Ashes To Ashes

Album: Scary Monsters (1980)
Charted: 1
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  • This song can be seen as a sequel to Bowie's 1969 hit, "Space Oddity." It revisits the fictional astronaut, Major Tom, who is now in space. He has regained communication with Ground Control and tells them he is happy, but they deem him nothing but a "junkie, strung out in heavens high, hitting an all-time low." Fans believe this to be Bowie's autobiographical piece about his fight against drug abuse and other personal demons.
  • The closing refrain of this song, "My mama said to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom," suggests that in order to make the best of the future, one should not dwell on the past. It has also been suggested that "Space Oddity" was a thinly veiled reference to a drug trip, and that "Ashes to Ashes" is hinting that in order to move on, Bowie must kick these drug habits. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jason - Watford, England
  • In his 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine, Bowie explains that the song "Inchworm," which was sung by Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen, was a big influence on "Ashes To Ashes." Said Bowie: "I loved it as a kid and it's stayed with me forever. I keep going back to it. You wouldn't believe the amount of my songs that have sort of spun off that one song. Not that you'd really recognize it. Something like 'Ashes to Ashes' wouldn't have happened if it hadn't have been for 'Inchworm.' There's a child's nursery rhyme element in it, and there's something so sad and mournful and poignant about it. It kept bringing me back to the feelings of those pure thoughts of sadness that you have as a child, and how they're so identifiable even when you're an adult. There's a connection that can be made between being a somewhat lost five-year old and feeling a little abandoned and having the same feeling when you're in your twenties. And it was that song that did that for me."
  • The music video for "Ashes to Ashes" features Bowie dressed as Pierrot in a variety of bizarre situations. Steve Strange of the New Wave band, Visage, cameos. Bowie has said the shot of himself and other characters marching towards the camera in front of a bulldozer symbolizes "oncoming violence." During this scene, the characters behind Bowie are not bowing, but simply trying to pull their gowns away from the bulldozer so they don't get stuck! This, and many other images in the video suggest that Bowie may be trying to bury the various personas he developed.

    The video, which Bowie directed with David Mallet, cost £250,000 to produce, making it the most expensive music video ever made at the time. It was released a year before MTV went on the air.
  • In 1983, Peter Schilling released "Major Tom (I'm Coming Home)," which is based on the Major Tom character. It was a rare instance of someone making a sequel to a song by another artist.
  • This was sampled on Samantha Mumba's "Body II Body." Bowie gave his seal of approval to Samantha's song, but a lot of his fans hated it. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adam - Dewsbury, England
  • The British BBC TV series, Ashes to Ashes, was named after this song. The series served as the sequel to Life on Mars, which was also named after the Bowie song of the same name.
  • Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was ranked at #30 on Q Magazine's "100 Greatest British Albums Ever."
  • This song had a huge impact on Marilyn Manson; it was the first video he saw on MTV. "He'd created a radio pop hit that was so unnatural, so different, full of unease and tension," Manson told Rolling Stone. "And yet it had some sexiness to it. It was like I was watching a movie."

Comments: 75

  • Grant Solomon from New South WalesI was doing a lot of acid when Ashe to Ashes was released.Unfortunatly the circle of friends I was with were on the cusp of heroin addiction and thought the line "we know Major Tom's a junky" was a real hoot and it therefore became their anthem.
    I personally hated the song but after a traumatic bout of depression I've grown to like it as much as his other work. I guess it seemed so ghastly at the time but now I see it's beauty.The reference to Major Tom reminds me of the term Tommies ,which is what British soldiers were nicknamed,maybe a metaphor for Britain losing its way but the other comments ring so true.
  • Eliseu Carvalho from Canoas, Rs, BrazilTears for Fears covered this. Their version is available on the "Saturnine Martial and Lunatic" B-sides and rarities compilation.
  • Wayde from Torrance CaDuring His Ziggy Stardust times? He was addicted to Heroine for years! He did drugs all His Life! still loved Him! nobody is perfect!!! He was very Talented!!!
  • Emma from Perth, Australia "My mama said to get things done you better not mess with Major Tom" where, I believe Major Tom was a byword for heroin.
  • Dan_h9 from KuwaitI had to register just to comment - I have read all the trail and find the views very interesting!
    Ashes to Ashes is clearly (to me ) a sequel to Space Oddity. I think Bowie is re-surfacing ideas that probably were not dealt with first time around.

    Space Oddity introduces Major Tom - he is an alter ego or character Bowie is creating that represents anti-establishment. Major Tom goes from obscurity to infamy by turning "Hippy" and not completing the mission. Ground Control represents the establishment Major Tom rejects and "floats away from". He is now a "junkie".

    Ten years later Major Tom re-surfaces in Ashes to Ashes. He is back ! and wants to return to earth. However, many things have changed, including Bowie's treatment of this character.

    So this song represents a virtual conversation between the 1969 and 1980 Bowie, through the character of Major Tom.

    "I'm happy, hope you're happy too
    I've loved all I've needed to love
    Sordid details following"

    A lot has happened to Bowie in the last 10 years so this acts as some kind of panacea to his experiences:
  • Dan_h9 from KuwaitBringing up Major Tom again as an alter ego and having a conversation around that alter ego is the songs main theme:

    "The shrieking of nothing is killing
    Just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis and I
    Ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair
    But I'm hoping to kick but the planet it's glowing"

    Is 1980 Bowie talking.

    Time and again I tell myself
    I'll stay clean tonight
    But the little green wheels are following me
    Oh no, not again
    I'm stuck with a valuable friend
    "I'm happy, hope you're happy too"
    One flash of light but no smoking pistol

    Is 1980 Bowie talking.

    The valuable friend is Major Tom. Major Tom is a mix of the Drug and the character that created his fame and wealth. (being stuck with, but valuable nonetheless)

    I never done good things I never done bad things
    I never did anything out of the blue, woh-o-oh
    Want an axe to break the ice
    Wanna come down right now

    This is Major Tom talking - he wants to land.
    This is 1980 Bowie talking at the same time: time to quit the infamy and the addictions. And time to quit his association with the valuable friend Major Tom? (maybe at the time, but then there is SpaceBoy)

    My mother said to get things done
    You'd better not mess with Major Tom

    The song ends with a mantra - a lesson from your Mother. If Major Tom is the drug or the Vice then its straight forward. That's 1980 Bowie talking again.

    What else is clear from the song title - Ashes to Ashes - is that its an English (UK) funeral reference: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.....
    That basically means people "return to the dust from where they came from". So it means Major Tom wants to come back to Earth.
    But Bowie is clever and not that direct, he changes Dust to Dust with Funk to Funky - then that nicely rhymes with Junkie. A kind of drug reprise.

    So, in short, a funeral for Major Tom - an alter ego or character.
    A cry out that some kind of addiction needs to be quit.
    Ashes to Ashes to the 70's - the decade that made him.

    Despite all this conjecture, its one of the best tracks recorded. It means much more than 99% of the listeners who ever heard thought it meant. But from Bowie's perspective not that big a deal I guess. TO him its just a commentary a decade on. He's grown up and his skills have increased 100 fold !
  • Scott from KaanapaliWow - I'm so impressed by this commentary as I scroll through, finding myself agreeing with most comments, even ones that seemingly contradict one another. My late father loved this song - something rare we held in common, so it is special to me. One thing I find amazing is the number of lines that are resonating with disparate people - can't remember that from any other song. Also amazed at how far off my aural interpretation of the song is from everyone's literal translation.

    There are probably a dozen lines I heard differently than they were apparently written or meant, with the biggest one being "glow glow glow ..." Vs. what I heard as "low low low" - both referring to an earlier Bowie album and a potential drug reference. To me, the beauty is in the debate. I hear Space Oddity 2 with hints of continued drug struggle. Other intelligent people from life on earth see historical references to American Imperialism and other conspiracy theories.

    This juxtapostion of interpretation seems like a validation of the genius of the artist, unless perhaps the theory that the lyrics are truly random rambling from a cut and paste newspaper exercise holds some weight, in which case a more lucky savante may be at play.
  • Demosthenes from ParisIt's a shame that so many people don't carefully listen to the song before posting lyrics or comments. Bowie doesn't say "strung out in heaven's high, hitting an all time low". He says "strung out in heaven, his high hitting an all time low". The latter makes much more sense obviously, and you you can clearly hear Bowie mumbling "strung out in heaven, ..z high" where z is his abbreviation of "his". I also contest the words "little green wheels"; when I listen, I hear "little green wings". I don't know if wings makes more sense than wheels, one shouldn't perhaps read too much into such a disparate bunch of words strung into a song!
  • Paul from Worcestershire, United KingdomBowie's best film for me (and a must for any Bowie fans here who haven't seen it) is "The Hunger" a real gem of an 80's film. It's a modern spin on the old vampire theme, but done with such style and realism. Bowie makes the film a memorable one, with the remarkable opening scene where as a vampire in need of a feed he ages about 40 years in the space of 2 hours. He enters the hospital clinic as a young man hoping to find a cure for this rapid aging, and leaves an elderly man. He really carries it off so convincingly with hardly any makeup that is an astonishing opening to the film!
  • Paul from Worcestershire, United KingdomDavid Bowie is a master of media manipulation and showmanship. There's many contradictions about him. Most of all, over his sexual orientation. He claimed openly to being bisexual in 1970's, later blaming it on his lack of commercial success in America...then much later he denied being bisexual, claiming it was all a sham.

