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Space Oddity is a 1969 album by rock musician David Bowie. Originally released by Philips in the UKmarker as David Bowie and by Mercury in the U.S.marker as Man of Words/Man of Music, it was reissued by RCA Records in 1972 under its current title.

Regarding its mix of folk, balladry and prog rock, NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said, "Some of it belonged in '67 and some of it in '72, but in 1969 it all seemed vastly incongruous. Basically, David Bowie can be viewed in retrospect as all that Bowie had been and a little of what he would become, all jumbled up and fighting for control..."

Held to be "the first Bowie album proper", and his first deemed worthy by record companies of regular reissue, Space Oddity featured a notable list of collaborators, including session players Herbie Flowers, Tim Renwick, Terry Cox, and Rick Wakeman, as well as cellist Paul Buckmaster, multi-instrumentalist and producer Tony Visconti, and bassist John Lodge (not to be confused with The Moody Blues' bassist of the same name). Before recording for the album commenced, the song "Space Oddity" had been selected as the lead single based on an earlier demo. Tony Visconti saw it as a "novelty record" and passed the production responsibility on to Gus Dudgeon. Visconti thus produced all the songs on the album bar what would become, from its 1972 reissue onwards, the title track.

Composition

Still considered one of Bowie's best-known songs, "Space Oddity" was a largely acoustic number augmented by the eerie tones of the composer's Stylophone, a pocket electronic organ. The title and subject matter were inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and introduced the character of Major Tom. Some commentators have also seen the song as a metaphor for heroin use, citing the opening countdown as analogous to the drug's passage down the needle prior to the euphoric 'hit', and noting Bowie's admission of a "silly flirtation with smack" in 1968. His 1980 hit "Ashes to Ashes" declared "We know Major Tom's a junkie".

"Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" reflected a strong Bob Dylan influence, with its harmonica, edgy guitar sound and snarling vocal. "Letter to Hermione" was a farewell ballad to Bowie's former girlfriend, Hermione Farthingale, who was also the object of "An Occasional Dream", a gentle folk tune reminiscent of the singer's 1967 debut album. "God Knows I'm Good", Bowie's observational tale of a shoplifter's plight, also recalled his earlier style.

"Cygnet Committee" has been called Bowie’s "first true masterpiece". Commonly regarded as the album track most indicative of the composer's future direction, its 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". Bowie himself described it at the time as a put down of hippies who seemed ready to follow any charismatic leader. Another track cited as foreshadowing themes to which Bowie would return in 1970s, in this case the fracturing of personality, was "Janine", which featured the words "But if you took an axe to me, you’d kill another man not me at all".

The Buddhism-influenced "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" was presented in a heavily-expanded form compared to the original guitar-and-cello version on the B-side of the "Space Oddity" single; the album cut featured a 50-piece orchestra and was also notable for Mick Ronson's debut on a Bowie record, playing uncredited guitar and handclaps midway through the song. "Memory of a Free Festival" was Bowie's reminiscence of an arts festival he had organised in August 1969. Its drawn-out fade/chorus ("The Sun Machine is coming down / And we're gonna have a party") was compared to The Beatles' "Hey Jude"; the song has also been interpreted as a derisive comment on the counterculture it was ostensibly celebrating. In 1970 Bowie cut the tune in half for the A- and B-sides of a more rock-oriented version featuring the band that would accompany him on The Man Who Sold the World later that year: Mick Ronson, Tony Visconti and Mick Woodmansey - an embryonic form of Ziggy Stardust's Spiders From Mars.

Although the opening song had given Bowie a #5 hit in the UK earlier in the year, the remainder of the material bore little resemblance to it and the album was a commercial failure on its initial release, despite some decent reviews. However the November 1972 reissue, released in the wake of Bowie's breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and featuring a contemporary Ziggy photo on the cover, made #17 in the UK charts and #16 in the United States.

Cover art

The original UK David Bowie LP cover showed a facial portrait of Bowie exposed on top of a work by artist Victor Vasarely with blue and violet spots on a green background.The same portrait was used on the U.S. Mercury LP Man of Words/Man of Music, but on a plain blue background. When the album was re-released as Space Oddity in 1972 by RCA, a more recent portrait from the Ziggy Stardust period was displayed on the front cover. For the 1999 CD reissue (see below) the original UK cover was restored, although the new title was added under the portrait to avoid further confusion. The 2009 40th Anniversary edition also uses the original UK cover, but reverts to the original green tint and 'David Bowie' title.

