46 years ago today, David Bowie released his landmark single, “Space Oddity.”
The BBC famously played the song over its broadcast of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing, just 9 days after the single was released. If you haven’t listened to the lyrics yet, the song is about a failed space mission, making the BBC’s decision seem almost bitter towards the former colony.
The original BBC footage of the Apollo landing has largely been lost or archived off into the sunset, but a Youtube user has assembled this footage under the song to get the same effect. Regardless of the appropriateness of the lyrics, the unity of music and footage is powerful.
With this single and its timing, Bowie’s first rise to fame was tied to one of the most significant moments in the history of human science and culture, as broadcast by one of the most venerable media institutions in the world. If that feels a little heavy, here’s the same song popping up in Mr. Deeds:
Aside from its particular contexts, “Space Oddity” was Bowie’s first time capturing mass attention. His self-titled debut album had come out in 1967 but had not made much of an impression. To this day “David Bowie” remains an anomaly in the singer’s catalogue. Space Oddity presented Bowie to the world as the walking idiosyncrasy that remains his image today. Maybe prowling more than walking, but whatever.
The Bowie who has been prowling the musical and artistic world since July 11, 1969 has been exactly the sort of guy who can write music to back up historical events or Adam Sandler movies. You can find his influence everywhere. Because he’s been unafraid to dabble in music hall, funk, folk, experimental, glam, even metal (with his band Tin Machine), there is an entry point to Bowie for everyone willing to listen for it.
So cheers to Major Tom, and Neil Armstrong for good measure.