Bowie wrote this after seeing the 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. "Space Oddity" is a play on the phrase "Space Odyssey," although the title does not appear in the lyrics. The song tells 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 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. 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."
This was originally released in 1969 on Bowie's self-titled album and timed to coincide with the moon landing. Released as a single, the song made #5 in the UK, becoming his first chart hit in that territory. In America, the single found a very small audience and bubbled under at #124 in August 1969.
In 1972, the album was re-titled Space Oddity and re-issued in the US after Bowie achieved modest success in America with the singles "Changes" (#66) and "The Jean Genie" (#71). The newly released "Space Oddity" single made #15, becoming Bowie's first US Top 40.
In 1975, back in the UK, the song was once again released, this time on a single which also contained the songs "Changes" and "Velvet Goldmine." Promoted as "3 Tracks for the Price of 2," the single leapt to the top of the charts, earning Bowie his first #1 in the UK.
In 1980, Bowie released a follow-up to this called "Ashes To Ashes," where Major Tom once again makes contact with Earth. He says he is happy in space, but Ground Control comes to the conclusion that he is a junkie.
In 1983, the German electro musician Peter Schilling released a sequel to "Space Oddity" called "Major Tom (I'm Coming Home)." Set to a techno beat, it tells the story of Major Tom in space. That song reached #14 in the US, outcharting Bowie's original.
In 2003, K.I.A. released another sequel called "Mrs. Major Tom," which is told from the point of view of Major Tom's wife.
When the BBC used this during coverage of the moon landing, there was a great fear that if the missions in space didn't go well, this song would suddenly become inappropriate.
Suggestion credit: Daniel - The North West, England
In the line, "And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear," 'whose shirt you wear' is English slang for 'what football team are you a fan of?'. The thinking here being that if you can make it into space then your opinions on football matter. (Note to Americans- in this case, by "football" we mean "soccer.")
Bowie's birth name was David Jones. He changed his name before the movie came out, but the name he picked is similar to the main character in the film: Dave Bowman. There was speculation that he got the name from the book The Sentinel, which the movie is based on, but Bowie has claimed that his moniker came from the Bowie knife.
This appears on the soundtrack of the Adam Sandler movie Mr. Deeds.
Suggestion credit: Hans - Oakdale, CA
Nita Benn's handclaps can be heard on this recording. She is the daughter-in-law of the British socialist politician Tony Benn and the mother of Emily Benn, who at the age of 17 became the youngest ever person chosen to fight an election when she was selected in 2007 as the Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham.
This was originally written by Bowie as a guitar song. It was the producer Gus Dudgeon who turned it into an epic.
Session musician Herbie Flowers ("Walk On The Wild Side," "Diamond Dogs") played bass on this track. He recalled his experience working on this to Uncut magazine June 2008: "The first time I played with Bowie was on the session for 'Space Oddity.' Dear Gus (Dudgeon) was quaking in his boots. It might have been the first thing he ever produced. 'Space Oddity' was this strange hybrid song. (Keyboardist) Rick Wakeman went out to buy a little Stylophone for seven shillings from a small shop on the corner where Trident Studios was. With that and all the string arrangements, it's like a semi-orchestral piece."
Jimmy Page told Uncut magazine June 2008: "I played on his records, did you know that? His very early records 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 some interview that on one of those sessions I showed him these chords, which he used in 'Space Oddity'-but he said, 'Don't tell Jim, he might sue me.' Ha ha!"
In 2009, a sound-a-like version was used in commercials for Lincoln automobiles. This version was by the American singer-songwriter Cat Power, the stage name of Charlyn "Chan" Marshall.
The session players on the song were Rick Wakeman (mellotron), Mick Wayne (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), plus string musicians. They were paid just over £9 each.
An early version of this song is performed by David Bowie in Love You Till Tuesday, a promotional film made in 1969 which was designed to showcase the talents of Bowie. You can watch it here.
The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded this song during his stay at the International Space Station in 2013, using a guitar that stays on the station. The female singer/songwriter Emm Gryner, who was part of Bowie's live band in 1999-2000, put the song together, adding additional tracks and incorporating space station sounds that Hadfield had posted to his Soundclound account. A video was compiled using footage of Hadfield performing the song in space, complete with shots of planet Earth, his floating acoustic guitar, and a weightless Hadfield. The sublime compilation was posted on May 12, 2013; it quickly racked up millions of views on YouTube and got the attention of Bowie, who posted about it on his social media accounts, calling it "quite possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created."
Hadfield changed a few of the lyrics - he left out the part where Major Tom loses contact and drifts away.
