"Space Oddity" is a song written and performed by David Bowie and released as a music single in July 1969. It is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut. Besides its title, which clearly alludes to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the introduction to the song is a barely audible instrumental build-up that is analogous to the deep bass tone in Also Sprach Zarathustra that is prominently used in the film. The lyrics have also been seen to lampoon the 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 Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who performed the song while aboard the International Space Station, and therefore became the first music video shot in space. This video was removed from YouTube on May 13, 2014: despite Bowie's explicit wishes that Hadfield be fully licensed to record the song and produce the video, the song is owned — and its copyright controlled — by Bowie's publisher, who granted Hadfield license to the song for only one year.
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) withMercury Records and its UK subsidiary, Philips, in 1969. Mercury executives had heard an audition tape that included a demo of "Space Oddity," recorded by Bowie and his then musical partner John Hutchinson in March 1969. (An even earlier version of the song was recorded on 2 February 1969 for Bowie's promotional film Love You Till Tuesday.)
Next Bowie 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. Visconti decided to delegate its production to Gus Dudgeon. The track was recorded at Trident Studios on 20 June 1969 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).
The song was promoted in advertisements for the Stylophone, played by Bowie on the record and heard in the background during the opening verse. The single was not played by the BBC until after the Apollo 11 crew had safely returned; after this slow start, the song reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S, it stalled at 124.
Mogol wrote Italian lyrics, and Bowie recorded a new vocal in December 1969, 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 No. 15 on the Billboard Chart and became Bowie's first hit single in the United States; in Canada, it reached No. 16. This was then used to support RCA's 1975 UK reissue, which gave Bowie his first No. 1 single in the UK Singles Chart in November that year. It spent two weeks at the top of that chart.
Bowie recorded a stripped-down, acoustic version in late 1979, which was issued in February 1980 as the B-side of "Alabama Song". The promotional video of this version debuted in the UK on Kenny Everett's New Year's Eve Show. The 1979 recording was rereleased in 1992 on the Rykodisc reissue of Bowie'sScary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album.
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.
A version of the song was recorded with vocals from actress Kristen Wiig for the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013). There is a scene where Mitty (Ben Stiller), imagines Wiig's character is singing the song to him, inspiring him to take action. The song, with Bowie & Wiig's vocals, is also included on the official soundtrack. 1993 Siagon Kick sang this song on its album titled Water
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)
- Bowie played the song for the BBC's Johnny Walker Lunchtime Show on 22 May 1972. This was broadcast in early June 1972 and eventually released on Bowie at the Beeb in 2000.
- A version recorded at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October 1972 was first released on Santa Monica '72.
- A live performance recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 3 July 1973 was released on Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture in 1983.
- A July 1974 live performance was released on the 2005 reissue of David Live.
- A live performance filmed on 12 September 1983 is included in the concert film Serious Moonlight (1983 film).
In the days after the song, Bowie filmed a music video to promote his movie Love You till Tuesday.
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 22,000,000 views on YouTube. The performance was the subject of a piece by Glenn Fleishman in The Economist on 22 May 2013 analyzing the legal implications of publicly performing a copyrighted work of music while in earth orbit. Hadfield announced the video would be taken offline on 13 May 2014 due to the one year licence expiring.
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