Life on Mars (song)

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"Life on Mars?"
A photo of a red-haired man wearing red face make-up, wearing a red V-neck shirt with his arms out against a black backdrop. The yellow-lettered words "Life on Mars" appear in the top left corner, with "RCA 2316" under it and "David Bowie" under that.
Single by David Bowie
from the album Hunky Dory
B-side"The Man Who Sold the World"
Released22 June 1973 (1973-06-22)
Recorded6 August 1971
StudioTrident, London
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
David Bowie singles chronology
"Let's Spend the Night Together"
"Life on Mars?"
Music video
"Life On Mars?" on YouTube

"Life on Mars?" is a song by the English singer-songwriter David Bowie, first released on his 1971 album Hunky Dory. Bowie wrote the song as a parody of Frank Sinatra's "My Way". "Life on Mars?" was recorded on 6 August 1971 at Trident Studios in London, and was co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott. Bowie's backing band consisted of guitarist and string arranger Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, drummer Mick Woodmansey and Strawbs member Rick Wakeman on piano. "Life on Mars?" is primarily a glam rock ballad, with elements of cabaret and art rock; it has a complex structure that includes chord changes throughout. The lyrics are about a girl who goes to a cinema to escape reality, and include surreal images that reflect optimism and the effects of Hollywood.

At the height of Bowie's fame as Ziggy Stardust, RCA Records issued "Life on Mars?" as a single on 22 June 1973 in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at number three. To promote the single, photographer Mick Rock filmed a video that shows Bowie in make-up and a turquoise suit singing the song against a white backdrop. Bowie frequently performed "Life on Mars?" during his concerts and the song has appeared on numerous compilation albums. Scott remixed the song in 2003 and 2016, the latter being a "stripped down" mix.

"Life on Mars?" is considered by commentators as one of Bowie's greatest songs, and one of the best songs of all time. Critics have praised Bowie's vocal performance and growth as a songwriter. The song's title was given to the British television series Life on Mars, and films and other television programmes have included "Life on Mars?". Artists including Barbra Streisand, and Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, have recorded cover versions of the song; and following Bowie's death in 2016, "Life on Mars?" was frequently chosen as a tribute to the artist.

Background and writing[edit]

Paul Anka in 1995
Frank Sinatra in 1957
"Life on Mars?" was written as a parody of "My Way", featuring English lyrics by Paul Anka (left, 1995) and made famous by Frank Sinatra (right, 1957).

In early 1968, David Bowie's publisher David Platz was sharing a London office with another music publisher named Geoffrey Heath. One day, Heath arrived with an acetate disc of the 1967 French song "Comme d'habitude", which was composed by Claude François and Jacques Revaux, and sung by François. Heath, who had a limited option for the song's British rights, asked Platz for a songwriter to write English lyrics for "Comme d'habitude". Platz suggested Bowie, who had translated other songs for him. Bowie's manager Kenneth Pitt believed Bowie was a more-competent lyricist than a composer, and that if Bowie wrote "to a strong melody composed by someone else", it would guarantee him a hit.[a] Bowie's translation, which was titled "Even a Fool Learns to Love", was influenced by his recent work as a mime artist and included a reference to his 1967 track "When I Live My Dream".[3][4] In a 2002 interview with Michael Parkinson, Bowie said that he "wrote some really terrible lyrics [to it]".[5]

After Bowie recorded an unreleased demo of "Comme d'habitude" in February 1968, the song's French publishers rejected him, primarily due to his obscurity. Soon after, songwriter Paul Anka bought the rights to "Comme d'habitude" and rewrote it as "My Way", which was recorded and made famous by American singer Frank Sinatra in 1969. The success of "My Way" prompted Bowie to write "Life on Mars?" as a parody of Sinatra's recording.[3][4] He told Parkinson: "That really made me angry for so long—for about a year ... eventually I thought, 'I can write something as big as that, and I'll write one that sounds a bit like it'."[5] Bowie acknowledged "My Way"'s influence in the liner notes for Hunky Dory, which state "Life on Mars?" was "inspired by Frankie".[6][7]