Releasing a cover song recorded in space poses myriad legal challenges, since jurisdiction is unclear. The original agreement was for one year, so the video was removed on May 13, 2014. By this time, Hadfield was back on Earth and worked to negotiate a new deal with the song's publishers. In November 2014, an agreement was reached and the video went back up.
When Bowie was recording the song, he decided that he wanted real strings and Mellotron together. However, the musicians struggled to play the electronic keyboard instrument. It was Tony Visconti who suggested Rick Wakeman as somebody who could keep the Mellotron in tune. Wakeman recalled to Uncut:
"David said, 'Get him.' I was rehearsing with a 17-piece band in Reading, so I drove up. It was a doddle to do, to be honest. I loved the song, and I'm also credit has to go to David and Tony as I don't think anyone else at that particular time would have heard Mellotron on that piece, where it came in. There would have been other things more obvious to do. It was clever."
Vive from London, United KingdomDavid Bowie wrote Space Oddity after watching Stanley Kubrick's 1967 film Lolita, although many of their shared themes were overshadowed by his last minute decision to set the song in space.
Dave from EnglandI don't know that the expression 'Whose shirt do you wear?' is even in common usage today as a means of identifying which team you support. Nobody's ever asked me that question. Back in 1969 the sight of a replica shirt at any football match would be very rare. Scarves, hats, rosettes and the odd rattle maybe. As other people have said it's more likely to refer to whether you were a Van Heusen, Double 2 or Rael Brook wearer.
Brian from La Mesa, CaMy interpretation of the lyric is much like that of Jeff in Boston.
"Made the grade" in British English means found success due to his skill or endeavor. It means the same thing in The Beatles' "A Day in the Life."
"Whose shirts you wear" means just what Chris wrote: Major Tom is now a role model, and everyone is interested in him and wants to emulate him.
"My spaceship knows which way to go" means that Tom is a hero back home but he is very conscious of the fact that he is actually not controlling the spacecraft. He is a passenger. The Mercury astronauts expressed this felling in The Right Stuff. You can take it even farther and interpret that he can leave the spacecraft confident that it can complete its mission without him.
"Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do" is the most enigmatic lyric. I tend to feel like a few of the posters here. Tom is looking at the Earth and feels helpless to improve anything.*
When Major Tom steps out of his capsule, his is being drawn to leave his world, just as Arthur C. Clarke's Bowman was.
* Or it could be just a throwaway statement with a clumsy attempt at correct meter and rhyme.
Pete from Spain@Chris....I totally agree...it's...now your are famous and we want to know what you wear..to emulate you
Rick from West Chester, PaThis song is a centerpiece in the recent film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. His arrogant boss calls him Major Tom early in the movie (after Stiller fades into a daydream); in the turning point of the film Stiller imagines Kristen Wiig singing this song in a Greenland karaoke bar and it spurs him on to real-life adventures. Kristen's rendition is just fine, and it phases into David's version. I think this is an awesome song, one of the great songs of the rock generations.
Chris from Peterborough, United KingdomAll the theories about the meaning of "whose shirt you wear" misses the point that the lyric is "whose shirts your wear" - shirts plural. So, nothing to do with soccer at all. Major Tom is an astronaut, a celebrity now; so people want to know trivia like what clothes he buys. It's as simple as that.
Cyberpope from Richmond, Canada"Whose shirt do you wear?" may be referring to a confusion as to geographic identity - if he lives up in space, which team's geographical area should he be associated with?
Vive from London, United KingdomDavid Bowie is on record as saying that the line 'floating round my tin can' is a euphemism... but he can no longer remember what for.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxWhat the hell is a 'jagger knife?'
Cliff from Oakdale, Ny2 points to clear up from earlier comments, First Bowie chose his name because he was tipping his hat to Mick Jagger (the jagger knife) that is why he picked to use the name Bowie as in (the Bowie knife) and secondly Bowie had a friend at ABC and during the moon landing he got his friend to somehow get this song played during the landing. This was considered quite impressive at the time, although most people didn't even know who David Bowie was.
