Space Oddity (aka “David Bowie” and “Man of Words, Man of Music”)
Released: November 14, 1969
Peak: 16 US, 17 UK, 13 CN, 21 AU
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.1 UK, 3.5 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: glam rock/folk rock/classic rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
All songs written by David Bowie.
Total Running Time: 45:13
3.763 out of 5.00 (average of 22 ratings)
About the Album:
After the commercial failure of David Bowie’s self-titled 1967 album, he recycled a number of those songs and other material for a collection of music videos called Love You Till Tuesday. The film was directed by Malcolm J. Thomson. Bowie’s intent was to use it to promote himself to record companies. He recorded one new song for the collection – Space Oddity. The film wasn’t released at the time (it finally saw the light of day in 1984), but Bowie did land a deal with Mercury Records based on an audition tape that included a demo of “Space Oddity.” WK
Tony Visconti was hired to produce the album, although engineer Gus Dudgeon produced the re-recording of “Space Oddity” because Visconti thought it was a novelty record. WK The album was originally titled David Bowie and later Man of Words, Man of Music. It was later reissued – and is now most commonly known as – Space Oddity, due to the success of the song. “The super-topical” AMG “Space Oddity” was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, exploring feelings of alienation through the account of a fictional astronaut named Major Tom. It was released as a single in July 1969 to capitalize on the Apollo 11 moon landing and gave Bowie his first hit.
The album moved away from the music hall style of Bowie’s debut to a more psychedelic/folk-rock sound, but, as Record Collector’s Terry Staunton says, “he was still trying to settle on an identity.” WK Pitchfork’s Douglas Wolk said Bowie “presents numerous ideas throughout the record, but does not know what to do with them.” WK Biographer David Buckley said, “Bowie was still reflecting the governing ideologies of the day and the dominant musical modes…rather than developing a distinct music of his own.” WK Bowie himself later said the album lacked musical direction. WK
With the exception of “Space Oddity,” the album “possessed very little in the way of commercial songs, and the ensuing album (his second) emerged a dense, even rambling, excursion through the folky strains that were the last glimmering of British psychedelia.” AMG
“The album’s most crucial cut, the lengthy Cygnet Committee,” AMG has been called Bowie’s “first true masterpiece.” WK It is the track “most indicative of the composer’s future direction.” WK The “lead character is a messianic figure who breaks down barriers for his younger followers, but finds that he has only provided them with the means to reject and destroy him.” AMG It “was nothing less than a discourse on the death of hippiness, shot through with such bitterness and bile that it remains one of Bowie’s all-time most important numbers – not to mention his most prescient. The verse that unknowingly name-checks both the Sex Pistols (‘the guns of love’) and the Damned is nothing if not a distillation of all that brought punk to its knees a full nine years later.” AMG
“The remainder of the album struggles to match the sheer vivacity of ‘Cygnet Committee,’ although Unwashed and Slightly Dazed comes close to packing a disheveled rock punch” AMG and reflects a strong Bob Dylan influence “with its harmonica, edgy guitar sound and snarling vocal.” WK
“It bleeds into a half minute or so of Bowie wailing Don’t Sit Down – an element that, mystifyingly, was hacked from the 1972 reissue of the album.” AMG Author Peter Doggett said it was “pointless and disruptive” and that “the album is stronger without it.” WK
“Letter to Hermione was a farewell ballad to Bowie’s former girlfriend Hermione Farthingale, who is also the subject of An Occasional Dream, a gentle tune reminiscent of the singer’s 1967 debut album.” WK “God Knows I’m Good takes a well-meant but somewhat clumsy stab at social comment” AMG via “Bowie’s observational tale of a shoplifter’s plight.” WK
Janine is another slab of “pure ‘60s balladry,” similar to “An Occasional Dream.” AMG Bowie wrote it about a girlfriend of his childhood friend George Underwood. It also foreshadowed themes Bowie would later revisit, such as “the fraturing of personality.” WK
“The Buddhism-influenced” WK “folk epic Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” AMG was first recorded and released for the B-side of “Space Oddity,” but substantially reworked for the album. The original featured guitar and cello while the album cut features a 50-piece orchestra. WK
Memory of a Free Festival finds Bowie reminiscing about an arts festival which he organized in August 1969. The song has been interpreted as “a derisive comment on the counterculture it ostensibly celebrates.” WK A re-recorded version of the song was released as the album’s second single.
Notes: The album was reissued in 1990 with bonus tracks “Conversation Piece” (B-side of “The Prettiest Star”) and the single version of “Memory of a Free Festival” (parts 1 and 2). In 2009, added a full second CD with alternate versions of songs, and interview with Bowie, and non-album songs such as “London Bye Ta-Ta,” “The Prettiest Star,” and “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola.”
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First posted 2/20/2008; last updated 7/29/2021.