It’s Been 50 Years Since David Bowie’s Space Oddity Was Released
In 1969, Major Tom lost contact with ground control, setting off on his space odyssey completely alone. Or at least, that’s how the story goes in David Bowie’s career-launching single “Space Oddity.”
50 years ago, the then relatively unknown British artist released his breakthrough single, which finally set his career in motion after multiple past singles failed to make it to the charts.
As the song title suggests, Bowie was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he had watched three times before writing the song. "Space Oddity," like the film, is a story of isolation with hints of existentialism, featuring the character Major Tom, who reappears in Bowie’s future songs "Ashes to Ashes" and "Hello Spaceboy."
In the UK, it made it to the top five on the charts on its release, which probably made up for the fact that Bowie recorded the song a day after a break-up.
Marking the beginning of Bowie’s iconic sound, "Space Oddity" is best remembered as the song that put him on the map. The trippy vibes laid the foundation for the conception of Bowie’s iconic alter ego Ziggy Stardust, who would then go on to influence future artists to adopt their own gender ambiguous characters on stage.
It’s a song of its time, back when society was just exploring otherworldly concepts, both literally and figuratively. Just five days after the song was released, Apollo 11 shot off into space and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the moon.
One producer who passed on producing Space Oddity once criticized the song as a cheap attempt at cashing in on the Apollo 11 space mission, but if anything, "Space Oddity" is a story that runs parallel to Bowie’s journey in the music industry. His first album was a messy attempt at becoming every artist all at once, but it was with his second album that Bowie, like Major Tom, separated from that image and decided to embark on a space odyssey all on his own, guided by kismet or his belief that his music would take him where he needed to go.
Or maybe it was just the drugs. We’ll never know.