Space Oddity: Ground Control To David Bowie
On July 16th Neil Armstrong becam the first human to set foot on a planet other than our own. A siesmic date in history that is still felt today. For many music fans, another important day occurred nine days prior to the moon landings. On July 11th a young, and relatively unknown singer named David Bowie released his breakthrough single, Space Oddity. The song transformed the young Bowie's life and the history of modern music. A masterpiece that set the standard for a career that defined a generation and a song that continues to influence music and society over 50 years after its release.
Space Oddity is a masterpiece that set the standard for a career that defined a generation and a song that continues to influence music and society over 50 years after its release.
Upon the songs initial release many dismissed it as a 'novelty' single, released to cash in on the moon landing mania that was gripping the globe. Space and humankind's place in it dominated popular culture at the time, but Bowie didn't create Space Oddity from a passion for the unfolding space race. The spark that lit the fire for Space Oddity was after Bowie saw Stanley Kubrick's seminal 2001: A Space Odessey in early 1968.
"I found [the film] amazing," Bowie told Performing Songwriter magazine in 2003. "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."
It was clear to anyone that heard an early version of Space Oddity that Bowie had created something special. His then manager, Kenneth Pitt recalled in his book Bowie: The Pitt Report, that "this was an unusually clever song was apparent from the first hearing…It was clear from this first 'public' outing of the song that David Bowie had composed something extraordinary."
Major Tom Is Grounded
Shortly after the song's release, the BBC decided to ban the track. The ban seems slightly heavy-handed to say the least but the powers that decided these kinds of things thought that with the danger Armstrong and Aldrin were facing on their mission to the moon, the song may seem in poor taste. Yeah, I don't think we’ll ever understand how they came to that conclusion either.
It seems that nobody bothered to send the memo to the BBC team working on the stations live TV coverage of the moon landings though. Space Oddity was to be heard playing in the background during much of the station's coverage, a fact Bowie found hilarious, "I'm sure they weren't really listening to the lyric at all (laughs). It wasn't really a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did."
The Stars Look Very Different Today
Space Oddity, far from being a novelty record, became the first stepping stone that launched one of history's most beloved musicians into orbit. A musician that never compromised his vision, his art. A musician that pushed himself into new sounds and experimentation - something of an oddity when compared to many artists of his and future generations.
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You can read more on how the BBC banned David Bowie here