the zodiac signs pretty much has to begin with this enormous hit that dominated the airwaves in the spring of 1969. The two songs that form the medley were written in 1967 for the groundbreaking Broadway play “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” which made daring observations about the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the Sixties. A key message was based on the notion that the universe was about to enter the next astrological age — the age of Aquarius, marked by group consciousness and humanitarianism: “When the moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, /Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars, /This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius…” Upon seeing the show, Billy Davis of The 5th Dimension insisted that the band should record “Aquarius,” but producer Bones Howe felt it was only a song fragment and got the idea to create a medley with a few bars from another song in the show (“The Flesh Failures”) that repeated the words “let the sunshine in.” Although the two song fragments are in different keys and tempos, Howe “jammed them together like two trains,” and the result was a dramatic track that sat at #1 on US pop charts for six weeks.
“Scorpios,” Adam and The Ants, 1981
Stuart Goddard, known professionally as Adam Ant, had a very successful run on the British pop charts between 1980-1983, earning 10 Top Ten hit singles both as lead singer of the New Wave band Adam and The Ants and as a solo artist. In the US, his chart appearances were far more limited, reaching the Top 20 just twice, in 1982 and 1990. Goddard, born in early November as a Scorpio, had been a hot-tempered child who twice threw bricks through his teacher’s office window, but another teacher helped him channel his anger into creative expression. After seeing the Sex Pistols in 1975, he said, “I wanted to do something different, be someone else. I decided I wanted to be Adam, because he was the first man, and I chose Ant because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” There’s a deep track on the 1981 “Prince Charming” album called “Scorpios,” which reflects on the aggressive nature of the scorpion: “Listen here from one who knows, be fearless just like the Scorpios, /Pretty, look young, be fearless like the scorpion…”
“Goodbye Pisces,” Tori Amos, 2005
Amos was something of a child prodigy, earning a scholarship to the music conservatory at Johns Hopkins University at a young age. Her piano and vocal skills were unquestioned but her rebelliousness didn’t sit well with authorities, and she struck out on her own as a solo artist in the 1990s, scoring multiple Top Ten albums including “Boys For Pele,” “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” “Strange Little Girls” and “Scarlet’s Walk.” Her 2005 LP “The Beekeeper,” a double concept album that focused on the themes of femininity and female empowerment, included a poignant breakup tune called “Goodbye Pisces,” in which she says farewell to a man who used to offer tender-loving care but has grown cold and insensitive: “In your boys life, you become like a bull in a china shop, /Smash it up into smithereens, /There you go again, breaking porcelain, /Is that all I am, just a doll you got used to? /We’ve done this before, /As Mars sauntered through his door, /Don’t say it’s time to say goodbye to Pisces…”
“Son of Sagittarius,” Eddie Kendricks, 1974
In 1960, Kendricks teamed up with Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams to become a vocal group first known as The Primes, and then The Temptations. Kendricks was the group’s first tenor but often sang in falsetto, carrying the high melody on many of their hits, including “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “Just My Imagination.” He found himself at odds with the band and its managers by 1971 and decided to strike out on his own, eventually enjoying a #1 solo hit with 1973’s “Keep On Truckin’.” The title song of his second solo LP “Boogie Down” reached #2 in 1974, and a second single from that album, “Son of Sagittarius,” reached #28 on pop charts. Kendricks and his father were both born under the Sagittarius sign (mid-November to mid-December), hence the lyrics: “People, I am the fire, number nine Zodiac sign, /Jupiter brings me the power, Saturn brings me peace of mind, /I must be clear there’s no use in trying to change me, in Lady Luck I put my trust, /I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the son of a Sagittarius…”
“Aries,” Freddie Hubbard, 1964
Hubbard was a master of jazz trumpet, specializing in bebop, hard bop and post-bebop, broadening the perspectives of modern jazz from the early 1960s well into the 1990s. Even in his 20s, he performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner and Quincy Jones. He released more than 60 albums on Blue Note and other labels, almost exclusively instrumental explorations, and participated as a sideman on upwards of 120 other LPs by a broad range of jazz artists. On his 1964 release “The Body & The Soul,” there’s a concise little track called “Aries,” titled, I assume, because Hubbard was an Aries himself, born in early April.