Using "My Way" as a basis, Bowie wrote "Life on Mars?" relatively quickly.[8] In the liner notes for the 2008 compilation iSelect, Bowie wrote he began humming the melody in a park in Beckenham, Kent; after returning home to Haddon Hall and writing the rest of the song that afternoon on piano,[b][12][13] which he mainly used to compose other songs.[14] Bowie believed using "Comme d'habitude" as a basis was not "theft" but "a statement of rightful ownership".[8] One Melody Maker reviewer said "Life on Mars?" was written after "a brief and painful affair" with actor 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."[15] Bowie's original handwritten lyrics were vastly different—save for the chorus—from the finished recording; they were more akin to the tone of Hunky Dory's other Nietzsche-inspired numbers: "There's a shoulder-rock movement and the trembling starts / And a great Lord signs in vain / What can you buy when there's no-one to tell you / What a bargain you made ..."[16]


Early demo[edit]

Bowie recorded a demo of "Life on Mars?" between May and June 1971.[c][8] According to biographer Nicholas Pegg, the demo is one minute and fifty-three seconds long, and has Bowie alone on vocals and piano. This early demo contains only the first verse and chorus, and several lyrical variations from the finished track, including "It's a simple but small affair"; "Her mother is yelling no, and her father has asked her to go"; and "It's a time for the lawman beating up the wrong guy".[16] The demo would later be released as part of the 2022 box set Divine Symmetry.[citation needed] According to biographer Marc Spitz, Bowie had recorded demos of "Life on Mars?" and other Hunky Dory tracks "Oh! You Pretty Things" and "Andy Warhol" around this time, which inspired Bowie's new manager Tony Defries to look into securing a new record contract, eventually signing him to RCA Records.[19][20]

Studio version[edit]

Work on Hunky Dory began at Trident Studios, London, on 8 June 1971. "Life on Mars?" was recorded on 6 August, the final day of the sessions.[d][22] According to O'Leary, Bowie and co-producer Ken Scott considered the track to be "the Big One", and saved it for the end of the sessions.[8] In July that year, Defries sent a letter to comedian and jazz pianist Dudley Moore, asking him to play piano during a session. There is no evidence Moore replied; although the song on which Defries wanted Moore to play is unknown, biographer Kevin Cann said it was most likely "Life on Mars?".[23][24] Keyboardist, session musician and member of the Strawbs Rick Wakeman played piano on the track;[23] he had played Mellotron on Bowie's 1969 self-titled album.[25] In 1995, Wakeman said he met with Bowie in late June 1971 at Haddon Hall, where he heard demos of "Changes" and "Life on Mars?" in "their raw brilliance [...] the finest selection of songs I have ever heard in one sitting in my entire life [...] I couldn't wait to get into the studio and record them".[24] Wakeman played the same 1898 Bechstein piano that was used by the Beatles for "Hey Jude", and later by Queen for "Bohemian Rhapsody".[26] According to Wakeman; "I remember leaving [the studio] and saying to a couple of friends that I met that evening in a local pub that I'd just played on the best song that I'd ever had the privilege to work on".[5]

Rick Wakeman performing in 2012
Rick Wakeman (pictured in 2012), whose piano playing on "Life on Mars?" is prominent.

Along with Wakeman on piano, the backing band consisted of guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick Woodmansey.[27] Ronson also composed the song's string arrangement, which according to Woodmansey, was the first he had ever undertaken. Woodmansey said Ronson "was very nervous about it. We had a whole string section at Trident with the proper BBC session players who, if one note was not written properly, would turn their noses up and you wouldn't get a good sound out of them. So Mick was really nervous, but when they played the parts they realized these rock'n'rollers might not be guys we want to be in the studio with, but the parts are good. They took it on and really went with it."[16] Ronson's wife Suzi said he composed the arrangement while sitting in the studio bathroom.[28] In 2016, Woodmansey told NME "Life on Mars?" was the first time he realised the "calibre" of Bowie's songwriting, saying; "It had just gone to another level of quality ... it was something really special". He also noted it was a bit scary because there was nothing around like that [at the time]".[5] Bowie recorded his vocal performance in one take.[29] Regarding Bowie's talent as a vocalist, Scott stated: "He was unique. [He was] the only singer I ever worked with where virtually every take was a master."[30]



