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"Space Oddity" is a song written and performed by David Bowie and released as a music single in 1969. It is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut; its title alludes to the film2001: A Space Odyssey. The lyrics have also been seen to lampoon the failed British space programme. The song appears on the album David Bowie (also known as Space Oddity).
The song was awarded the 1969 Ivor Novello Award, together with Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?". "Space Oddity" became so well known that Bowie's second album, originally released as David Bowie in the UK (like his first album), was renamed after the track for its 1972 reissue by RCA Records, and has since become known by this name. It was used by U2 during their 360° Tour (2009-2011). It was played over the public address system preceding the band's arrival on stage. In 2013, the song gained renewed popularity after it was covered by astronaut Chris Hadfield, who performed the song while aboard the International Space Station.
Bowie would later revisit his Major Tom character in the songs "Ashes to Ashes" and "Hallo Spaceboy". German singer Peter Schilling's 1983 hit "Major Tom (Coming Home)" is written as a retelling of the song.
After Bowie's split from record label Deram, his manager, Kenneth Pitt, negotiated a one-album deal (with options for a further one or two albums) with Mercury Records and its UK subsidiary,Philips, in 1969.
An early version of the song had appeared in Bowie's 1969 promotional film Love You Till Tuesday.
Next he tried to find a producer. George Martin turned the project down, while Tony Visconti liked the album demo-tracks, but considered the planned lead-off single, "Space Oddity", a 'cheap shot' at the impending Space mission but because Mercury Records had already liked and agreed to the track he decided to delegate its production to Gus Dudgeon. The track was recorded at Trident Studios and used the in-house session player on the song Rick Wakeman (mellotron) also of progressive rock band Yes fame, as well as Mick Wayne (guitar),Herbie Flowers (bass), and Terry Cox (drums).
After the recording of a fresh version, the single was rush-released on 11 July 1969 to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was promoted in advertisements for theStylophone, played by Bowie on the record. The single was not played by the BBC until after the Apollo 11 crew had safely returned; after this slow start, however, the song reached #5 in the chart. In the U.S, it stalled at 124.
Mogol wrote Italian lyrics, and Bowie recorded a new vocal, releasing the single "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") in Italy, reportedly to take attention away from covers by the Italian bands Equipe 84 and The Computers.
Upon its re-release as a single in 1973, the song reached #15 on the Billboard Chart and became Bowie's first hit single in America; in Canada, it reached #16. This was then used to support RCA's 1975 UK reissue, which gave Bowie his first #1 single in November.
On 20 July 2009, the single was reissued on a digital EP that featured four previously released versions of the song and stems that allow listeners to remix the song. This release coincided with the 40th anniversary of the song and the Apollo 11 moon landing.
"Space Oddity" was featured as one of the on-disc songs in the videogame Rock Band 3 and as downloadable content in Rocksmith. "Space Oddity" is also the credits song in the psychological thriller video game Alan Wake.
All songs written by David Bowie.
- 1969 UK original
- "Space Oddity" – 4:33 (mono)
- "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" – 3:52
- 1969 Germany/Holland
- "Space Oddity" – 5:13 (stereo)
- "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" – 4:59 (stereo)
- 1969 US original
- "Space Oddity" - 3:26
- "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" - 3:20
- 1973 US Reissue
- "Space Oddity" - 5:05
- "The Man Who Sold the World" - 3:53
- 1975 UK reissue
- 2009 reissue (Digital EP)
- "Space Oddity" (Original UK mono single edit)
- "Space Oddity" (US mono single edit)
- "Space Oddity" (US stereo single edit)
- "Space Oddity" (1979 re-record)
- "Space Oddity" (Bass and Drums)
- "Space Oddity" (Strings)
- "Space Oddity" (Acoustic guitar)
- "Space Oddity" (Mellotron)
- "Space Oddity" (Backing vocal, flute and cellos)
- "Space Oddity" (Stylophone and guitar)
- "Space Oddity" (Lead vocal)
- "Space Oddity" (Main backing vocal including countdown)
In May 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of Expedition 35 to the International Space Station, recorded a video of the song on the space station which went viral and generated a great deal of media exposure. The lyrics were somewhat altered; the ending was replaced with Major Tom getting his orders to land and doing so safely. Hadfield announced the video on his Twitter account, writing, "With deference to the genius of David Bowie, here's Space Oddity, recorded on Station. A last glimpse of the World." Bowie was also thanked in the ending credits. This was the first music video ever shot in space. Bowie responded to the video, tweeting back to Hadfield, "Hallo Spaceboy". The video has had over 16,000,000 views on YouTube. The performance was the subject of a piece by Glenn Fleishman in The Economist on May 22, 2013 analyzing the legal implications of publicly performing a copyrighted work of music while in earth orbit.
Credits apply to 1969 original release:
- David Bowie – vocals, acoustic guitar, stylophone
- Mick Wayne – lead guitar
- Herbie Flowers – bass guitar
- Terry Cox – drums
- Rick Wakeman – Mellotron, piano
- Gus Dudgeon – record producer