    Drugs.. Although he took a lot of drugs and stated he liked "fast drugs", heroin was definitely Bowie's drug of choice by mid 1970's.

    Anyone can see just by his skeletal appearance in the mid 70's to end, and increasingly erratic behaviour he was in the deep grips of heroin addiction. It's well documented he took heroin, and he usage peaked in America while living and working with Iggy Pop, also a heroin addict who struggled with the addiction for much longer than Bowie.

    I once read an article interview with Bowie and he was asked how he writes songs and his answer really astonished me. He said, something along the lines of, he gathers up random newspaper headlines and magazine word clippings, and makes sentences and gets ideas by putting together different random clippings.

    I think anyone can interpret Bowie's songs as they like and in many different ways. In a way, it's futile to try to attach meaning to songs as abstract as Bowie's work often is. However, there's a constant theme of space and aliens in a lot of Bowie's work, and he's often referred to himself as not feeling human, or wanting to be "more than just human". Remember he started his career in the persona of Ziggy Stardust and looked like an alien. He played an alien in "The Man Who Fell to Earth".

    If I was a psychologist, all this space and alien stuff that runs through Bowie's work could represent Bowie not feeling part of society or not relating to people very well. He is definitely anti-establishment and broke all the rules about being a rock star. Probably the feeling of alienation has a lot of that is to do with where his career took him (America). He did after all write the song "I'm afraid of American's" and has been critical of corporate America. His alien lead character in the film, "The Man Who Fell To Earth, really does epitomise his alienation, feelings of isolation and access in America for me.

    The way I see it, "Major Tom" could either an alter ego, for superstardom, and/or an allusion to heroin dependency. "My mother said, to get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom". ... "we know Major Tom's a junkie".

    Most people focus on his music or acting, but he's a very talented painter too. Bowie is one of those rare artists that express themselves in many forms. I've not seen many artists like that who can move in and out of different art forms from canvas to film and music..two of my other "great and true artists" David Lynch and Bryan Ferry.
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaMajor Tom defines, for me, the sound & look I liked of Bowie; by 1980 I hated his newer stuff!
  • Matthewphoto from Exeter, United KingdomThey were definitely bowing and not just pulling their robes out of the mud. It wasn't that muddy and that is what they had been told to do.

    Paul from Teddington. No Steve Strange wasn't that annoying and you can't see the bulldozer trying to kill him. The driver didn't care in the least.

    How do I know? I was there working on that video and many others.
  • Mark from Carson City, NvDoes anyone know what the 2 women in what appears to be "religious" wear signify by touching the ground ?
    IMO Bowie will always be among the greatest
  • G from Hackettstown, NjThis didn't cross my mind as a possibility until I read someone mention the actual song "Space Oddity" as something haunting Bowie as a his first hit and gateway to fame. Assuming this held some truth, I thought that the "little green wheels" might not just be a description of one arbitrarily chosen hallucination, but a reference to the green overlapping waves in the opening of the music video of "Space Oddity". (I don't know if the electronic waves filmed were on an oscilloscope or different device, but though not circles, their movement and shape might be easy to describe as wheels, especially if Bowie was looking for a certain lyric that would fit.) From a metaphorical standpoint this makes sense, in which the opening sequence of his most significant visual premiere gave him a celebrity that continued to stick with him, and which he could not shake.
  • Bob from Bw92116, CaIt almost seemed like the 1970s began with "Space Oddity" and ended with "Ashes to Ashes." I love the soaring synthesizers used throughout "Ashes to Ashes" and the almost-mystical ending always puts me into sort of a trance. You can interpret the lyrics however you want; for me it's the soundscape of both "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes" that make listening to them enjoyable again and again.
  • Michael from Santa Cruz, CaCaught this video first on Video West's Backstage Pass back in the day.loved the Pagliacci clown suit Bowie had on.Loved the Major Tom references.One of my favorite songs of the 80's!
  • George from Shrewsbury, United KingdomNot just this, but any review that states how this song is him reflecting on his drug-addiction and feeling repentant, has got the wrong end of the stick! Bowie loved drugs, he loved both the physical feeling and the ridiculous publicity from being so open about his abuse: in 1980, Bowie was going through his highest level of drug-abuse and would never have been sorry for getting into them! Songs are songs: enjoy them and don't strangle every ounce of meaning you can from them (especially concerning Bowie- hear the beauty)!!!!!
  • George from Shrewsbury, United KingdomThis song is NOT about heroin... If you read Playboy's article on David Bowie, he always says that he hated so-called 'slow drugs' such as heroin and weed due to the fact that they lowered his potential. He only took 'fast drugs' such as cocaine and ecstasy so he could work for longer- get your facts right! In this article he also mentions how he believed in fascism: he would not delve into the world of politics and ethics unless he believed that he could create a bit of a stir (something he quite liked doing!). His songs are not so much about meanings, merely random collaborations that he believed sounded rhythmical.
  • Schmeng from Manchester, United Kingdom@- ElectricRay, London, United Kingdom

