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 film 2001: 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.
The song 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 July 11, 1969 to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was promoted in advertisements for the Stylophone, 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.
A stripped-down version, originally performed on Kenny Everett’s New Year’s Eve Show, was issued in February 1980 as the B-side of Alabama Song.
The B-side, Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud, first appeared on CD on 1989’s Sound + Vision.
On July 20, 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 video game Rock Band 3 and as downloadable content in Rocksmith. Space Oddity is also the credits song in the psychological thriller video game Alan Wake.
Editor’s Note: On a chilly October late night, somewhere around midnight or so, a girl with dark purple hair leaned her body halfway out of a parked car and sang this song into the night. The car was parked out in front of a coffee place that a friend and I used to sneak off to. It was one that everyone who knew us did not go to, so we could be away, different, us, I guess. We would never see that girl again, but her voice singing Space Oddity into the night sky while we sat outside, shivering, clutching coffee, leaning in close whilst our words slipped through the steam from each cup, it has stuck with me, and with this song to me. I miss that secret coffee place, the girl i stole away with there, and the purple haired singer in the beat up Chevy Nova singing to Major Tom.