“Gift From Virgo,” Beyoncé, 2003
The superstar pop icon whose unparalleled success earned her the nickname Queen Bey got her start as a member of the R&B female vocal group Destiny’s Child in the 1990s, and then went on to score seven consecutive Number One albums as a solo artist. Her first, “Dangerously in Love,” came in 2003 and included the international hits “Crazy in Love,” “Baby Boy,” “Me, Myself and I” and “Naughty Boy.” Born in early September, Beyoncé is a Virgo, who tend to be detail-oriented perfectionists but with a practical and logical side, which might explain why her music has been meticulous and well thought out. In her song “Gift From Virgo” from that same album, the lyrics touch on the innocence of first love, and they hint that the narrator’s virginity might be the gift in question: “Do you remember our first kiss? It wasn’t long enough, /Remember the first time we spent those weeks together? They were not long enough, /One day we’ll make love, finally I’ll be yours, /Only you, only you, I could love you, /But it’s too late, I already love you…”
“Taurus,” Spirit, 1969
One of the better rock bands to come out of Los Angeles in the late ’60s, Spirit was underrated, although they had modest success with a few singles (“Fresh Garbage,” “I Got a Line on You,” “Mr. Skin,” “Nature’s Way”) and albums (“The Family That Plays Together” and “The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus”). They had a strong cult following in California especially, touring often during their initial five years of existence. Singer Jay Ferguson wrote the bulk of their repertoire, although guitarist Randy Wolfe (who went by Randy California) also composed a few tracks. One that later generated considerable controversy was a short instrumental piece entitled “Taurus.” Since it has no lyrics, it’s hard to gauge the relevance of its title, except that it’s a quiet, reflective track, in keeping with the preference of Taurus folks for “serene environments, soft sounds, soothing aromas and succulent flavors.” It offers a prominent guitar passage that later bore a striking resemblance to the introductory section of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 tour de force, “Stairway to Heaven.” Wolfe’s estate ended up filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in 2014 which proved unsuccessful, but it brought attention to both the band and that particular tune.
“Cancer,” Joe Jackson, 1982
A product of the post-punk New Wave movement in London in the late ’70s, Jackson established a reputation as an “angry young man” with biting, sarcastic lyrics and a sneering vocal delivery. By 1982, he showed a remarkably sophisticated musical approach on his brilliant 1982 LP “Night and Day,” a cycle of songs inspired by his first lengthy visit to New York City. The sprightly arrangement of “Steppin’ Out” and tender melody of “Breaking Us in Two” put him on the US pop charts that year, but just as compelling were deeper piano-driven tracks like “Target” and “Cancer.” The latter was Jackson’s commentary on the fitness craze of the ’80s, and how, no matter how much we tried to take better care of ourselves, “Everything that’s enjoyable is bad for your health. It seems like everything gives you cancer.” Again, this is all about the incurable disease, not the astrological sign, which includes such personality traits as keen emotional intelligence, an almost supernatural sensitivity, and the ability to compassionately meet the needs of others.
“Leo,” Grace Kinstler, 2023
Kinstler is a phenomenal 21-year-old singer from Chicago who moved to Los Angeles and gained fame as a finalist on the 2021 season of the “American Idol” TV talent program. She performed in the Rose Bowl Parade in January 2023, introducing her new single “Leo” at the event. The artist and her music are so new that there’s little information about this song that I could find, but I was intrigued by it when I came across it on Spotify. Is Leo the guy’s name, the astrological sign, or maybe both? Leos are confident, drama-loving, fiercely protective and comfortable with being the center of attention. You decide: “Shuffling down memory lane, doesn’t feel quite the same without you, how can my mind get away when he smiles on my face, I miss you, heading way down, I’m missing all your signs, when I see you around, got me feeling so inspired, so many words, I don’t know what to write, but you know I’m gonna try… I’ll do it over and over again, I’ll be a Leo…”
“Gemini Dream,” The Moody Blues, 1981
Guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge, who had individually written many of the songs in The Moody Blues catalog, collaborated for the first time on this engaging rocker from the group’s strong 1981 LP, “Long Distance Voyager.” Lodge wrote about the band getting back on tour and in the studio after several years while Hayward came up with verses referring to two people sharing the same dream, and they combined the two lyrical topics into one melodic structure which ended up reaching #12 on US pop charts. Is it coincidental that the two musicians worked together on a song with twin topics and be titled “Gemini Dream”? Perhaps not. Like the astrological sign, the song has two sides — an intelligent pursuit of creative ideas but with a short attention span driven by restlessness: “Long time, no see, short time for you and me, /So fine, so good, we’re on the road like you knew we would… There’s a place, a Gemini dream, /There’s no escaping from the love we have seen, /So come with me, turn night to day, /You know you’re gonna wake up in a Gemini dream…”
“Libra,” Max Roach, 1968
Roach was another major player in the modern jazz arena as a drummer and occasional composer, who worked with the likes of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk. From his debut LP in 1953 into the 1990s, Roach put together an enviable catalog of vintage jazz recordings including several as the Max Roach Quartet. One of his favorite sidemen was noted saxophonist Gary Bartz, who wrote the busy instrumental track “Libra” for the 1968 LP “Members, Don’t Git Weary”on Atlantic. Again, I must presume Bartz used the title because he was a Libra, born in late September…
“Jesus Was a Capricorn,” Kris Kristofferson, 1972
“Honest, loyal, sensitive and confident” are four of the dominant personality traits of those born in the sign of Capricorn (Dec 21-Jan. 19), which includes Christmas, the supposed birthdate of Jesus. Kristofferson wrote “Jesus Was a Capricorn” as a tribute of sorts to John Prine, whose songwriting he greatly admired, with lyrics that were at once whimsical and irreverent: “Jesus was a Capricorn, he ate organic food, /He believed in love and peace, and never wore no shoes, /Long hair, beard and sandals, and a funky bunch of friends, /Reckon we’d just nail him up if he came down again…” Kristofferson had bristled at some of the criticism written about his earlier work, which sparked the line in the chorus, “Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on… /If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me…” It became the title song to his third LP in 1972. The album didn’t do well at first but, a year later, it reached #1 on country charts on the strength of its third single, “Why Me.”