The song tells of an alien messiah and hints at his destiny to save the world from the impending disaster described in Bowie's "Five Years", as well as his fate as the quintessential "soul lover". In terms of the story arc of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, this is one of the most important songs as it describes the creation of Ziggy from a combination of religion, romance, sexual freedom, rebellion, and passion; he metamorphoses into the archetypal rock star.
Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust is the title of a book written by David Bowie, published in 2002 by Genesis Publications, named after this song. The book documented the years 1972-73 and was fully illustrated with the photography of Mick Rock. Bowie and Rock met in 1972 and formed a working relationship and lasting friendship. Subsequently, Mick Rock was the only photographer authorised to record the two-year career of Ziggy Stardust.
The Arnold Corns version of "Moonage Daydream", recorded on 25 February 1971, was released by B&C as a single in the UK on 7 May 1971. "Hang on to Yourself" was the B-side.
The official band line-up, fronted by dress designer Freddi Buretti, was a total fabrication; Buretti was at the session but his contributions were simply lost alongside Bowie's.
This version was also released as a bonus track on the Rykodisc rerelease of The Man Who Sold the World album (1990) with an alternate lyrics (Come on strong girl, and lay your heavy trip on me, the church of mad love is such a holy place to be...). It also appeared on the Ziggy Stardust - 30th Anniversary Reissue bonus disc in 2002.
Bowie recorded the song for the BBC radio programme "Sounds of the 70s: John Peel" on 16 May 1972, and this was broadcast on 23 May 1972. In 2000, this recording was released on the Bowie at the Beeb album.
A recording from the 1974 tour was released on David Live. Another live recording from the 1974 tour was released on the rare live album A Portrait in Flesh.
On the Outside tour in 1995 Bowie once again played "Moonage Daydream" and a live version recorded on 13 December 1995 was released on the "Hallo Spaceboy" single in 1996. This version was also released on the bonus disc that followed some versions of Outside - Version 2.