Track listing

All songs written by David Bowie.

Side one

  1. "Space Oddity" – 5:15
  2. "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" – 6:55
  3. "" * – 0:39
  4. "Letter to Hermione" – 2:28
  5. "Cygnet Committee" – 9:33


Side two

  1. "Janine" – 3:18
  2. "An Occasional Dream" – 2:51
  3. "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" – 4:45
  4. "God Knows I'm Good" – 3:13
  5. "Memory of a Free Festival" – 7:05


* "(Don't Sit Down)" was deleted from the album when it was rereleased in 1972 as Space Oddity.

Release history

Region Date Title Label Format Catalog
UKmarker 4 November 1969 David Bowie Philips Stereo LP SBL 7912
USAmarker 1969 Man of Words/Man of Music Mercury Stereo LP 61246
USA 1972 Space Oddity RCA Stereo LP LSP 4813
USA 1972 Space Oddity RCA Stereo 7inch open reel tape EPPA 4813-C


7 open reel tape releases

There was only one release of Space Oddity on open reel, in 1972 duplicated by Magtec, North Hollywood, CA 91605. This is a high speed 7.5 ips release. RCA is the only known company Bowie has been assigned to that released his albums in this format, and only in the US, thoguh imports into other regions may have occurred.

CD releases

Space Oddity was first released on CD by RCA in 1984. In keeping with the 1972 RCA LP release, the track "Don't Sit Down" remained missing. The German (for the European market) and Japanese (for the United States market) masters were sourced from different tapes and are not identical for each region.

In 1990, the album was rereleased by Rykodisc/EMI with an expanded track listing including a restored "Don't Sit Down" as well as "Conversation Piece" and the two-part re-recording of "Memory of a Free Festival" that had been released as a single in 1970.

1990 bonus tracks

  1. "Conversation Piece" (1970 B-side of "The Prettiest Star") – 3:05
  2. "Memory of a Free Festival Part 1" (1970 single version A-side) – 3:59
  3. "Memory of a Free Festival Part 2" (1970 single version B-side) – 3:31


The album was reissued again in 1999 by EMI, without bonus tracks but with 24-bit digitally remastered sound and retaining the original "Don't Sit Down". The Japanese mini LP replicates the cover of the original Philips LP.

2009 bonus disc

  1. "Space Oddity" (demo) - 5.10
  2. "An Occasional Dream" (demo) - 2.49
  3. "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" (single B-side with spoken intro) - 4.56
  4. Brian Matthew interviews David/"Let Me Sleep Beside You" (BBC Radio session D.L.T. Show) - 4.45
  5. "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed" (BBC Radio session D.L.T. Show) - 3.54
  6. "Janine" (BBC Radio session: D.L.T. Show) - 3.02
  7. "London Bye Ta-Ta" (stereo version) - 3.12
  8. "Prettiest Star" (stereo version) - 3.12
  9. "Conversation Piece" (stereo version) - 3.06
  10. "Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1)" (single A-side) - 4.01
  11. "Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 2)" (single B-side) - 3.30
  12. "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" (alternate album mix) - 4.45
  13. "Memory Of A Free Festival" (alternate album mix) - 9.22
  14. "London Bye Ta-Ta" (alternate stereo mix) - 2.34
  15. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" (full length stereo version) - 5.14 [70490]


Personnel



Charts

Album
Year Chart Position
1972 UK Albums chart 17
19723 Australian Kent Report Albums Chart 21
1973 Billboard Pop Albums 16
Single
Year Single Chart Position
1969 "Space Oddity" UK Singles Chart 5
1973 "Space Oddity" Billboard Pop Singles 15
1975 "Space Oddity" UK Singles Chart 1


Notes

  1. Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.28-29
  2. David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.36-79
  3. Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: p.257
  4. Nicholas Pegg (2000). Ibid: p.227
  5. Nicholas Pegg (2000). Ibid: p.57
  6. Christopher Sandford (1996, 1997). Loving the Alien: p.60
  7. Nicholas Pegg (2000). Op Cit: pp.141-2
  8. Poulsen (2007), p. 91


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