Zack Johnson from Meadville, PaDid anyone every notice this song is on an episode of without a trace when Jack Malone is about to jump off the roof ill never forget that episode it was really deep
Carrie from Saginaw, MiSorry, but I'm going to rant. First off, Bowie was never a heroin addict. Cocaine was his drug of choice and he didn't get seriously involved with that until early to mid-70s when he was in LA. So in 1969 he really wouldn't have been writing songs about heroin trips. Not everything in the 60s was about drugs, and Ashes to Ashes tells you that clearly. Ground Control blames Major Tom's actions on drugs to conceal what really happened. Secondly, why does someone always bring it back to Bowie's sexuality. Yes, in an interview in 1971 he told Playboy magazine that he was gay. But read the interview for yourself, even the writer didn't believe him and said he was sort of smirking when he said it. It was publicity plain and simple, and Bowie got so much play out of that one interview. That's why over the years he's denied and confirmed, denied and confirmed. The clearest he's ever been regarding his sexuality was to say that he was very, very promiscuous. But to claim that he wrote this song because he was confused about his own sexuality and was unable
Keith from Centerport, NyI was surprised to find no reference to Bowies sexual preference at the time. While inspired by the movie 2001, he cleverly inserted his confusion of his own sexuality in the song. I mean the spaceship is an obvious choice for a phallic symbol and that is what will determine for him which team he is on, or which shirt he wears. the circuit is dead because he cannot perform properly with his woman, and his mind, ground control,says there is something wrong..floating in a most peculiar way??? a "peculiar" choice of words, no? as for the world being blue, that could be sadness, or taboo sex, which back then was called blue...Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows..he told her his conflict, yet emotionally is still in love. sitting in a tin can, or wanting to come out of the closet...hell man, anything is possible. no matter, it will always be a classic rock tune
Jeff from Boston, MaI think that previous commenters are correct to zero in on the lyric "Planet earth is blue/And there's nothing I can do" as the key to understanding this song. Major Tom is viewed as a hero by the folks back on earth - every schoolboy wants to be an astronaut like him and "the papers want to know whose shirt you wear". But he doesn't feel like a hero, just a figurehead (even his spaceship "knows which way to go" without his help.) Planet earth is full of sadness "blue" which he finds overwhelming - unable to contribute to solving the world's problems, he retreats from the world into his "tin can". Ultimately, Major Tom is horrified by the attempts to lionize him as heroic when he in fact is ashamed of his decisions. So, like David Bowman in "2001", he makes the decision to cut off all contact with the world and all its pain, whether that means death or some sort of transcendental experience.
As for the drug aspect - Not every 60s song is about drugs, although this song is about escapism and drugs are certainly a form of escapism Bowie knew well.
Becky from Mechelen, BelgiumI thought the "the papers want to know what shirt you wearing" was about the race to space between America and Russia... I love this song even though I'm so young and I think it's OK that everyone gives their own meaning to the song. It's there to be interpreted how you like. I never thought about drugs and thought is was about isolation too. Could be both? I'm gonna use it in my lesson about space later, think im gonna keep to the isolation-theme :)
Chloe from St. Louis, MoSo, yeah, if you aren't as sad for Major Tom as the average child is for Bambi's mom, you have no soul.
Chomper from Franjkin County, PaThis song is featured on side two of David Bowie's live concert recording sountrack album:"David Bowie:Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture". Also featured on the album are the following songs : "Better Hang On To Yourself" , "Ziggy Stardust" , "Watch That Man" , My Death".
Mary from Niagara Falls, Ny WHAAAAT??? You didn't mention "Hallo, Spaceboy" - that's the third song in the trilogy, the conclusion to "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes"!!! In spite of a single, gentle line about sexual ambiguity, it's a very touching song, very sad - it wraps up the story of Major Tom, painting a lyrical picture of his last moments in this Universe, having caught up with him on the Moon. The lyrics are stunning, possibly the most beautiful "rock" song ever written. It's certainly my all-time favorite!! "Hallo Spaceboy, you're sleepy now..." *snif* :'(
John from Concord, NhOne of Bowie's early hits. And I don't think it's a metaphor and all for drugs or anything..I actually think it means what it says like others think. Either way, it's a great song with great lyrics and a story that's intriguing enough to actually listen to the song despite being rather basic.
Liberty from Somewhere, InI think the song means literally what it says. I don't think its about drugs or anything. It's a really cool song. and i can play it on guitar.
Rahul from Chennai, Indiadefinitely one of the best songs the 60s had to offer....
Chase from Miami, FlFor spencer of LA he cuts it off purposley
Chase from Miami, FlYou know its funny that we have become so obsessed about the major tom character. We can almost imagine him in front of us and having a conversation, based on his personality through these three songs(space oddity,ashes to ashes and hallo spaceboy) pretty cool huh?
Steffan from Buenos Aires, ArgentinaIf I didnt know who is the composer of this song I would interpret it as an astronaut being lost that sees no hope in human race and feels strange and dont wanna go back home and decides to get lost in eternal space. But knowing that this was written by Bowie it´s obviously about drug use. REMEMBER PEOPLE, THE 60´s! THE HARD DRUG ERA and Bowie was hard drug user. Of course you can interpret it the way you want because its very metaphoric and flexible, but I´m 100% that this is about a drug trip.