    Glad you like my transcription! I was pleased to work it out too! But it makes it to know that you have solved something someone has been wondering about for so long!

    Check out the live version of him performing Ashes to Ashes in Chile in 1990 on You Tube. Parts of the background vocals are very clear and bear out my transcription!.

    As for the meaning, which surprises me that people are so confused about it.

    Bowie definitely was addicted to Cocaine and may have also dabbled with heroin. Either way the song is absolutely about him struggling to kick that addiction and using the character of Major Tom (written about seeing 2001 on acid + surburban alienation) as, perhaps, his drug persona that he was casting aside along with the rest of the 70's.

    The whole song is a ritual, a public catharsis of his previous life. (like the title itself is at a funeral)

    That's what the JCB is for in the video!

    He's burying his past!

    Ha! ha! I never thought of that. Of course Bowie describes the JCB as 'the threat of oncoming violence' but he's famous for lying about details he can't remember.

    one flash of light. . . indeed.

    (by the way definitely not Hiroshima see the bowie song "When the Wind Blows" for his take on Nuclear Bombs)
  • Electricray from London, United KingdomCan I just report the transcription by Schmeng, because it is brilliant, and I have waited 26 years for someone to figure this out. So well done, Schmeng:

    you shrieking nothing killing

    just pictures of jap girls in synthesis

    and i aint got no money and i aint got no hair

    (no foreground vocals in this bit)
    no everlasting aesthetic...
    songs that please the ear and leave the mind alone

    but i'm hoping to kick but the planet is glowing
    an outdated concept of falling...

    For the record, I'd wager a cool hundred bucks this song is not about Hiroshima. And it is certainly not a literal story about an astronaut in space. And I don't think Bowie ever did heroin, and if he did it definitely wasn't as early as 1969 so, even though it attempts to write of Space Odyssey as a junkie song, it wasn't.
  • Sandy from London, United KingdomThis song is not about drugs. It seriously isn't. The flash of light is major Tom's rocket, the action man is Major Tom, "I'm happy, hope you're happy too" is part of major Tom's message to earth, when he says "I want to come down right now!" it means he wants to come down, as in to earth. He IS stranded in space after all. The ice represents earth's coldness towards him, he wants taht to stop "we know major Tom's a junkie" means the ground control have come to the conclusion he is a junkie, it's not TRUE, and then the song overall is just about how there's no way back for him, no way back to earth, because he's of no worth to anyone. It is genuinely just about a fictional astronaut who is not on drugs, but is stranded in space.
  • John from Larnaca, CyprusOver 20 years ago i heard it was about hes addiction to masturbation, Major Tom is hes penis
  • Schmeng from Manchester, United KingdomOk the BACKGROUND VOCALS to Ashes to Ashes once and for all.

    background in lower case.

    Note - the background vocals do not fall in exact time with the foreground vocals and often go over the bar line and are phrased to a different 'spoken' rhythm.

    you shrieking nothing killing

    just pictures of jap girls in synthesis

    and i aint got no money and i aint got no hair

    (no foreground vocals in this bit)
    no everlasting aesthetic...
    songs that please the ear and leave the mind alone

    but i'm hoping to kick but the planet is glowing
    an outdated concept of falling...

    There you go. For me the discovery of:

    "no everlasting aesthetic...
    songs that please the ear and leave the mind alone"

    -was the exciting discovery. I had to listen hard for it. Never knew it was in there all these years. Anyway, it relates to Bowie's continuous stylistic changes throughout the 70's and possibly his critical evaluation of his work as nothing more than pop music without depth. Which of course isn't true.
    At the same time it could also refer to the kind of music he preferred to listen to when he was on heroin. Nice pleasing sounds that don't make him think too much.

    Anyway hope that's solved that little mystery for people.
  • Reknub84 from Chatham, OnHiroshima??? No sorry you are dead wrong

    and unless you have used either heroin or a strong opiate like oxycontin, you might not get the meaning of the song.... anyways IT IS HANDS DOWN A SONG ABOUT Heroin!

