Space Oddity

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This article is about the David Bowie song. For other uses, see Space Oddity (disambiguation).
"Space Oddity"
Single by David Bowie
from the album David Bowie
B-side "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" (1969 7")
Released 11 July 1969
Format 7-inch single
Recorded 20 June 1969 at Trident Studios
(London, England)
Length 5:15
Writer(s) David Bowie
Producer(s) Gus Dudgeon
David Bowie singles chronology
"Love You Till Tuesday"
"Space Oddity"
"Ragazzo solo, ragazza sola"
Music sample
Music video
"Space Oddity" on YouTube
"Space Oddity" (Live) on YouTube

"Space Oddity" is a song written and recorded by David Bowie. It was first released as a 7-inch single on 11 July 1969. It was also the opening track of his second studio album, David Bowie. It became one of Bowie's signature songs and one of three of his songs to be included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[1]

The song is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, and was released during a period of great interest in space flight. The United States' Apollo 11 mission would launch five days later and would become the first manned moon landing another five days after that.[2] The lyrics have also been seen to lampoon the British space programme,[3] which was and still is an unmanned project. Bowie would later revisit his Major Tom character in the songs "Ashes to Ashes", "Hallo Spaceboy" and the music video for "Blackstar".

"Space Oddity" was David Bowie's first single to chart in the UK. It reached the top five on its initial release and received the 1970 Ivor Novello Special Award for Originality.[4] His second album, originally released as David Bowie in the UK, was renamed after the track for its 1972 re-release by RCA Records and became known by this name. In 1975, upon re-release as part of a maxi-single, the song became Bowie's first UK No. 1 single.[5] 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. In January 2016, the song re-entered singles charts around the world following Bowie's death, which included becoming Bowie's first single to top the French Singles Chart. The song also ranked as third on iTunes on January 12, 2016.[6]

Recording and release[edit]

Three primary studio versions of "Space Oddity" exist: an early version recorded in February 1969, the album version recorded that June (edited for release as a single), and a 1979 re-recording.

The early version of "Space Oddity" was recorded on 2 February 1969 for Bowie's promotional film Love You Till Tuesday.[7] This recording became commercially available in 1984, on a belated VHS release of the film and accompanying soundtrack album. It also appeared on the compilation album The Deram Anthology 1966–1968.

In June 1969, 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.[8] 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 spring 1969. Next Bowie tried to find a producer. George Martin turned the project down,[8] while Tony Visconti liked the album demo-tracks, but considered the planned lead-off single, "Space Oddity", a 'cheap shot' at the impending Apollo 11 space mission. Visconti decided to delegate its production to Gus Dudgeon.[9]

The album version of "Space Oddity" was recorded at Trident Studios on 20 June 1969 (with overdubs a few days later) and used the in-house session player Rick Wakeman (Mellotron), who was later to achieve fame with the progressive rock band Yes, as well as Mick Wayne (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass), and Terry Cox (drums).[10] Differing edits of the album version were released as singles in the UK and US.

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;[11] after this slow start, the song reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart. In the US, it stalled at 124.

Besides its title, which 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.

On 2 October 1969, he performed the song for an episode of Top of the Pops. However, this was recorded separate from the main audience. The performance was shown on 9 October the following week, and repeated on 16 October. At present, the performance is 'missing' due to the BBC's late junking policy.

Mogol wrote Italian lyrics for the song, and Bowie recorded a new vocal in December 1969, releasing the single "Ragazzo solo, ragazza sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") in Italy.[12]

Upon its re-release as a single in 1973, "Space Oddity" reached No. 15 on the Billboard Chart and became Bowie's first hit single in the United States; in Canada, it reached No. 16.[13] 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.[14]

Bowie recorded a stripped-down, acoustic version of the song in late 1979,[15] which was issued in February 1980 as the B-side of "Alabama Song". The 1979 recording was rereleased in 1992 on the Rykodisc reissue of Bowie's Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) album.

The B-side of the original single, "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud", first appeared on CD on 1989's Sound + Vision. This compilation also included, as its opening track, the spring 1969 demo of "Space Oddity" featuring Bowie and Hutchinson. (An earlier Bowie/Hutchinson demo appears on the 2009 two-CD special edition of the album David Bowie.)

