Back in July 1969 the world was waiting for Apollo 11 to launch and hopefully land
man on the moon. Space
Oddity was released 9 days before the launch of Apollo.
But what was it about? Why did the BBC ban it? Why did it take many years to get to No.1?
Why was Rick Wakeman and Herbie flowers involved
Why did the
stylaphone become involved
in the story of the song?
Why did Hyde Park become involved?
The song came from the album David Bowie,
The song is about astronaut Major Tom and a mission, he will not return home from. Most people believe that it was made especially to coincide with the moon landing at the same time. According To Bowie he says the song was inspired by the
film 2001 a space odyssey.
Others say the record is a
at the British space program or the lack of it or the way the
American society had come so far technically but not morally.
The song never made a huge impact in 1969 although it did get in the top ten, but it was not until its
rerelease in 1975 that it became David’s first No. 1 single.
Despite its relatively poor chart performance in 1969 it still went on to win the Ivor novella award. It was in 1969 that David split from the record company DERAM and had a temporary contract with Mercury who had heard a rough version of space oddity.
John Hutchinson was the musical partner to Bowie at this time. Hutchinson was an important foil for Bowie during this time, as a (usually) harmonizing backup vocalist and guitar accompanist. He also helped Bowie with his songs, including "Space Oddity," for which Hutch threw in some chords and suggested scraping the guitar strings to simulate to sound of a rocket launch, although Hutchinson did not get a song writing credit.
Space Oddity kept being turned down even by Beatles producer George Martin. One reason was that the song was being closely associated with the Apollo 11 moon mission and if anything had gone wrong on Apollo 11 the song would always be associated with it.
In fact the BBC banned the song when it was finally released for that very reason and it only got played after the mission was complete.
The single was prodded by Gus Dudgeon. Who went on to work with rocket man Elton
john. Gus died in 2002.
The track was recorded at Trident Studios on 20 June 1969 (with overdubs a few days later) and used the in-house session player Rick Wakeman who was later to achieve fame with the progressive rock band Yes, as well as Mick Wayne (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass), and Terry Cox (drums).
The song was promoted in advertisements for the Stylophone, played by Bowie on the record and heard in the background during the opening verse.
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."
During 1968 Bowie also had “a flirtation with smack,” he admitted years later, and some have argued the icy majesty of “Space Oddity” suggests it’s really a heroin song, the “liftoff” section marking when the needle hits the vein.
It was intended to be a duet: the opening verse was originally sung by Hutchinson who had a lower range, while Bowie harmonized an octave higher. Hutchinson as “ground control” again opened the second verse until the big reveal: Major Tom speaks at last, with Bowie finally appearing in his most resonant tone. Hutchinson recalled that he and Bowie loved Bookends, and here Hutchinson keeps to the ground as “Simon” while Bowie wafts in as “Garfunkel.” Bowie’s skill as a singer had developed enough, however, that he could play all the roles on “Space Oddity,” ......recorded on 20 June 1969, debuted over the PA system at the Rolling Stones’ free Hyde Park concert on 5 July, which had become an impromptu funeral service for Brian Jones.