John from Los Angeles, CaWhen we write songs, often they are about things we don't even we don't even realize we are writing about at the time. This one is clearly about cooking soup.
Andy from Stillwater, OkI will never listen to Ashes to Ashes i know Major Tom was no junkie, it was a "rumor" from ground control remember? i think they forgot to fully fuel his spaceship and he floated away "here am i sitting in my tin can, far above the world..." was the first chorus, the second was "here am i floating in my tin can, far above the moon...", i like Major Tom he was a good man.
Mikhail from Walla Walla, WaIt's creepy how many parallels to 2001 are in this song. (being lost in space, final message to earth, big event of leaving the ship) although it's more likely about drugs.
Kurdt Kobain from Adalaide, AustraliaIts a About Heroin
James from Adelaide, AustraliaFor everyone that didnt realise, this song is about the journey of an acid trip. WORD for WORD
Linda from Thetenthkingdom, IlI always thoght that this said crowd control to mao tsetung
Mark from London, EnglandThis was originally Bowie's first hit in the UK. When it was re-released in 1975, as part of a three-track EP, it became not only his first UK no. 1 but the first ever re-release to hit the top.
Louise from Newcastle, United KingdomI used to hate this song, now I can't get enough of it. As for 'planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do'- the guys down there are miserable, and I can't help them out? That's what I got from that.
Richard from Leigh On Sea, United Kingdomthe solo is actually by a guitarist called Mick Wayne. I saw Bowie do this song at a free festival organised by a local school in Leigh on Sea in Essex UK just as it was released. Just Bowie and his acoustic guitar and stylophone. Brilliant. http://www.stevetook.mercurymoon.co.uk/mick-wayne.htm
Ladster from Spaceland, MdIt wasn't obvious to me until I read in wiki that it was a heroin reference song (as if his follow-up song stating "Major Tom was a junkie" didn't tip it off enough). You have the blast off/rush sequence followed by the strange, euphoric, blissful (OD?) part. It's the same (druggy) structure as the Beatles "A Day in a Life."
Colin from Sherwood Park, CanadaIsn't the Meaning of this song that Major Tom was sent out to space and then while he's out there theres a problem and ground contol loses him then he's lost in space and set to drift out there forever?
Vin from London, United StatesIt's clearly about drug use. If you think it's about apollo i think that's a bit too literal In my opinion it' s about someone who has taken too much LSD etc
Nunya from Nowhere, MoThis song from my view is about this. This song was recorded during the height of the space race. And supposedly it's about the death of a Russian cosmonaut (redundant?) possibly during a space walk, (more likely, if not solely relying on Mr. Bowie's speculation, during reentry) on the one manned Vostock space series. I'm might be incorrect about Vostock being the one manned series but who cares the other series were just modified first series. Very unsafe since they put three men into a space craft only meant for two people. And the only reason the craft is a a two man craft is because they modified the one man craft. But off topic.
Dan from London, EnglandI've been a football fan for 20 years and I've never heard the phrase 'Whose shirt you wear?' meaning who do you support. I think the song explains how fame and drugs are quite similar and Bowie used the space programme as a metaphor. I think this line is a reference to being a celebrity, and your '15 minutes of fame'. The media build you up, follow you, photgraph you, want to know every little detail about you (where you shop, which labels you wear), only then to drop you when someone new comes along. This path can be applied to drugs, the amazing high and then the low that follows afterwards. A brilliant song by a creative genius.
Dude from Boston, MaActually I believe the song is about a junkee (Major Tom) who is in the hospital because he overdosed and passed out. "Floating in a tin can far above the world" describes the state that he is in (passed out). When he dies the "Can you hear me Major Tom" resembles what someone may do when someone else dies (Tom, can you hear me?Tom?) Also, "Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky, we all know Major Toms a junkee" says in itself that Major Tom is a junkee. "Strung out in to heavens high he reached an alltime low" means he has been high before and come close to dying but this time he does.
Musicmama from New York, NyThe album wasn't released in the US until 1972: right about the time Elton John's "Rocket Man." I first heard this song then, and that may be the reason why I think of "Space Oddity" and "Rocket Man." They're not only linked by their subject matter, space travel; they also convey powerful metaphors for alienation and anomie. I happen to like both, but I give an edge to "Space Oddity," probably because my taste in rock'n'roll runs to songs like "Comfortably Numb," "Stairway to Heaven," "Hey Joe" and almost anything on "Sgt. Pepper's" and "Abbey Road."