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.


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame United States "The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll"[16] 2004 *
NME United Kingdom "Greatest No1 Singles In History"[17] 2012 26
Channel 4 and The Guardian United Kingdom "The Top 100 British Number 1 Singles"[18] 1997 27

(*) designates unordered lists.

Live versions[edit]

Music videos[edit]

The February 1969 version of the song appeared in the film Love You till Tuesday.

In December 1972, Mick Rock shot a video of Bowie miming to the June 1969 recording of the song, during the sessions for Aladdin Sane. The resulting music video was used to promote the 1973 US reissue of the "Space Oddity" single on RCA.[19]

A promotional video of the 1979 version debuted in the UK on Kenny Everett's New Year's Eve Show on 31 December 1979.[15] A music video made the following year for "Ashes to Ashes" used many of the same sets, solidifying the connection between the two songs. (Both videos were directed by Bowie and David Mallet.[20])

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by David Bowie.


Credits apply to the 1969 original release:


Charts and certifications[edit]

Cover versions and samples[edit]

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.[40] The lyrics were somewhat altered; instead of losing communication with ground control and presumably being lost in space as a result, Major Tom successfully receives his orders to land and does so safely, reflecting Hadfield's imminent return from his final mission on the Station. 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.[41] This was the first music video ever shot in space.[42] Bowie responded to the video, tweeting back to Hadfield, "Hallo Spaceboy..."[43] and would later call the cover "possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created".[44][45] The video has had over 31,000,000 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.[46] The song is the only one of Bowie's for which Bowie did not own the copyright. Bowie's publisher granted Hadfield a license to the song for only one year.[47] Due to the expiry of the one year licence, the official video was taken offline on 13 May 2014,[48] despite Bowie's explicit wishes that the publisher grant Hadfield a license at no charge to record the song and produce the video.[47] Following a period of negotiations, the video was restored to YouTube on 2 November 2014 with a two-year licence agreement in place.[49]

Elton John included some fragments of the song in an extended piano improvisation played, appropriately, as an intro to his own song "Rocket Man", during a show at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on 13 January 2016, three days after Bowie's death.[50] Before launching into the improvisation, John dedicated it to Bowie.[51]

A version of the song was recorded with vocals from actress Kristen Wiig for the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There is a scene where Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, imagines Wiig's character is singing the song to him, inspiring him to take action. The song, with Bowie's and Wiig's vocals, is also included on the official soundtrack.[52]

Popular culture[edit]