Biographer David Buckley described "Life on Mars?" as a "soaring, cinematic ballad".[4] The song has been classified as glam rock,[31][32] while Michael Gallucci of Ultimate Classic Rock said the melody "bridges cabaret and art rock".[33] "Life on Mars?" has a complex structure; the verses are primarily in the key of F major but chord changes are present throughout, including C7 ("told her to go"), F ("but her friend"), and later on, C9 to A ("lived it ten times"). The pre-chorus sections range from F major to B major, which is dominant throughout the choruses; Bolder's bassline has a rising chromatic scale of E to E to F to G.[8] Bowie delivers his vocals passionately during the choruses and almost nasally in the verses.[34][29]

"Life on Mars?" begins with a single piano note, which is followed by a rest, and Bowie starts singing on the third beat.[8] The chord sequence of "My Way" is used for the opening bars of "Life on Mars?".[7][16] Bolder's bass begins at the lyric "sunken dream". Instruments begin to build at the pre-chorus; strings and bass crash on the downbeat, Wakeman continues a run of chords on piano, while the intensity of Bowie's voice grows, changing from D to B ("focus on/SAI-LORS"). He briefly weakens his B note for "OH man" before changing from E to B on "law-man".[8] The final climax begins at the word "Mars", a B note he holds for three bars.[34][29] Afterwards, another sequence plays before the next verse begins.[8]

Mick Ronson in 1981
Mick Ronson (pictured in 1981), whose string arrangement is prevalent throughout the song.

Ronson based his string arrangement on the bassline Bolder worked on during rehearsals for the track. The other instruments act as a counterpoint to the strings during the chorus: according to O'Leary, drummer Woodmansey plays a "snare-medium tom fill to echo a descending violin line", while Wakeman adds "dancing" replies on piano. At the second verse's "Ibiza" line, Ronson plays recorder.[8] Bowie noted Wakeman "embellished the piano part" of his original melody and Ronson "created one of his first and best string parts" for the song.[6] Author Peter Doggett describes Ronson's string arrangement as "gargantuan",[29] and Christopher Sandford said Hunky Dory would be best remembered for the "lush, orchestral arrangement" of "Life on Mars?".[35]

Towards the song's end, Ronson performs a short, "vibrato-saturated" guitar solo that was recorded in one take.[29] The strings then play "grand sweeps" before a climactic tom-roll, which Doggett and O'Leary compared to the timpani in the main theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968),[8][29] while Pegg and Sandford compare it to the poem Also sprach Zarathustra.[16][35] After a false ending, Wakeman's piano plays the chorus melody "off in the distance". Then, according to O'Leary; "a phone rings, the song's manufacturers grumble, we're left awake and alone".[8] According to Pegg, the telephone bell rang during an earlier, scrapped take at the end of the tape; Bowie decided to keep it for the final mix.[16]


According to British radio station BBC Radio 2, "Life on Mars?" has "one of the strangest lyrics ever", consisting of a "slew of surreal images" like a Salvador Dalí painting.[6] Spitz said the song has a theme of optimism.[36] In the song, a "girl with mousy hair"[13] visits a cinema to escape from reality.[37][38] Sandford writes it "sets up a complex parallel world in which the cinema becomes life".[35] After the girl becomes "hooked to the silver screen",[39] Bowie uses an array of images that are typical of films,[37] naming Mickey Mouse, John Lennon, "Rule, Britannia!", Ibiza and the Norfolk Broads.[16]

At the time of Hunky Dory's release, Bowie summed up "Life on Mars?" as "A sensitive young girl's reaction to the media".[16] In 1997, he said; "I think she finds herself disappointed with reality ... that although she's living in the doldrums of reality, she's being told that there's a far greater life somewhere, and she's bitterly disappointed that she doesn't have access to it."[16] Doggett writes a key motif throughout the song is Hollywood, which he describes as "a manufacturer of dreams and stars that have become stale with repetition".[29] This is evident in the line "the film is a saddening bore—she's lived it ten times or more", which Sandford calls "a neat, if well-worn trick, blurring the art-life divide".[35] The Hollywood influence is also present in the line "look at those cavemen go", which is borrowed from the song "Alley Oop", a 1960 hit for American doo-wop band The Hollywood Argyles.[16][40]

