David Bowie’s album “Space Oddity” is a truly iconic work of art that has had a lasting impact on music and popular culture alike. Originally released in 1969, it was Bowie’s second album, and it marked a notable turning point in his career. Today I’m going to look back at that album and recount 7 interesting things about Space Oddity.
Before we jump into the list, if you’d rather watch me recount these interesting facts, you can do so in my YouTube video below:
1 | Space Oddity Wasn’t the Original Title
It makes sense to start at the beginning. And that means an album titled David Bowie. No, I’m not talking about David Bowie’s debut LP, which did have that title, I’m talking about this record. It was actually, ALSO titled David Bowie, at least in Europe.
Released in 1969, the title of the earliest pressings in Europe matched that of his first album — they are self-titled and labeled as David Bowie. These were on Phillips. In the United States market, however, Mercury Records listed them as Man of Words / Man of Music.
Three years later, in 1972, the album would re-emerge on RCA Victor. At this time, it was re-branded as Space Oddity, a decision that was made to leverage the growing popularity of the lead single from the LP.
2 | Artwork Changed Along with the Name
Additionally, with the new name, the album received new artwork. My copy here is an original re-branded 1972 pressing of Space Oddity. This depicts Ziggy Stardust which was Bowie’s stage persona between 1972 and 1973. 1972 being the year he released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
As far as I can tell, the original artwork didn’t resurface on a new variant until the 1999 reissue and remasters found their way onto a variety of CDs, though it appears these all held the name Space Oddity. A 180 gram LP was released in 2000 featuring the original artwork and the original title David Bowie. A 40th Anniversary pressing on vinyl surfaced in 2009 with the original art.
Since about 2012 or 2013, it seems all reissues have had artwork similar to the original with the blue grid, though the title of these has moved back and forth between David Bowie and Space Oddity.
Ziggy would make an appearance in the music video for “Space Oddity” as well. This was filmed and directed in 1972 by Mick Rock.
3 | Ziggy Stardust: An Ode to Two Artists
Of course, the depiction of Ziggy Stardust, as I mentioned previously, is a nod to Bowie’s stage persona circa ’72 and ’73. And, it’s a reference to his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars.
Persona aside, the name Ziggy Stardust actually stems from two artists. The first, to no surprise, is a nod to Bowie’s friend Iggy Pop. The wordplay can actually be seen on my bootleg Iggy & Ziggy: Live in Seattle 4/9/1977.
The second artist is a little more elusive. I stumbled upon the story recently via the Ongoing History of New Music podcast on an episode titled “Outsider Music.” You can dig into that episode below:
Stardust is actually a nod to a recording artist named Norm Odem, who was also known as the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Hailing from Lubbock, TX, Odem released a 7-inch called “Paralyzed” on Mercury. As part of a welcome package for signing to Mercury, the label gave Bowie a number of releases. “Paralyzed” was included within, and Bowie became fascinated with the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
As they say, the rest is history.
Listen to “Paralyzed” by The Legendary Stardust Cowboy Below:
4 | Space Oddity was Inspired by 2001 A Space Odyssey
The album’s title track, “Space Oddity,” tells the story of Major Tom, an astronaut who becomes lost in space. The song was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” and was released just prior to the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
The song was inspired and influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was released in 1968. It also stemmed from Bowie’s own experiences with drug use and personal transformation. He wrote the song while under the influence and while watching the film. Bowie once said that the “sense of isolation” he saw in the film was what sparked the idea for the song.
The song’s iconic melody and lyrics have made it one of Bowie’s most enduring and beloved works.
5 | The Origination of Major Tom
The origination of Major Tom may have stemmed from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but within the mind of David Bowie it went much further than the film. His debut spotlight may have been in the song “Space Oddity,” but he is a recurring presence for Bowie.
Major Tom was a persona of Bowie himself, and references to the alter ego can be found throughout Bowie’s career.
He pops up in “Ashes to Ashes” off Scary Monsters from 1980, where Bowie calls him a junkie.
There’s “Hallo Spaceboy” from Bowie’s 1995 album Outside where it was the third single from the LP. The studio version doesn’t mention him, but a 1996 remix of the song with Bowie released with the Pet Shop Boys does.
Not a direct reference, but in the music video for “Slow Burn” off Bowie’s 2002 LP Heathen features an astronaut. May or may not be Major Tom. Let me know what you think in the comments.
