Today, Chris deBurgh is best known for his 1987 hit song “The Lady in Red.” But years before that, he put a unique spin on the events that occurred in Bethlehem two millennia ago. It is my Christmas Song of the Day for December 5.
For centuries, astronomers and other scientists have tried to determine if the star that hung over the Christ Child as the Magi followed was an actual, traceable astronomical event. The results have been inconclusive, but there is evidence that a rare, unusually bright planetary conjunction happened around the time of the events on Bethlehem. Also, Halley’s Comet is known to have been visible in 12 BC, a few years early; another comet was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 5 BC. Whatever the truth, something was in the sky at that time, and when the gospel writer we know as Matthew wrote about it, he included it in his account of Jesus’ birth as a sign from above.
In 1975, deBurgh, then an aspiring singer-songwriter, had signed his first contract with the U.K. affiliate of A&M Records. He was flat broke and staying with a friend, and in that friend’s collection of books was the popular 1968 work Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. This book, among others in the late 1960s and early 1970s, helped spur a belief that extraterrestrials were responsible for some of the more mysterious and advanced artifacts of ancient human culture, such as the Egyptian pyramids. The book is basically hooey, but it and other related works were very popular at the time.
While reading the book, deBurgh came up with a novel idea: “What if the Star of Bethlehem was really a UFO?” Also inspired by William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, in which the poet claimed that world-changing events happen every 2,000 years or so, deBurgh came up with the image of a brightly shining spacecraft hovering over Bethlehem. He imagined the shepherds in the fields transfixed by the object, from which not only a bright light but some of the most beautiful music ever heard was emanating.
In the end, he pieced together his imagery into a song that he called “A Spaceman Came Travelling.” Originally released in the Christmas season of 1975, it was not an immediate hit anywhere, but it hit #1 on the Irish charts in 1976 and remains a perennial in the British Isles. In the States, at least two attempts were made to release the five-minute-long song as a single without success.
Here’s the original 1975 version of “A Spaceman Came Travelling.”