Space Oddity: One of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll (1969)

Space Oddity
Single: David Bowie
Album:  David Bowie (Space Oddity)
Released: July 11, 1969
Recorded: June 20, 1969
Genre: Psychedelic folk
Songwriter: David Bowie

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969, five days before the US Apollo 11 mission launched the first manned moon landing. The song became the first track on David Bowie's self-titled album, released in November. It's one of three of his songs in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

In England, it was presumed written about the space landing.
It actually wasn't. It was written because of the film 2001.

David Bowie wrote "Space Oddity" after seeing the 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. "Space Oddity" is a play on the phrase "Space Odyssey." The song is the story of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut who cuts off communication with Earth and floats into space. In a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine, Bowie explained: 

"In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing because it came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn't. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing."

Space Oddity (1969)

I showed him these chords, which he used in 'Space Oddity.'
But he said, 'Don't tell Jim, he might sue me.'
Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin

"Space Oddity" was deliberately released as a single to coincide with the US moon landing mission in July 1969. The BBC used this during coverage of the moon landing, and it became the first track on Bowie's self-titled LP. 

The album version of "Space Oddity," recorded at Trident Studios in London, used in-house session players, including Rick Wakeman on Mellotron and Herbie Flowers on bass. They were all paid £9 for their time. Jimmy Page told Uncut magazine in June 2008: 

David Bowie
David Bowie

"I played on his records, did you know that? His early records were when he was Davy Jones & The Lower Third. The Shel Talmy records. I can think of two individual sessions that I did with him. He said in an interview that I showed him these chords on one of those sessions, which he used in 'Space Oddity' - but he said, 'Don't tell Jim, he might sue me.' Ha ha!"

This was his first hit in the UK, making it to number 5 on the music chart and earning the 1970 Ivor Novello Special Award for Originality. In America, it reached 124 in August 1969. In 1972, the David Bowie album was re-titled Space Oddity and re-issued after Bowie succeeded in the US with the singles "Changes" and "The Jean Genie." This time it climbed the Billboard Hot 100 chart to number 15, making it Bowie's first American Top 40.

yOya (2010)

yOya the band Noah Dietterich & Alex Pfender
Photo credit: Bread's Kid
(l-r) Noah Dietterich & Alex Pfender 

yOya is Alex Pfender and Noah Dietterich. Since elementary school in Oregon, the duo moved to California and emerged into LA's electronic sounds. Blending "folk" type songs with intricate vocal harmonies and synthesizers, they produced a mash-up of Elton John's "Rocket Man" and Bowies' "Space Oddity," posted to their YouTube account.

Chris Hadfield  (2013)

With deference to the genius of David Bowie,
here's Space Oddity, recorded on Station.
A last glimpse of the World.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield,  commander of Expedition 35 to the International Space Station, recorded a version of this song with a guitar that stays on board the space lab. The first music video ever shot in space was overlaid with keyboards in the production process on Earth.  

Posted on May 12, 2013, Hadfield announced on his Twitter account, "With deference to the genius of David Bowie, here's Space Oddity, recorded on Station. A last glimpse of the World." The clip racked up millions of views on YouTube and got the attention of Bowie. His  social media team tweeted back, "Hallo Spaceboy."

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

This is the only song for which Bowie doesn't own the copyright. His publisher granted Hadfield a license to the music for only one year. When that time expired, it was taken offline on May 13, 2014, despite Bowie's wishes to the contrary. After negotiations, the video was restored to YouTube on November 2, 2014.


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