While I wouldn’t call myself an all-out science enthusiast, I just can’t help but feeling a sense of excitement about the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Since the moon landing happened on July 20 five decades ago, which is kind of mind-boggling, it felt appropriate to post a clip that is related to space and space exploration. The first music artist coming to mind in this context is David Bowie, who clearly seemed to be fascinated by space.
Written by Bowie, Space Oddity was first released as a single on July 11, 1969, i.e., nine days prior to the moon landing. It also became the opening track of Bowie’s eponymous sophomore album that appeared in November of the same year. In 1972, it was reissued by RCA Records as Space Oddity – presumably after some clever marketing person there decided the new title would fuel sales, given the success of the song. Reissues in 2009 and 2015 reverted to the original title David Bowie.
Based on the chiron in the beginning of the clip, the above footage was taken from a live appearance of Bowie and his band on the American late-night TV music variety show The Midnight Special. The show premiered in August 1972 as a special on NBC and ran as a regular series from February 1973 until May 1981. Given Bowie’s looks, it’s safe to assume he was an early guest on the program.
Space Oddity, by the way, had nothing to do with the moon landing but instead was inspired by the 1968 Stanley Kubrick picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. Songfacts quotes Bowie from a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine: “In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of 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. ”
Bowie added, “It was picked up by the British television, and used as the background music for the landing itself. I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all (laughs). It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did. Obviously, some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great.’ ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.’ Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that.” You just gotta love Bowie’s wit.
Well, I suppose most folks tend to pay more attention to the music than the lyrics. Perhaps the best example I can think of is Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., which was widely misunderstood as being an anthem and shamelessly misused by a politician. In reality, of course, it was highly critical of the treatment of veterans returning home from war, which sadly remains a serious issue to this day.
Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube