Space Oddity – David Bowie – 1973

One of many covers for David Bowie's Space OddityThere was a time when space songs were in vogue. Space Oddity is one of the better known. 

i go where no music lover has gone before

So, in 1973 I make an amazing discovery.  You see, we don’t have iPods or even MP3 players.  The lucky ones amongst us have little transistors.  And, at night, we listen to these marvels of 70s communication with an ear plug – note, “plug” not “plugs.”  It plugged into the transistor but only had one ear piece.  And that’s when I make my discovery.

As you lie in bed at night, if you put the ear plug in one ear, and only push the connection halfway into the transistor, you get sound coming out of both the radio AND the ear plug.  And so, if you lie with your head on your radio, and your ear piece in, you get to listen to the radio in a sort of simulated stereo.

In 1973 that was sheer magic!

neil armstrong goes somewhere new too

I made my discovery just four years after Neil Armstrong took a small step for man but a giant step for mankind.  Yes, 1969, man landed on the moon.  I remember it.

I’m sitting in my Standard Four (Year 6) class at Maungawhau Primary School.  Mrs G. is in charge.  The class listens in complete awe.  Over the classroom intercom comes the commentary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.  In my memory it was being broadcast live.  I’ve since realised it must have been a pre-recorded programme.

It’s one of those days where we are at school but the moon is still visible in the blue sky outside.

Mrs G. looks outside and says words I’ll never forget, “Well, children,” and she gazes up at the moon, “man has landed on the moon.  I only wish the Russians could have got there first.”

Yep, you guess it.  Mrs G. was a dyed in the wool, fully paid up, card carrying Communist.  Of course she’d be fired for saying something like that these days.  Not that she’ll worry about that.  She was about 105 years old when she taught me.  She must have long since left this mortal coil.

musical space obsessions

Around this time space and landing on the moon became something of a musical obsession.  It began with a UK band named The Tornados who released an instrumental called Telstar.  It was named after an American telecommunications satellite of the same name.

TRIVIA TIME – what was the first song by a UK band to reach #1 on the US charts?  Yep, you guessed it; Telstar by The Tornadoes.

It continued with songs like Rocket Man and Dark Side of the Moon.

 getting to the point of convergence

Anyway, getting to the point, another space song was David Bowie’s Space Oddity.  And, it was this song that I vividly recall listening to back in 1973 in simulated ear-plug stereo while lying in bed.

Space Oddity was actually released in 1969 to coincide with the lunar landing.  In an interesting piece of weirdness the BBC used it as the background music to their Apollo 11 launch and landing reports.  That’s strange…

…it’s strange because the song is about an astronaut named Major Tom who cuts off communication with Earth and just floats off into space where he is stranded, “and there’s nothing I can do.”

David Bowie himself comment that the song’s theme was such that he was pleased but highly amazed that the BBC chose to link it with the Apollo 11 project.  He quipped that there would be some embarrassed faces at the inappropriate nature of the lyric if something went wrong with Apollo 11.

space oddity fax

  • The song had nothing to do with Apollo 11.  David Bowie wrote it after seeing 2001:A Space Odyssey, a movie he described as amazing.  Major Tom is mentioned in two other Bowie songs.  The first Ashes To Ashes where Major Tom makes contact with Earth.  He says he is happy in space, but Ground Control comes to the conclusion that he is a junkie.  The second is Hallo Spaceboy released in 1995.
  • Other artists have released songs featuring Bowie’s Major Tom character.  These include; Peter Schilling’s 1983 release, Major Tom (I’m Coming Home) which tells the story of Major Tom in space.  And K.I.A.’s 2003 release Mrs. Major Tom, which tells the Space Oddity story from the point of view of Major Tom’s wife.
  • The keyboard player on Space Oddity is the famous Rick Wakeman – he was paid nine pounds.
  • Space Oddity lyrics.

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