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"Life on Mars?" is a song by David Bowie first released in 1971 on the album Hunky Dory and also released as a single. The song—which BBC Radio 2 later called "a cross between aBroadway musical and a Salvador Dalí painting"—featured guest piano work by keyboardist Rick Wakeman. When released as a single in 1973, it reached #3 in the UK and stayed on the chart for thirteen weeks. The song re-entered the UK charts at #55 over 30 years later, largely because of its use in the original British television series Life on Mars. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph ranked it as #1 in his 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list. He also commented on the song:
A quite gloriously strange anthem, where the combination of stirring, yearning melody and vivid, poetic imagery manage a trick very particular to the art of the song: to be at once completely impenetrable and yet resonant with personal meaning. You want to raise your voice and sing along, yet Bowie’s abstract cut-up lyrics force you to invest the song with something of yourself just to make sense of the experience. And, like all great songs, it's got a lovely tune.
In 1968 Bowie wrote the lyrics "Even a Fool Learns to Love", set to the music of a 1967 French song "Comme d'habitude", composed by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. Bowie's version was never released, but Paul Anka bought the rights to the original French version, and rewrote it into "My Way," made famous by Frank Sinatra in a 1969 recording on his album of the same name. The success of the Anka version prompted Bowie to write "Life on Mars?" as a parody of Sinatra's recording. In notes for a Bowie compilation CD that accompanied a June 2008 issue of The Mail on Sunday, Bowie described how he wrote the song:Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise longue; a bargain-price art nouveau screen ('William Morris,' so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon.
Bowie noted that Wakeman "embellished the piano part" of his original melody and guitarist Mick Ronson "created one of his first and best string parts" for the song. The liner notes forHunky Dory indicate that the song was 'inspired by Frankie'.
One reviewer suggested the song was written after "a brief and painful affair" with actress Hermione Farthingale. While on tour in 1990, Bowie introduced the song by saying "You fall in love, you write a love song. This is a love song."
All songs written by David Bowie:
- "Life on Mars?" – 3:48
- "The Man Who Sold the World" – 3:55