    Im not going to pick this song apart I think every song has its own meaning to each person, but to bowie it means heroin

    "my momma said to get things done you'd better not mess with major tom"

    - simply means stay away from heroin unless you want to sit around accomplishing nothing for the rest of your life

  • Matt from Victori, TxOne flash of light, but no smoking pistol refers to the flash from shooting up. I.e, "White Light/White Heat" from V.U. You see a flash of light when you shoot H and you sweat a lot. I think Bowie stuck to the White Lady, though, but who really knows. I had a "valuable friend" once, too, but I kicked her to the curb.
  • Steve from Berkeley, CaWhen I hear "want an axe to break the ice" it brings to my mind the image of using a one-sided razor blade (axe) to chop cocaine (ice). Coke being Bowie's reputed drug of choice when he was drugging. At the same time it brings to mind the alienation of a stoned person from from the unstoned but being unable to bridge the gap due to being stoned. So in that one line he goes from wanting to get high to wanting to come down already.
  • Paolo from Mexico City, Mexicothe "want an axe to break the ice" and "one gun smoking pistol" sound like exaggerated solutions to something, but what is it?
  • E-clown from Perpignan, FranceI think it's hard to speak about a song out of its context (the whole bowie artwork). You can find japanese elements in a lot of bowie songs and even in Ziggy clothes. I consider Ashes to ashes like an echo to other songs and people here noticed that too. When I watched ashes to ashes video I didn't understand it was a reference to Hiroshima but why not? it made me think to Ixtoc 1 and the big catastrophe with petrol (1979-1980 south texas). Black sea etc...
  • Vanessa from Honolulu, HiI love this song so much. I want it played at my funeral. I think that the song is about addictions in general. We all have them.
    There are obvious references to heroin "Major Tom's a junkie," "I'm stuck with a valuable friend," but there are other things like the lines, "I've loved all I've needed love, sordid details following," and "Pictures of Jap girls in synthesis," that sound more like a porn or sex addiction.
    The line that speaks the most to me, and that supports my theory that this song is for addicts of every vice, is "I'm happy, hope you're happy too." I struggled with eating disorders, which are like addiction in that they're compulsive, and I would always tell myself that I was skipping meals and exercising non-stop to make my mother happy. I was happy with the way I looked (I didn't see that I looked like a skeleton) and I told myself that my mom would be proud that I wasn't going to be a fat kid. The axe that broke the ice for me was the bathroom scale. When I saw that I weighed only 88 pounds, I immediately went and ate an entire jar of peanuts while lying in bed, and after that I was pretty much cured.
    Anyway, this is a marvelous song and I think that David Bowie is an absolute genius, because he wrote an autobiographical song that applies to everyone.
  • Deage from Bristol, United KingdomDara (dublin) clearly understands the correct meaning in his interpretation above.

    Ashes to Ashes is about the dropping of the Atom bomb from the Enola Gay on Hiroshima Japan......

    The name of the bomb aimer on that day was Major Tom Ferebee.

    The references to ashes, planet glowing, jap girls all tie in.
  • Dv4067 from Bloomingdale, NjI think this has got to be one of my all-time favorite songs. The warbling synth in the intro is really unique, and there are so many great moments in the music in this tune. Excellent bass. Bowie's stuff has always been just wonderfully original. Love it!
  • Valerie from Eureka, CaSo much written about Bowie! I agree with the belief that Space Oddity is about heroin. Little else makes sense. And yes Bowie was (is) into some way out there stuff...and all that that entails. His music is great...have you noticed that all the great ones are a bit on the edge...or is some cases way over the edge.
  • Theo from Jacksonville, FlThere's absolutely no question that this song is about heroin withdrawal. Some reference an lsd trip, but no way. You don't become a junkie on acid or any other drug except opiates. Take it from one who knows. And if you're going through withdrawals, it helps to listen to this. It's a truly amazing and soothing song when you're sick, or not. I've loved this song and video since the 80s.
  • Kayla from Bloomington, InFor some reason, I really like the "I'm happy, hope you're happy too" part. I also like the music that starts at the "hitting an all-time low" bit.
  • Stu from Barcelona, Spaini´VE been reading all these comms. and after i visited youtube and found this video which i think is very meaning : .
    A space odissey dresses a drugs odissey.
    Stu, Spain.
  • James from Santa Clarita, Cai understand the junkie part, but heres what i heard in it........
    in the video, it shows david bowie wearing a space outfit in the 50s, tied to a high chair in his moms kitchen. always the mothers son.......
    and it shows him dressed as a dolled up clown, being chastised and taught by his mother.....
    "my mother said, to get things done, better not mess with major tom(number one)"
    that he has to be the younger brother, as in never be what he wants to be, just do what number one wants, and do as your told......
    its just the general impression i got, thats all. it seems alot of truly great masterpieces can mean mother issues, nuclear bombs, and drug addiction, all at the sametime....and mean much more.
    best line
    "ive never done good things, ive never done bad things, ive never done anything out of the blue" almost cried when i heard that, perfect line for a large part of my life. its not great, its not tragic, its just....never did much of anything......anyway, great song.
  • Joel from Leiden, NetherlandsFor the line "want an axe to break the ice", my interpretation is this.