The identity of the "girl with the mousy hair" has been debated. Some journalists and commentators have said the girl is Farthingale. According to Pegg, however, there is no evidence to support this claim. Farthingale has rejected this theory, telling Pegg: "I don't actually have mousy hair ... I wasn't a person who lived at home with my parents, and I didn't live a fantasy life in films. Nothing about me fits into any of the words."[16]


Although Bowie was fixated on becoming Ziggy Stardust at the time of its recording, "Life on Mars?" has no connection with the planet Mars; the title is a reference to the intense media coverage of the contemporaneous US-Soviet Union race to reach the planet. Doggett states the media interest inspired headlines around the world that asked "Is there life on Mars?"[41] According to Perone, the science fiction-influenced character Ziggy Stardust and his backing band The Spiders from Mars originated in the "fleeting image" of "Life on Mars?" and the "androgynous outcast" who is portrayed in Bowie's album The Man Who Sold the World (1970).[42]


RCA Records released Hunky Dory on 17 December 1971,[43] with "Life on Mars?" as the fourth track on side one, sandwiched between "Eight Line Poem" and "Kooks".[44] Eighteen months later,[35] at the height of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust fame,[45][31] RCA released "Life on Mars?" as a single in the UK on 22 June 1973,[46] with the catalogue number RCA 2316 and the 1970 track "The Man Who Sold the World" as the B-side.[47] Cann wrote the song was released as a single due to its "strong reception" on the Ziggy Stardust Tour.[46] RCA had reissued "Space Oddity" as a single in the US in December 1972.[48]

Shortly before its release as a single, a promotional video for "Life on Mars?" was filmed at Blandford West Ten Studio in Ladbroke Grove, West London, on 13 June 1973.[16] The video was directed and filmed by photographer Mick Rock, who had earlier directed the videos for "John, I'm Only Dancing" and "The Jean Genie".[32] The video for "Life on Mars?" depicts a Bowie wearing heavy make-up and a turquoise suit that was designed by Freddie Buretti.[e] Bowie mimes to the song against a white backdrop. According to Rock, the video "wasn't so much an idea as a moment in time", saying he "wanted to do something that looked a little bit like a painting". Bowie later said the final result has a "strange floaty, pop-art effect".[16] In 2016, the video was remastered and reedited by Rock.[31]

"Life on Mars?" has been released on a variety of compilation albums, including The Best of Bowie (1980) featuring an alternative edit;[16] Changesbowie (EMI, 1990);[50] The Singles Collection (1993);[51] The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 (1997);[52] Best of Bowie (2002)[53] and iSelect (2008).[54][55] In 2003, Scott remixed the track for Nothing Has Changed (2014).[56][57] In 2015, Hunky Dory was remastered for the box set Five Years (1969–1973),[58][59] which was released in CD, LP and digital formats.[60] Following David Bowie's death in 2016, a new mix of "Life on Mars?" was released for the compilation Legacy (The Very Best of David Bowie) and also as a single. The mix by Scott is "stripped down", and has only strings, piano and Bowie's vocals.[61][62][63]

Critical reception[edit]

["Life on Mars?"] speaks to the longing for something more exciting that everyone has, the kind of universal theme that, when married to a sweeping melody and executed with style ... will remain the stuff of best-of lists and subpar covers.[39]

