Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Space Oddities: Major Tom's Adventures

I suppose most EasyTV viewers know Major Tom, the character David Bowie invented for one of his first hit singles, Space Oddity. The song tells the story of poor Major Tom, lost in space after leaving his capsule. It was influenced by Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", and the song title can therefore be viewed as a pun on the movie title. Well, one odd thing about this song is that there's two official videos circulating for that song. The reason being that the song was initially included in an early album that wasn't very successful. Then the song was re-recorded (and that's the version we know) and played during the moon landing on English TV. That's when the song took off, if you pardon the pun. Americans didn't care much for the song initially, but a re-release a few years later also eventually broke through there (tedious details of releases and re-releases courtesy of Wikipedia). Anyway, first we have the recording we all know:

But there is an earlier video, recorded when the song was initially released as part of a promotional film called Love You Till Tuesday. The song reflects Bowie's earlier sound and folk influences. The video is pretty funny, in my opinion:

Major Tom resurfaces in 1980, in Ashes to Ashes, Bowie's fantastic hit single off his Scary Monsters album. This is where Bowie admits that "Major Tom's a junkie", and that his take off, floating and loss in Space Oddity were all a metaphor for heroin consumption. The video made a big impression on me at the time:

And then, something peculiar happens. Major Tom ditches heroin for something more conducive to dancing. Peter Schilling (who is indeed related to Curt Schilling the baseball pitcher, by the way), releases a electro-pop song called "Major Tom", and he tells us Major Tom, contrary to popular belief, is alive and coming home! It's a miracle, but based on the video I wonder if he landed ok:

Major Tom's resurrection and his new taste for dancing were regrettable. Bowie recycled him one more time for "Hallo Spaceboy", from his 1995 Outside album, and Pet Shop Boys took care of the dance remix (Neil Tennant can be heard on the chorus).

Here's the official video of the remix, in case you care:

If you're really curious, here's the original version (i.e. non remix) from the album:

But I want to leave you on a good note, so here's a haunting take on Space Oddity by a kid's choir, as part of the Langley Schools Music Project, recorded in 1976 but mostly known due to its re-release in 2001.

Big thanks to The Straight Dope for some valuable information.

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