SCIENCE FICTION MUSIC REVIEW: "Space Oddity" by David Bowie (1969)

Wil Avitt
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Space Oddity is the first track off of David Bowie's self-titled 1969 album (and the title track when the album was reissued under the title Space Oddity in 1975). The song tells the story of Major Tom, a fictional Astronaut in (presumably) the Apollo space program, which sent the first (and so far only) human beings to and around the moon. The story is told through a series of transmissions from ground control to Major Tom and from Major Tom to ground control. The launch goes smoothly, but once Major Tom gets out of the Earth's atmosphere and commences an EVA, something goes terribly wrong. Major Tom's last transmission to ground control is to "tell my wife I love her" to which ground control responds "she knows." The final fate of Major Tom, as well as the cause of the loss of contact are left a mystery, though Major Tom does make it to the moon as evidenced by the last lines of the song, "Here am I sitting in my tin can far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do," which could also be an indication that something is about to destroy the Earth and Major Tom is unable to communicate the threat to ground control.

Musically, the song is standard Brit Rock, which has remained fairly constant as a sub-genre (if it can really be classified as such) from The Beatles through Pink Floyd and David Bowie right up until more modern British bands like Coldplay. If you like Brit Rock, Space Oddity has a lot to offer musically. Lyrically the song is fairly simple, though it says enough to leave the listener fulfilled by the seemingly tragic story of Major Tom, and the ambiguous end leaves the listener with a sense of hope that Major Tom could still be alive out there.

Major Tom's story does indeed continue in two other Bowie songs, Ashes to Ashes and Hallo, Spaceman. Major Tom has also appeared in songs by other musical artists, most notably Major Tom (Coming Home) by Peter Schilling and Rain or Shine by Five Star. Also, the story of the wife Major Tom mentions is told in the song Mrs. Major Tom by KIA. It is also interesting to note that the story told in Space Oddity is remarkably similar to that told in the song Rocket Man by Elton John (which is on our list to cover here, though not the way you might think or even want).

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