Marc Spitz, Bowie: A Biography

Hunky Dory was met with very positive reviews from several British and American publications.[64] Billboard, classifying it under their "Top Album Picks", named "Life on Mars?" as one of the strongest songs on the album.[65] Reviewers have generally considered "Life on Mars?" one of the best tracks on Hunky Dory.[43][66][67] According to Gallucci, "Life on Mars?" is one of the tracks that "painted a portrait of an artist who couldn't be labelled because he himself had little idea of who or what he was at the time".[43] Dave Thompson of AllMusic describes it as "a masterpiece of fragmented thought and displaced vision", and one of Bowie's "most astonishing" songs.[45] Other reviewers have classified the track as giving a strong representation of Bowie's growth as a songwriter.[5][68] On the eve of the song's 50th anniversary in 2021, Matt Neal of ABC News wrote; "the song stands as an epitaph to [a] remarkable musician".[5]

Retrospectively, reviewers and commentators have praised "Life on Mars?" as one of Bowie's finest songs. Pegg called it Bowie's "1971 masterpiece" and [16] O'Leary called it "the Citizen Kane of Bowie's songs: young man's bravura".[8] Doggett and Rob Sheffield considered Bowie's vocal performance on the song to be one of his best.[69][70] Spitz described it as "one of the best pop songs ever written".[39] Publications including Digital Spy, Mojo and Consequence of Sound have also considered "Life on Mars?" Bowie's greatest song.[71][72][73] Digital Spy stated it has "perhaps become [Bowie's] signature song—filled with surreal cut-up lyrics ..., it married vivid imagery with a tender, heartbreaking melody".[71] In 2008, Uncut magazine ranked "Life on Mars?" number nine in a list of Bowie's 30 best songs.[32] Following Bowie's death, Rolling Stone named "Life on Mars?" one of the 30 most-essential songs of Bowie's catalogue.[70] In 2018, readers of NME voted the song as Bowie's second-best track behind "All the Young Dudes",[74] and the publication's staff placed it seventh a list of Bowie's 40 best songs.[75] In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis placed it fourth in his list of Bowie's 50 greatest songs, calling it a "no-further-questions masterpiece".[76] In 2021, staff of The Telegraph listed "Life on Mars?" as one of Bowie's 20 essential songs in 2021.[77] In a list ranking every Bowie single, Ultimate Classic Rock placed "Life on Mars?" at number six.[78] In 2020, Tom Eames of British radio station Smooth Radio listed it as Bowie's second-greatest song behind "'Heroes'".[79]


"Life on Mars?" has appeared on numerous best-of lists. Neil McCormick, chief rock critic of The Telegraph, has ranked "Life on Mars?" the greatest song of all time in two different lists compiling the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time.[80][81] In the first list, he called "Life on Mars?" a:

[g]loriously strange sci-fi anthem. A stirring, yearning melody combines with vivid, poetic imagery to accomplish 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 then carry you away to a place resonant with intense, individual emotion. The magic and mystery of music and lyrics. It is something to behold.[80]

In 2007, Q magazine ranked "Life on Mars?" third in a list compiling the "10 most perfect songs ever" behind Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever".[82] "Life on Mars?" has also appeared in lists of the best songs of the 1970s; it was ranked at number 25 by NME,[83] and number one by Pitchfork.[1] In 2021, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 105 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[84]

Commercial performance[edit]

Upon release as a single, "Life on Mars?" entered the UK Singles Chart at number 21,[85] peaking at number three in mid-July behind "Welcome Home" by Peters and Lee and "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" by Gary Glitter.[86] "Life on Mars?" remained on the chart for thirteen weeks.[16] In West Germany, the song peaked at number 39 on the Official German Charts.[87] In the wake of the massive commercial success of Bowie's 1983 album Let's Dance, "Life on Mars?" returned to the UK chart for one week, peaking at number 97.[88]

In April 2007, over 30 years after its initial release, "Life on Mars?" re-entered the UK singles chart at number 55, largely because of its use in the British television series Life on Mars.[16] Two years later, it charted at number 67 on the Australian ARIA charts.[89] Following Bowie's death in 2016, "Life on Mars?" charted around the world, reaching the top five in France and Ireland.[90][91] In the US, it peaked at number seven and twelve on Billboard's Euro Digital Song Sales and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts, respectively.[92][93] The song also charted in Finland (12),[94] Italy (33),[95] Belgium Wallonia (40),[96] Sweden (44),[97] Switzerland (48),[98] Portugal (63)[99] and the Netherlands (95).[100]