And, of course, he was mentioned in “Blackstar,” the title track of Bowie’s final studio release in 2016, two days prior to his death. In the music video, a dead astronaut with a jewel-laden skull makes an appearance. While speculation, director Johan Renck stated “to me, it’s 100% Major Tom.” Given context surrounding Blackstar and Bowie’s sendoff to his fans, I completely agree.
6 | BBC Played Space Oddity During the Apollo 11 Mission, But Then…
Apollo 11 was, of course, the landing in which Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. The mission took place July 16 to 24, 1969. The timing was impeccable; “Space Oddity” was released the week prior, on July 11, 1969. (Quick aside, the dates mentioned here were both pulled from Wikipedia.)
In fact, this timing was quite purposeful. The label rushed the release to capitalize on the moon landing, and BBC ultimately used the song as background music during the coverage of the event!
Here’s a quote from David Bowie:
“It was picked up by British television and used as the background music for the landing itself in Britain … Though I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all; it wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did.”Space Oddity (Song) [Wikipedia]
BBC ultimately wised up to the lyrics and they briefly banned the song, at the very least, until the astronauts returned home safely.
As a quick aside, Apollo 11 wasn’t the only time “Space Oddity” was played in conjunction with a mission. In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performed a rendition of the song while floating in zero gravity through a space module over 200 miles above Earth.
Hadfield omitted a lyric or two, and Bowie himself acknowledged the performance on Twitter.
You can learn more about the performance from this article on CNN.
7 | Through an Obscure Affiliation, it Helped Influence the Film School Of Rock
This is the story of how Space Oddity, through affiliation, would influence a 2003 film featuring Jack Black. I am of course talking about School of Rock. For this, we move from the 1969 original, past the 1972 reissue. We step away from the UK and Europe, head north from the United States. And we land in British Columbia, Canada in 1976 and 1977.
But it wasn’t until many years later that Bowie would mutter a few words about a little known cover of his song “Space Oddity.” He called it “astounding” and “a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of.”
This one also comes from “Outsider Music” and the Ongoing History of New Music Podcast. The artist — well, the conductor — was Hans Fenger.
The Langley Schools Music Project
Fenger was the mastermind behind The Langley Schools Music Project, a collection popular songs of the day that he loved. Rather than perform them himself, he directed the performance by children’s choruses in British Columbia, Canada in 1976 and 1977.
The students came from four different elementary schools around the Langley, BC area just outside Vancouver. What set these apart though was how they were recorded and the corresponding effect it created. They were recorded in one of the school’s gyms. Two LPs were recorded. Originally pressed to just 300 copies on vinyl and distributed amongst friends and families, the records would remain largely forgotten until 2001.
It does seem odd that “Space Oddity” was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, and these recordings resurfaced of the song in 2001. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Instead, I’ll chalk it up to the popularization of digital music.
The story goes like this: Brian Linds, a record collector out of Victoria, BC, stumbled upon the LP in a thrift store in 2000. He sent it to Irwin Chusid, a journalist, music historian, and devout fan of outsider music. Irwin set out to have them reissued, and Bar/None is the label that stepped up after nearly a dozen rejections.
The artist is credited as The Langley Schools Music Project and the album dubbed Innocence & Despair. Fenger would say about the experience:
“This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music,’ which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness”Hans Fenger on The Langley Schools Music Project
Listen to the song below, and you’ll hear why it created such a buzz:
Upon reissue, this project generated a bit of buzz. And that’s what led to Bowie’s quote. But Bowie wasn’t the only one. Fred Schneider of the B-52’s and Richard Carpenter of the Carpenters had good things to say about it as well. In fact, the 2003 film School of Rock is said to have been inspired by the The Langley Schools Music Project.
Space Oddity: A Brief Conclusion
As seen over and over from the stories above, Bowie’s Space Oddity has had a lasting impact on music and popular culture. The album’s songs, themes, imagery, and even videos have inspired countless artists, musicians, and filmmakers over the years. Featuring a mix of acoustic and electric songs, its influences range from folk to psychedelia to hard rock. Even prog, as heard on the epic 9-plus minute A-side closer “Cygnet Committee.”
The album’s eclectic sound reflects Bowie’s desire to experiment and push the boundaries of his art. Looking at it today, it’s astonishing to think the album is now comfortably in its mid 50s at a whopping 54 years old. It seems as groundbreaking today as it must have back then.
Space Oddity was truly a pivotal release for Bowie, and it’s hard to imagine him having the impact he did without it.
Do you recall your introduction to David Bowie? Was it “Space Oddity” or something else? Let me know in the comments below.