    There's a Kafka quote that goes, "What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book that must be the axe for the frozen sea within us."

    How about that?
  • Solfa from Tehran, Iranbtw guys i strongly recommend BBC Theatre Radio , London 2000 : Live version , he continues the instrumental ending part for over 1 mins : SO AMAZING ! also theres women backvocals for the choruses
  • John from Newcastle, EnglandSorry about the misstype. I wanted to say "thirty" and not "the teep (?WTF?)"

  • John from Newcastle, EnglandWell my friends, I have been working on the spoken part for the past two weeks, with filters
    and so on. I think what he is saying is something like:

    "No-one ever asked, he was thirteen"

    I'm pretty sure about "no-one ever asked"
    but I not entirely certain he says "thirteen."
    If he did, then he said it quickly, which is strange, because everything else is spoken quite slowly. It sounds more like "the teep".

    He then DEFINITELY says:
    "songs that please the ear can leave the mind blown"

    And then after the planet is glowing part:

    "and I'm prepared to go in 74."

    Has anybody else gotten further? Maybe it's time for something to ask the man himself?
  • Taylor from Dundee, Otherthere is a bbc program called life on mars (also a bowie song which was featured at the end of the series) and the spin off of this is 2 be called ashes to ashes
  • Alvaro from Montevideo, South AmericaDefinitely, DB is one of the greatest in music history; he's full of personality.. no matter who sings, you can always tell when David 'put the pencil in'. This song.. seems auto-biographical, puts lots of sweet poetry in a very hard issue to talk about, specially when suffering deep into it.
  • Solfa from Tehran, Iranmay someone tell me whats ' Want An Axe To Break The Ice ' refering to ?
  • Graeme from Manchester, EnglandThe greatest song from the greatest song-writer ever. I never ever tire of hearing this song. It get's me right in my heart. It has helped me get through many of life's low points. David Bowie is a genius and I thank him for his music.
  • Paul Marlo from Perthabsolutely timeless track!!!!!
  • T. Michels from Venlo, NetherlandsI don't wanna come over like a possesed fan, but my fav band Tears For Fears did a cover of this in the early nineties and they did a way better job than Bowie.
    Why? Well, Bowie just sings as dull as possible, and that is why I prefer the clearer sung version of TFF, and that's the only reason. Besides, the end on that cover is much more intenser,those last lines gave me way more cold shivers than Bowie did.
  • Stewart from Seattle, WaI think Brett from Canberra nailed it. Once you know that Major Tom is a pseudonym for heroine, the song pretty much explains itself.
  • Gary from Chester, England'my mother says to get things done, you better not mess with major tom............ wow!!!!....that is mindblowin lyrics really aint it. you can tell the man is english, he's a genious
  • Elie from The U.k, Englandi love this song in summer i used to go up to the mountains and have a david bowe cd and listen to the cd al day and would play this song at least 10 times
  • Aylin from MontrealI like the Schilling song.
  • Tom from Baltimore, MnI've been listening to this song for more years than I care to think about. Comparing the lyrics to present day Bowie and his life....there is no question that this song is his tribute to defeating his addictions (for a time). I saw the first airing of the video on MTV. It created quite a stir...a hundred grand for a music video was extraordinary in those days.

  • Kayla from LondonI think everyones interpretation of this song is interesting. They all make sense when looking at the lyrics,but with this song, I don't think you can stretch the lyrics that far.
    I like the idea of Major Tom being the drug refrence, but the only line that it really coincides with that theory is the last one. None of the other lyrics really work.
  • Martha from Plymouth, EnglandVery interesting comments, yeah Bowie is talented indeed. The song is so funky at the begining and throughout with the bass, nobody can write a song like him.
  • Dara from Dublin, Irelandi always thought this song was about Hiroshima
    maybe i was just reading too much into it

    about the loneliness of the pilot on the enola gay?

    references could be .....