Live performances[edit]

David Bowie frequently performed "Life on Mars?" during his concert tours. Live recordings from 1972's Ziggy Stardust tour have been released on the 2003 30th-anniversary bonus disc of Aladdin Sane[101][102] and on the bootleg album Santa Monica '72 (1994),[103] which received an official release as Live Santa Monica '72 in 2008.[104] On the 1973 leg of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, the song was performed in a medley with "Quicksand" and "Memory of a Free Festival".[56] Additionally, a live performance was recorded during the 1976 Isolar Tour on 23 March 1976 as part of a medley with "Five Years"; this recording was included on the album Live Nassau Coliseum '76,[105][106] which has been released as part of the 2010 reissues of Station to Station,[107] in the 2016 box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976),[108] and as a stand-alone album in 2017.[109] Bowie performed the song on the American television programme The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on 5 September 1980.[8][56]

A performance from the Serious Moonlight Tour, which recorded on 12 September 1983, was released on Bowie's album Serious Moonlight (Live '83), which was initially released as part of the 2018 box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988) and separately the following year.[110] The filmed performance also appears on the concert video Serious Moonlight (1984).[111] After the Sound+Vision Tour in 1990,[56] Bowie did not perform "Life on Mars?" until 23 August 1999, when he sang it in a recorded-for-television performance that was released on VH1 Storytellers (2009).[112] A year later, Bowie performed the song at Glastonbury Festival on 25 June 2000; this performance was released in 2018 on the album Glastonbury 2000.[113] The song was a mainstay of Bowie's Hours, 2000 and Heathen tours,[56] while a November 2003 performance from his final A Reality Tour was released on a DVD of the tour in 2004 and in 2010 of the album A Reality Tour.[114][115] Bowie's final performance of "Life on Mars?" was on 8 September 2005, when he sang it with the indie rock band Arcade Fire at Radio City Music Hall, New York City, at that year's Fashion Rocks event. Bowie was introduced by singer Alicia Keys and was accompanied by his longtime pianist Mike Garson. A recording of this performance was released via iTunes.[56]

Cover versions and appearances in media[edit]

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross in 2006
Trent Reznor (left) and Atticus Ross covered "Life on Mars?" in 2019 for the American television series Watchmen.

"Life on Mars?" has appeared in numerous television series. The British series Life on Mars was named after and heavily featured the song, which is included on the series' soundtrack album.[116] Actor Jessica Lange sang the song with a deep German accent on the fourth-season premiere of the FX television series American Horror Story: Freak Show. Lange played a character whose surname is Mars; she wears an ice-blue trouser suit and heavy matching eye shadow in her performance, echoing Bowie's video.[117] The Doctor Who episode "The Waters of Mars" (2009) takes place on the first human base on Mars, which is named "Bowie Base One". Showrunner Russell T Davies said the base's name is a reference to "Life on Mars?".[118]

The song has been featured in several film soundtracks. The original soundtrack of the 1996 film Breaking the Waves features "Life on Mars?" during the epilogue, although for copyright reasons, the song was replaced by Elton John's "Your Song" on the international DVD release.[119] Seu Jorge recorded a Portuguese cover for the 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, while Bowie's original is included on the film's soundtrack album. "Life on Mars?" also appears in Loverboy (2005) and Hunky Dory (2012), and on the soundtrack of Factory Girl (2006).[116][120] The song also appears in the 2015 musical Lazarus, which was written by Bowie and playwright Enda Walsh near the end of Bowie's life. It is sung by the character Girl, who was played by Sophia Anne Caruso in the New York and London productions. For the musical, the song's arrangement was downplayed to avoid it becoming a Broadway "showstopper".[121] "Life on Mars?" also features in the soundtrack to the first trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's 2021 film Licorice Pizza,[122] and in the film itself.[123]

Lorde in 2017
Lorde (pictured in 2017), whose performance of "Life on Mars?" at the 2016 Brit Awards garnered widespread acclaim.