Beth from Pittsburgh, Paok, call me crazy..but i never viewed this song as anything above and beyond what the lyrics told me. I am of the Apollo 13 generation..remember when they were really lost in space???.."floating in a tin can...far from the world...planet Earth is blue..and there's nothing i can do"....i think that is scary enuf..without adding a lot of stuff..that wasn't intended to be there. I have often wondered..what those astronauts were thinking..when they were really out there, all alone...maybe they were thinking.."oh sh*t, what have i done"
Chloe from Agoura Hills, CaI just really thought that he got lost in space and that's why he died.
Jordan from Hammond, LaI never really connected this to drug use, and until I saw/heard Ashes to Ashes I always thought Major Tom died at the end. I mean, I thought, in the music video, the two women in the golden dresses were supposed to be the sun, and as they stripped off Major Tom's helmet and clothes,I always pictured it as him flying too close to the son and disintegrating. That's just me, though.
Ray from Philadelphia, PaI've always thought that this was a rather sad song. It seems to me to be about drug addiction, overdose and death. The drug references I think are pretty plain. I mean there are the lyrics that talk about taking 'protein pills', (which let's face it, are anything BUT...) before blasting off into space...quite literally getting high. The overdose and death ideas however, spring mainly from the lyrics about leaving 'the capsule if you dare'...going just a little further, getting...well TRYING to get...just a little higher than you did the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. Also, 'floating in a most peculiar way' and the stars looking 'very different today'leads me to believe that, for as far as major Tom has traveled, he's never been quite THIS far before. And he knows it. And it scares him, because I believe he now knows that this time is different. He may not realize he is dying, though the fact that he requests ground control to give his wife the 'I love you' message leads me to believe that he may have that idea. (The fact that their answer is a simple 'she knows', and not something more encouraging, has always added to the song's sad mood for me.) Death comes, however, on a rather straightforward note, with ground control telling Tom 'Your circuit's dead/ there's something wrong', a line I always took to symbolize his heart, and life, stopping. This truly is for me a very poignant and melancholy song. I feel sorry for Major Tom. I truly do.
Solfa from Tehran, Iranwell i agree with Fyodor , its in vain to argue that its about Drugs OR the story of An Astronaut ! Bowie's a genius in writing such lyrics , that you can interpret it in many ways . but we can guess some main lines ; for example , we all know that ' Ashes To Ashes ' is another song about Major Tom , written by Bowie that he clearly mentioned drugs in it ( ' time and again i tell myself , i'll stay clean tonite , but the little green wheels are following me ! ' / ' one flash of lite , but no smoking pistols ' ) , so we can figure out a Drug Addicted personality for Major Tom , that used in interpreting ' Space Oddity ' too . but its obvious that Bowie's placed some space to make the song conceptual by using some vague sentences like ' planet earth is Blue ' or ' im stepping through the door ' ; well totally i guess bowie has taken the idea from 2001 but expanded it to a conceptual story that you can relate it to Drugs , Depression Made By Modern Life and Somehow Explaining a Bohemian Personality That Should Accept Getting Ignored By Society . at last i wanna say that i believe major tom is floating around , and hasnt died .
Spencer from Los Angeles, Ca@Daniel: The movie and book were being made at the same time so their releases could coincide, but I'm pretty sure the movie was in production first. This happened all the way to the third and final movie, after which one more book was written without a movie.
I don't get it, does Major Tom cut off communications willingly, or is it an error?
John from New York, Ny Darren Aronofsky's movie "The Fountain" was inspired by 'Space Oddity'. Also, a web article by Peter-R. Koenig, "The Laughing Gnostic ..." tries to describe Bowie's songwriting technique.
John from New York, Nymiscellaneous factoid: Darren Aronofsky's movie "The Fountain" (kabbala Tree of Life?) is somewhat inspired by 'Space Oddity'. Also, a web article by Peter-R. Koenig, "The Laughing Gnostic ..." tries to describe Bowie's songwriting technique.
Jaibe from Carol Stream, Il(read my previous comment first) I've always hated that Schilling implied a computer error caused an accident. That is so missing the point. Bowie loves technology & sci fi.
Jaibe from Carol Stream, Il"the papers want to know whose shirts you wear / now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare" -- I always thought this song was about how the press & masses trivialize what the astronaut / artist sees as an important, intricate project he's invested his life in, so he eventually decides to just leave them behind.
Daniel from Cincinnatti, OrWasn't 2001: A Space Odessey the stanley Kubrick movie, based on Arthur C. Clarks book of the same name? Im 99% positive.
Laura from Spencerport, Nyone of the coolest songs ever. LOVE it. plus i love Bowie in "Labyrinth "... :)
Jon from Oakridge, OrSeu Jorge did an awesome cover of this on "The Life Aquatic".