    -"ive heard a rumour from ground control oh no dont say its true" - confirmation of the mission / order

    "they got a message for the action man- im happy - hope your happy too" - ie: we know you are the right man for the job

    the conflicting emotions of guilt and horror versus the knowledge of what he had just done

    "ive never done good things , ive never done bad things - ive never done anything out of the blue -ie:dropping the bomb

    "wanna come down right now" -self explanatory

    "im stuck with a valuable friend " - transporting little man / fat boy in the plane

    "but im hoping to kick when the planet is glowing" - comment on the futility of nuclear war / stockpiling / arms race

    "we know major toms a junkie ,strung out in heavens high hitting an all time low "- 7 miles high in the plane / reference to dawn of usa foreign policy ambitions

    "one flash of light" - self explanatory
    ashes to ashes - ditto

    "pictures of jap girls in synthesis - "thousands of simultaneous deaths

    "i aint got no mommy and i aint got no hair"
    - i thought it was mommy not money but id have to check the lyrics -artists often swap/ interchange certain lyrics in songs

    "the little grey winds are following me"
    - the mushroom cloud expanded rapidly upwards to reach the plane

    "to get things done you better not mess with major tom" - the bombing decision taken to try to acheive the end of world war 2

    ect ect

    just my thoughts - perhaps it refers to heroine also like the other songs mentioned here but i always liked to think great artists wrote about more than just their own situations. He certainly had more than a passing interest on USA s overseas interests in my opinion - young americans / china girl - comments on the spread of globalisation ....

    would be interest to hear your thoughts as i am fascinated by ashes to ashes lyrics in addition to its musical perfection
  • Tom from Manchester, NhThere is a very interesting reference to feudal Japanese life. Following the lyrics "Jap girls in synthesis", Bowie says " I ain't got no money, and I ain't got no hair." Samurai woman would sell their hair ( their most prized possesion ) to make enough money to satisfy the household budget of their warrior husbands if need called. "China girl" is an obvious reference to heroine, but Bowie seems to have an affinity for eastern culture.

  • Tom from Manchester, NhHey Guys

    In ashes to ashes, the reference to " one flash of light, but no smoking pistol" means....heating a spoon of heroin to shoot up.
    Bowie had some bad habits, but he is a genius.

  • Cd from Ny / Mumbai, OtherSome lines in the song make me think that, fed up by his inability to kick his addiction to drugs (and possibly pornography, if that's what the "pictures of Jap girls" refer to), Major Tom commits suicide in space. The "rumour from ground control" is that he has killed himself, which is what prompts the horrified reaction of "Oh no, don't say it's true". In his recorded suicide note to ground control Major Tom seems to finally at peace now that he has decided to give up on life. "I'm happy, hope you're happy too. I've loved all I've needed love" suggests he is looking back and feeling his life is complete.
    Finally there's an explicit reference to a shooting: "One flash of light, but no smoking pistol"; he has killed himself with some high-tech space device. I think all signs point to this being the intended meaning, in addition to drugs etc, and this makes the song even sadder and more affecting to me.

  • Leya Qwest from Anchorage, AkWhen I saw the song's video for the first time way back when, well, it really blew my mind to say the least. Only Bowie could have created the masterpiece. Haven't seen it for quite some time, but I know that when I do again it'll be godhead. My favorite part is on the beach with the old woman - the clown's mother, I guess - both of 'em walking away with her yammering on while the clown's got this befuddled look on his face. Ha! Ha! That part just kills me royally. The song's not too shabby either. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
  • Rew from Auckland, New ZealandHasn't anybody ever wondered what Bowie is saying in the background of Ashes to Ashes? Sure, some of it is just repetition of the sung lyrics - but there's something else back there, and I haven't yet been able to make it out. He seems to say something about "1974" and "songs that please the ear can leave the mind low," but I'm not sure.
  • Brett from Canberra, AustraliaI was always led to believe that this was (in conjunction with Space Oddity) about drug addiction - maybe not a commonly known fact, but Major Tom is another name for heroin. The person in the song is trying to get clean (stop using heroin) but in his withdrawal hallucinations "...the little green wheels keep following me...".

