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Space Oddity

From Academic Kids

"Space Oddity"
Single by David Bowie
From the album Space Oddity
Single Released 1969
1975 - reissue
Single Format Vinyl record
Recorded ???
Genre ???
Song Length 5:14
Record label Philips (UK)
Mercury (USA)
Producer Gus Dudgeon
Chart positions 5 (UK - 1969)
1 (UK - 1975)
David Bowie single chronology
"The Laughing Gnome"
1967
"Space Oddity"
1969
"Starman"
1972

"Space Oddity" was David Bowie's first hit single. It is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut who mysteriously becomes lost in Outer Space. Released in 1969 to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing, it appears on the album of the same title. The BBC featured the song in its television coverage of the lunar landing.

It is also a powerful narrative, echoing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968. The similarity in titles may suggest that film was on Bowie's mind when he wrote it.

The song was awarded the 1969 Ivor Novello Award, together with Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)".

The song is often interpreted to be about self-destruction and estrangement from humanity. Major Tom's cryptic last message, "Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles / I'm feeling very still / And I think my spaceship knows which way to go / Tell my wife I love her very much", suggests that he is still alive and well and chooses to kill his circuit to ground control.

Bowie seems to confirm this interpretation with his 1980 follow up to "Space Oddity", "Ashes to Ashes", where Ground control eventually receives a message from Major Tom: "I'm happy, hope you're happy too". The people back on Earth, however, think that he is a "junkie, strung out in heaven's high", but hitting "an all-time low". The song comes after Bowie's battle with drugs in the 1970s. In "Ashes to Ashes", Major Tom's communication failure could be reinterpreted as losing human contact due to drugs.

This narrative continues in rock music throughout the late 20th century, both in Bowie's own work and that of others. As well as the aforementioned "Ashes to Ashes", Elton John's "Rocketman" seems to allude to Major Tom, though not by name. It tells of an unnamed astronaut who is lonely in space, who's "not the man they think I am at home". Bowie alludes to this analogy a live performance of "Space Oddity" released on the David Bowie BBC Sessions 1969-1972, in which he sings, "Oh Rocketman!" In 1983, the German pop singer Peter Schilling released his own take on the story, entitled "Major Tom".

The song is widely referenced due to its classic nature. In the 2002 movie Mr. Deeds, there is a moment in which Adam Sandler and a group of men on a helicopter break out into singing "Space Oddity". After the success of Space Ship One in 2004, it was agreed that the song should be played onboard the ship when giving space tours to wealthy sightseers.

The 2004 video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater references "Space Oddity" when a character named Major Zero changes his codename to Major Tom; he is even asked "Can you hear me, Major Tom?" (one of the song's lyrics). However, since Metal Gear Solid 3 is set in 1964, before the song existed, the reference couldn't be mentioned without being anachronistic. Instead, Zero explains that the codename is a reference to the "Tom" escape tunnel in the 1963 film The Great Escape.

The Cartoon Network show The Venture Bros. quoted and alluded to many aspects of the song in one of its episodes, even naming a character within the show Major Tom.


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