Mike from Germantown, MdThis song is awesome, the video is pretty good. In the video, after the sitting in a tin can line, what's that thing with all the knobs?
Matija from Rijeka, Croatia"Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do" In my opinion it doesn't hold any specific meaning... It just describes a helpless man who can do nothing but to admire the beauty of the planet from the great distance. He notices that stars look different, because he saw them clearly in space for the first time, not obscured by atmosphere and also sees his home planet, so beautiful and blue more than he imagined it would be. This line has pivotal meaning in song as Bowie sings it calmly... It gives the song that specific feeling of peaceful helplesness in the stunning image of space.
Brian from Alluhrst, Njthis is the best David Bowie songs and one of the greatest songs of all time
Fyodor from Denver, CoI don't know if Bowie consciously intended this song to describe a drug experience or death, but I think those interpretations work. I think a good work of art will be to some degree open to interpretation, perhaps reflecting things the artist was not even conciously aware of putting into it. And then, sometimes an artist specifically intends his work to be interpreted in more than one way. Certainly, the images in this song are ripe for metaphor, and that's key to the song's success, whatever Bowie was actually thinking when he wrote it.
Halmyre from Dunfermline, ScotlandBowie didn't get his name from Arthur C Clarke's 'The Sentinel' - there's no such character as David Bowman. The name Bowman didn't appear until '2001' came out in 1968, by which time Bowie had already released his first recordings. It has been suggested he took the name from Jim Bowie, of Bowie knife fame.
Jack from Belfast, OtherI thought it was about an astronaut and being in space somehow drives him mad. Maybe what drives him mad is the fact that he is "sitting in a tin can far above the world" and he knows that it shouldn't be naturally possible for man to do this. "Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do" didn't make any sense to me but i thought that might be there to show the fact that he's insane and the strange way his mind is working and he finds things ilke that strangely interesting because he feels so peaceful. He feels tranquil and doesn't care anymore so he just lies back and lets the spaceship float out ("I think my spaceship knows which way to go") . He knows he's not going home so he tells ground control to tell his wife he loves her. When the spaceship floats out too far he is out of range for ground control to communicate with him. I think it was written before the moon landing so maybe people were a bit freaked out about going into space. I'm only fifteen so I don't have the wisdom that the rest of you fella's might have and theres probably a lot of ways of disproving my theory.
Matija from Rijeka, CroatiaFirst, I must mention the incredible similarity to 2001: A Space Odyssey: the derived name "Space Oddity", Bowie's name corresponding to that of Dave Bowman. The rest is the line "Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare" which can be compared to the part of the Space Odssey where Bowman needs to leave his capsule without his helmet to enter Discovery through the small backup entrance. This happened after HAL locked Bowman outside the Discovery and broke off communications, hence the "Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong Can you hear me, Major Tom..." But I don't really believe this is the true meaning. The song is wonderfully emotional and sad. I don't think of it as a drugs or suicide story, it's more like an accident in space. When the equipment fails and Major Tom is faced with the vast emptiness surrounding him... It speaks to him of death and oblivion, but he is incredibly calm, almost tranquilised, gazing at the stars that have now became his sealed fate. There is a contrast of feelings present. The wonder, joy, fame and unrivaled feeling of triumph and success are suddenly interrupted by the deadly unease... the helplesness of the man, a fragile and exposed being, floating one hundred miles from it's home protected only by this small tin can of a capsule, alone and forgotten in cold space.
Brian from Alluhrst, Njone of the greatest song of all time
Tim from Brisbane, United StatesI heard Bowie gave Elton John a hard time for using a similar theme for "Rocket Man"
Pat from Albuquerque, NmSean--"2001" was originally based on ideas in Arthur Clarke's 1948 short story "The Sentinel." When Stanley Kubrick read that story and decided to make the movie, he worked with Clarke on the "2001" novel. According to Kubrick's website, the book was completed along with the movie.
Steve from Chicago, IlIn the early 90's I owned a shirt I was quite fond of. Interestingly, the manufacturer's label was "Ground Control". I can't imagine that was just a coincidence :)
Marie from Hulst, NetherlandsIt always amazes me how each person has a different point of view. I have always thought that the song was about an astronaut in space who sees earth on fire (blue flame)and there is nothing he can do to stop it. - Marie, Canada
Kayla from LondonIn this song Major Tom does not commit suicide. Listen to the lyrics!! He was supposed to go outside his space ship. Ground control says "Now its time to leave the capsule if you dare". Then, something goes wrong "Your circuits dead theres something wrong". and Major Tom is just floating out in space but he is still alive. Hence why he is still singing after ground control says "can you hear me Major Tom?".