    "I'm stuck with a valuable friend" he's addicted to heroin, which is costly, "I'm happy, hope you're happy too" it makes him feel good. "Strung out... hitting an all time low" and "want an axe to break the ice, wanna come down right now" is not about being in the spaceship from Space Oddity, more that he's sick of being on the downer after the high and wants to go straight. Just my thoughts on the song. Brilliant use of metaphors to tell a story though!
  • Gatchan from Valencia, SpainIt's stated that the "Ashes to Ashes" videoclip is the first true videoclip of history, not a live recording and so.
  • Neuphoria from Toronto, Canada"Mrs. Major Tom" by K.I.A. is a sequel to the sequel, this time sung by the wife left at home; with lyrics like: "It was light years long/My Major Tom/At last back you've come/Yet still you're gone/You didn't burn up/You just burnt out..." it picks up on the themes of addiction, loss, detachment, etc. (The artist has received 4-star reviews from major papers, including the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, etc.) You can hear it on iTunes...
  • Paul from TeddingtonThe video features Steve Strange of Visage pre fame - if you look closely enough you can see the bulldozer trying to knock him over as hes walks away from it - apparantly he was a right pain on the video shoot and the driver was getting his own back!
  • Montgomery from Florence, KyAnother thought i had for this song, in relation to the 'continueum of Space Oddity' was: could it be that Major Tom was this hero, that everybody loved and then when he got back home (this would be where/when "Ashes to Ashes" takes place) he was old, broke, forgotten, and strung out. or maybe he was a hero and went into space (whether it be literal for Major Tom or metaphoric for Bowie (in which case 'space' would be getting high)) and was gone (or if its metaphoric, 'gone') for so long and got lost (or if its metaphoric, addicted). Then when he came back (or if its metaphoric, came off his high) he was broke, alienated, and so on.
  • Montgomery from Florence, Kyi read all these comments and they all seem intellegent and feesable. i dont know that it is an autobiographical song, but if you think about it, most songs reflect something about the writter (whether its an emotion or a trait or an opinion, whatever). Moreover, i think songs (even when written for a specific intention and with a specific meaning) can take on a life of their own and mean different things to different people. or that they could apply to more than one thing ever for the writter. ANYWAY: here was a thought that i had about the autobiographic aspect: could it be that 'major tom' is the drug refference?! Bare with me here; okay, Bowie was obviously dealing with drug issues during the Space Oddity album/tour. At the end of Ashes to Ashes, he says: "My Mama said, to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom"...maybe this is Bowie looking back at those drug problems and associating them with the Space Oddity time. So Bowie could be saying 'if i want to get things done and progress, i cannot revert (or cant keep reverting)back to my old ways' (the old ways being drugs, as in, during the early part of his music career - the Space Oddity/Major Tom 'era'). JUST A THOUGHT!
  • Bill from Los Angeles, CaI always thought it was about two things:
    On one level it's the continuation of Major Tom after he gets back from his flight.... too much fame and fortune (remember in the original song.."the papers want to know whose shirts you wear.."), the Major becomes a drug addict, trying to stay clean.

    On another level it may well be autobiographical. But I think there's a couple of problems with the autobiography angle. First, Bowie's never been in the closet about his drug problems. They're well documented in so many other areas, I'm wondering if it would be material for a song. Second, the drug addict in Ashes to Ashes has no money and no hair. Bowie has lots of both.

    Whatever the case may be, this is a cool song and I like the discussion.
  • Steph from Ottawa, CanadaDefinitely Bowie's most personal lyrics. Ashes to Ashes is his autobiography.
  • Andrew from Springfield, MoVery awesome song I love the lines "Im happy hope your happy too" and "Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
    We know Major Tom's a junkie" Great song
  • Charlotte from Norwich, United StatesThis for me is one of Bowie's undoubted moments of genius. I may be wrong but I always took this to be David outing his own drug issues in his own way. I see it as being about his very personal fight - 'I'm stuck with a valuable friend'
    However, the obvious drug reference aside, DB being the god he is manages to make the whole piece the finest entree to a decade in popular music history, and using his first hit as a point of reference... genius just genius
  • Rian from London, United StatesI always thought it was about drugs in some way
  • Miriam from Highland Park, NjIn the Young Ones episode "Nasty," when the priest (played by Python Terry Jones) begins the "Ashes to ashes..." speech in the graveyard, Rik (Mayall) buts in with "funk to funky, we know Major Tom's a junkie..." and gets smacked.
  • Amy from Mcalisterville, PaAll Bowie's songs just rock! His lyrics are a masterpiece of the mind. If you ever have a chance to see him in concert go for it.
  • Louis from London, Englandthis song is bizzarre, I see a few passing references to major tom, but I really don't see how it follows his character into space. Its more about drugs as far as I can tell>

    --Strung out in heaven's high
    Hitting an all-time low

    Firstly the entire song is an acid trip, then at the end he's saying how he wants to stay clean.

    --Time and again I tell myself
    I'll stay clean tonight
    But the little green wheels are following me

    Want an axe to break the ice
    Wanna come down right now---

    etc. I really see it more as a song about how drugs affected Bowies life since his first hit space odditty.
  • Ron from Jerusalem, IsraelW0w, great music, very diffrent then in space oddity plus great lyrics.
    worth hearing
  • Tara from London, AzThe greatest pop recording of all time - the song progesses seemlessly through a series of changes in sound and mood. No other recording contains som many hook lines.
see more comments

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