A multitude of artists has covered "Life on Mars?".[56] American singer Barbra Streisand covered the song for her 1974 album ButterFly.[124] Bowie condemned Streisand's cover; in 1976, he said it was "[b]loody awful. Sorry, Barb, but it was atrocious."[56] In his book The Complete David Bowie, Pegg panned a 2005 easy listening version by the British group G4, calling it "heroically gruesome".[56] ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad recorded a Swedish version titled "Liv på Mars?" for her 1975 solo album Frida ensam. A version by Belgian singer Jasper Steverlinck reached number one in the Belgian charts in 2003.[56] In 2019, Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross covered the song on their soundtrack to the HBO television series Watchmen. The dark ambient piano cover is heard during the end credits of the episode "An Almost Religious Awe". Reznor, who was friends with Bowie,[f] said composing the cover was a daunting task, and that he and Ross were ultimately "very proud" of the result.[127][128][129]

Following Bowie's death in 2016, "Life on Mars?" was one of the most-widely selected of Bowie's songs for tribute performances.[56] A version by Nicholas Freestone, organ scholar at St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire, became a viral hit after a video of Freestone's performance was posted on Facebook and YouTube.[130] New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde performed "Life on Mars?" with Bowie's final touring band at the 2016 Brit Awards in February 2016.[131][132] Her cover was widely acknowledged as one of the finest performances in tribute to Bowie.[56] Later that year, the song was performed at the 2016 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.[133] "Life on Mars?" has also been used for space-related events. In 2018, the song was played on the radio of Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster, which was launched into space aboard the test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket.[134] A cover version by English singer Yungblud was used at the end of NASA TV's live coverage of the landing of the Mars 2020 rover.[135]


According to biographer Chris O'Leary:[8]



Weekly chart performance for "Life on Mars?"
Year Chart Peak
1973 UK Singles (OCC)[86] 3
Ireland (IRMA)[136] 4
Spain (Los 40 Principales)[137] 10
West Germany (Official German Charts)[87] 39
1983 UK Singles (OCC)[88] 97
2009 Australia (ARIA)[89] 67
2016 Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[96] 40
Euro Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[92] 7
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[94] 12
France (SNEP)[90] 3
Italy (FIMI)[95] 33
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[100] 95
Portugal (AFP)[99] 63
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs (Billboard)[93] 12
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[97] 44
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[98] 48


Sales certifications for "Life on Mars?"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[138] Gold 45,000
Italy (FIMI)[139]
sales since 2009
Platinum 100,000
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[140] Gold 30,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[141]
sales since 2004
Platinum 600,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ At this point in his career, Bowie had released a string of singles, both as a solo artist and with bands, and released an album for Deram Records in 1967, but all were commercial failures.[2]
  2. ^ Haddon Hall was an Edwardian mansion converted to a block of flats that was described by one visitor as having an ambiance "like [Count] Dracula's living room".[9] By April 1970, Bowie, Mick Ronson and Tony Visconti were living there; Ronson and Visconti built a makeshift studio under the grand staircase; Bowie recorded many of his early 1970s demos there. After his early 1971 promotional tour of America, Bowie composed over three-dozen songs at Haddon, many of which would appear on Hunky Dory and its follow-up album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.[10][11]
  3. ^ O'Leary writes that the demo was recorded at either Haddon Hall or Radio Luxembourg studios in London.[8] He had recently recorded versions of the Ziggy Stardust tracks "Moonage Daydream" and "Hang On to Yourself" with a short-lived band named Arnold Corns at Radio Luxembourg in February 1971;[17] both were subsequently rerecorded for Ziggy Stardust.[14][18]
  4. ^ The final version of "Song for Bob Dylan" was also recorded on this day.[21]
  5. ^ Burretti was an openly gay dress designer whom Bowie chose as the frontman for the Arnold Corns band in early 1971.[49]
  6. ^ Nine Inch Nails were the opening act during Bowie's 1995 Outside Tour. Two years later, Reznor created several remixes of Bowie's track "I'm Afraid of Americans".[125] Reznor subsequently appeared in the song's music video.[126]


  1. ^ a b c "The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
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