All in all, I think this song is sad, but I love it.
Warren from Vancouver, CanadaThis song is about a man who is dying and is a peace as he goes through the process. He accepts it and thinks it is beautiful. He is going to heaven. I think all this stuff happens between the second he starts to fade, to when he's lights out. Here's why: -He's taking nutrient pills and putting on his helmet for the journey. The protien pills will sustain him for the length of his journey. - "engines on and may god's love be with you" hes getting ready to go on the journey to heaven, which some may find frightening, thus "may gods love be with you" - "you've really made the grade" making the grade is making it to the afterlife or glorious heaven. The Beatles an almost identical line in the song "A Day in the Life" in which they sing "about a lucky man who made the grade" by dying in a car crash. To have made "the grade", means you have died or are in the process. -"stepping through the door" he is stepping through to the "the other world" or out of life on earth. -he is feeling "very still" because he is almost lifeless at this point. He is fadding. - his spaceship knows which way to go" he has faith that he will get to where he is going after he dies. Fate will take him to where he is supposed to be once he is totally dead. - his "circuits dead" he has gone. He is dead.
the song sounds like he is at peace and accepts his fate. Its a relaxing song.
I dont know how major tom died, but it could be from natural causes.
It's a beautiful song about the process a split second before death. Major Tom isn't afraid. He is on a mission to see what is on the other side after he dies. Is there anything? He doesnt know, but his soul will take him wherever he is supposed to be. Maybe nowhere. He is at peace and lets go to drift into the unknown
David from New York City, NyI remember reading a book about Illegal Drugs and "Ground Control" is slang for the person who make sure you don't flip out on a LSD trip. Would make sense that first he is having a good LSD trip then it turns into a bad one("Major Tom, Is there something wrong?")
Dan from Lee, NhSome people say this song is about drugs. It might be bout drugs because in the beggining of the song is very happy and he is floating in his tin can with the press all over him while later in the song every thing goes wrong and he floats off into space.
Alan from Durham City, EnglandSO was produced by Gus Dudgeon who used Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Herbie Flowers (he liked the name) on bass, Terry Cox on drums and Big Jim Sullivan on guitar. Big Jim Sullivan featured on over 1000 UK Top 20 singles.
I once read that Major Tom was named after British Prime Minister John Major's father (Tom Major-Bell) but I doubt it. David Bowie and John Major were both born in Brixton though !
Jeremy from Warren , RiA very well written song lyrically and instrument wise. Why don't we just ask Bowie himself what tis song means?
Billy from Plymouth, NhYou've GOT to check out the Venture Brothers on cartoon network's adult swim! I think the episode is "Ghosts of the Sargasso", it's a kind of Scooby Doo rip off (like TVB is kind of a Johnny Quest rip off) but the opening of the episode is acting out all the lyrics from Space Oddity! It's hilarious!
Ernie from Levittown, NyI think you have it all wrong regarding the drug angle and MT. I've always seen the story in the song as a parallel to 2001: A mental/spiritual awakening induced by the sheer beauty of being adift in space.
There is no suicide in the song Comminication ends after MT breaks his last link to earth (that being his love for his wife). Note it is after "can you hear me" goes out 4x that MT is still floating *round* (not in, around?, he's outside now?) his capsule and there's nothing I can do (or need do).
This is strongly parallel to the star child at the end of 2001. And as the last line of the book goes "he was now sure of what to do next, but he would think of something" counters "and there's nothing I can do"
(There, I splained DAT Louis!)
Tyan from Melbourne, Australiai think its definately a song about drug use. the rocket knowing which way to go is the drug major tom is using to get high, it will know how to get him there, he just has to use it.
the countdown in the song could refer to the wait that it takes for major tom to get high after the initial administration of his drug of choice.
when bowie sings about sitting in a tin can being far above the world, this could be talking about the isolated state of major tom while taking drugs by himself, he is looking at the world (or the people around him) and he is realising that they dont ubnderstand him.. plant earth being blue could refer to major tom being depressed 'back on earth' when he isnt escaping through his drug use.
something being wrong and the circuit being dead would then be referring to major tom overdosing.
as it is there is never just one interpretation for a song, but this is mine.. you could arguably say that bowie is singing about a sexual experience or any other number of things.
Nathan from Defiance, OhNot to sound like a geek, but.. this song must have been written about the Mercury program. It was the only NASA mission with a single man per capsule.