  • In an episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats, Tommy pretends he is on the moon with his friends. As he is about to blast off in an imaginative spaceship, he is heard saying, "This is Major Tom to Ground Control.".
  • The song is featured in two episodes of the American TV series Friends. In the season 5 episode "The One Where Ross Can't Flirt" in which the character Chandler sings part of the song. In the season 6 episode "The One After Vegas" the character Joey sings part of the song.[53]
  • The film The Mother (2003) also has the song in its soundtrack, as do the Spanish sci-fi film Eva (2011) and French drama film Bird People (2014).[citation needed]
  • The song is used in Ben Stiller's 2013 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, featuring an older David Bowie. In an interview, director Ben Stiller talked about the importance of Space Oddity to the film's plotline, "I felt like the way it fits into the story, we got to this point and this scene which was sort of how the fantasy and reality come together for Walter, and that was what that came out of. That song, and what he mentioned in his head, and what he imagines and what he does, it all just seemed to come together over that song."[54]
  • The song is used in Adam Sandler's Mr. Deeds. The characters Longfellow Deeds and Cecil Anderson sing the song a capella on a plane.[citation needed]
  • German singer Peter Schilling's 1983 single "Major Tom (Coming Home)" was written as a retelling of the song.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - 500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  2. ^ Bahrampour, Tara. "David Bowie dies at 69; mesmerizing performer and restless innovator". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-02-14. 
  3. ^ David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.49–50
  4. ^ "The 15th Ivor Novello Awards". The Ivors. Retrieved 19 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Promoted as RCA Maximillion Series, 3 Tracks For The Price of 2 (RCA 2593). The tracks were "Space Oddity", "Changes" and "Velvet Goldmine" (RCA 2593).
  6. ^ Steffen Hung. "David Bowie – Space Oddity". Retrieved 2016-02-14. 
  7. ^ Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974: pp.147, 145
  8. ^ a b Peter & Leni Gillman (1986). Alias David Bowie: a biography: p. 172
  9. ^ Life on Two Legs – Biography by Norman Sheffield
  10. ^ Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974: pp.153–154, 155
  11. ^ "Bowie @ The Beeb | Arts and Entertainment | BBC World Service". Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  12. ^ Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now - David Bowie: The London Years: 1947-1974: p.174
  13. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  14. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 319–20. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  15. ^ a b Chris O'Leary (2015). Rebel Rebel: pp. 99, 107
  16. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  17. ^ " NME Greatest Singles Lists". Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  18. ^ 1
  19. ^ ""Space Oddity" December 1972". The ZIGGY STARDUST Companion. Retrieved 2016-02-28. 
  20. ^ "David Bowie And Kenny Everett's Space Oddity". Mojo. Retrieved 2016-02-28. 
  21. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  22. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  23. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  24. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  25. ^ " – David Bowie Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  26. ^ "Archívum – Slágerlisták – MAHASZ" (in Hungarian). Single (track) Top 40 lista. Magyar Hanglemezkiadók Szövetsége. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  27. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Space Oddity". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  28. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity". Top Digital Download. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  29. ^ "David Bowie – Chart history" Japan Hot 100 for David Bowie. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  30. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  31. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  32. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  33. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  34. ^ " – David Bowie – Space Oddity". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  35. ^ "David Bowie: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  36. ^ "David Bowie – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for David Bowie. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  37. ^ "David Bowie – Chart history" Billboard Hot Rock Songs for David Bowie. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  38. ^ "Italian single certifications – David Bowie – Space Oddity" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 31 January 2015.  Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter David Bowie in the field Filtra. Select 2015 in the field Anno. The certification will load automatically
  39. ^ "British single certifications – David Bowie – Space Oddity". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 17 June 2016.  Enter Space Oddity in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Silver in the field By Award. Click Search
  40. ^ Knapp, Alex (13 May 2013). "Astronaut Chris Hadfield Sings David Bowie As He Departs The International Space Station". Forbes. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  41. ^ "Space Oddity". YouTube. Archived from the original on 26 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  42. ^ Davis, Lauren (12 May 2013). "Chris Hadfield sings "Space Oddity" in the first music video in space". Gawker Media. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  43. ^ "David Bowie Official on Twitter: "CHRIS HADFIELD SINGS SPACE ODDITY IN SPACE! "Hallo Spaceboy..." Commander Chris Hadfield, currently on..."". Twitter. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  44. ^ "David Bowie - Timeline". Facebook. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  45. ^ Andrew Griffin. "David Bowie: How Chris Hadfield's 'Space Oddity' cover from orbit was helped by the 'Starman'". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  46. ^ Fleishman, Glenn (22 May 2013). "How does copyright work in space?". The Economist. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  47. ^ a b "Apology to David Bowie". Ottawa Citizen. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  48. ^ "Bowie's last day – we had permission for a year, so our Space Oddity video comes down today. One last look:". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  49. ^ "Space Oddity". Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  50. ^ "Elton John cranks up hype machine at the Wiltern", Los Angeles Times, 14 January 2016
  51. ^ Elton John's improvised intro to "Rocket Man", including fragments of "Space Oddity"
  52. ^ James Christopher Monger. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] – Original Soundtrack | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  53. ^ Jess Denham (2016-01-12). "Remembering all the times David Bowie featured in Friends". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  54. ^ by Steve 'Frosty' Weintraub (2013-04-21). "Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig Talk THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY". Collider. Retrieved 2016-02-14. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"I Only Have Eyes For You" by Art Garfunkel
UK number-one single
8 November 1975 (two weeks)
Succeeded by
"D.I.V.O.R.C.E." by Billy Connolly