Jack from San Francisco, CtI cannot really see David Bowie putting so much thought into this song, although some of the posts are quite interesting. Technological isolation? I doubt it. I think Bowie is telling a story about suicide in space. The first verse is like a warm up to the second. Indications of suicide begin with the line: "And I think my spaceship knows which way to go". I interprete that to mean he has no intention on steering the ship back to earth, he will let the ship travel its own course. "Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows". He's not coming back, and will surely die in space. He cuts off communications to ground control, and of course they try to communicate but cannot. I have heard it suggested that Major Tom's decision to die in space is because he found out his wife was cheating on him, and he loves her so much he can't bear to live life that way. But there is nothing in the song itself to indicate that. The reason therefore is a mystery. A space oddity is one of my favorite songs of all time, although it is a very sad song once you understand the meaning.
Imran from Petaling Jaya, MalaysiaThis song is actually quite sad if you listen to it carefully. One of my favourite Bowie songs.
Dave from Brisbane, AustraliaBowie did a cover of this song in italian called Regazza Sola (I think thats correct spelling), sounded just as good as in english
Sean from Portland, OrWasn't 2001 based off of the book 2001: A Space Odyssey? I have the book on my shelf, and i'm pretty sure it wasn't based off of The Sentinel.
Brett from Canberra, AustraliaI also posted against Ashes to Ashes in relation to this song... I believed that the story tells (metaphorically) about a junkie shooting up and his feelings once he's high. There's the euphoria, altered perceptions and feelings of inevitablity "Floating in a most peculiar way, and the stars look very different today" and "planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do". Then the hit goes wrong, and because of the overdose - "tell my wife I love her very much" he dies "Ground Control to Major Tom your circuit's dead - there's something wrong" but by this time he's already dead. Kind of sad really but excellent use of metaphors to tell a sad story if that's what it is?
Luke from Sheffield, EnglandIt tells you who played guitar on it, on the back cover of 'David Bowie' (re-issued as Space Oddity) Marc Bolan it wasn't.
Nessie from Sapporo, JapanA brilliant song, but I thought the guitar was Brian Eno.
Jim from North Billerica, MaMarc Bolin, Of T. Rex fame, did the guitar solo for this.
Joe from North Arlington, NjWait, in "Ashes to Ashes" doesn't major. tom tell ground control that he is doing ok?
Clay from Bostos, Mathe song is about an astronaut (major tom) that succesfully has a mission to space, but when told to return he commits suicide by cutting off communications with Earth and floating off into space. The "sequel" to the major tom saga "Ashes to Ashes" reveals that major tom was hooked on drugs which was the reason for him commiting suicide.
Queen from Carmel, NyBowie is a great insperation I am only 12 but I love from Bowie to cat steavens to pink floyd to Ozzy to Flogging Molly but I love to playa around on my guitar and keyboard even my flute and I always listen to him to help me One of his BEST
Derrick from Linden, Cai like this song. has a great feel to it. it was the first song i ever heard. supposedly my mom was listening to it while she was giving birth to me.
Shannon from Pittsburgh, PaOn the show FRIENDS Chandler sings this song in TOW Ross Can't Flirt. It's really funny. Joey also sings this on TOW After Vegas.
Jill from Charleston, IlI love that song! :D
Steve from Chino Hills, CaOkay, Louis from London, here is an explanation of "Planet Earth is blue and theres nothing I can do." The song is about technological isolation. As technology moves forward it does more to draw us into isolation. David Bowie didn't think this up, it's a philophical concept that has been around for hundreds of years. Major Tom is sitting in a space ship he calls a "Tin Can" far above the world. He is sitting back reflecting on his isolation. The planet earth is blue has two meanings. First, the color is blue. Second it means, blue, or sad. Major Tom is a metaphore for mankind moving away from the community towards technoligical isolationism. As technology evolves we are losing our humanity, and the world is sad about this but it's too late, there is nothing we can do about this. The song ends with his total withdrawl from society. Hey, to lighten things up a bit, if you ever see Bowie sing this song in his early video, check out those teeth!
Daniel from Perth, AustraliaBowie=Legend..The concert in Perth was great although i didnt buy tickets we could hear and see bowie the same as the crowd he even waved and said hi to all out in that park.....hehe
Andrew from Springfield, MoSounds to odd to be true Aisha, but cool none the less.
Paulo from New York, NyA cover of this can be found on Natalie Merchant's live album Live in Concert.
Aisha from Springfield, MoThe Astronauts aboard the Columbia could pick songs to hear when they woke up in the mornings. The morning the shuttle exploded they listened to this song.
Louis from London, Englandthe planet earth is blue and theres nothing i can do. EXPLAIN DAT!
Kris from Toronto, Canadathis was THE song that got me onto david bowie... for weeks i couldn't get it out of my head and so i finally relented and bought it. i've never looked back
Ron from Jerusalem, Israelgreat song, one of bowies best songs.