16
Nov
09

The Countdown to Blast-Off: 40th Anniversary Special Edition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity

David Bowie Space Oddity 40th

I’m a cynical sort when it comes to re-releases, re-packages, deluxe editions, etc – they’re obvious marketing tactics from record labels seeking to gain the maximum mileage out of the same material, especially as they try to bolster the inevitable decline in physical sales. Having said that, I’m going to remain completely transparent here and say I received advances of both the Duran Duran re-releases and the 40th Anniversary Special Edition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity from EMI; because both David Bowie and Duran Duran contributed generously to my early music education, I felt it would be worth exploring these specific reissues (of course David Bowie also remains my favourite solo artist in the world, which will make me naturally curious in anything released under his name). Tomorrow, on November 17, this 2-disc Special Edition of Space Oddity is due for release, including a digipak with a booklet of extended notes and photographs (I can’t make a comment on that bit because my copy is just the promo copy of the music).

Space Oddity is of course the crucial breakthrough for David Bowie, allowing him to leave gravediggers and laughing gnomes behind. The title track remains a classic song that will forever be included on Bowie compilations, and it hinted at the space-tastic, alienated voyages to come. The story of Major Tom proved to be so popular that it became the album’s title in 1972 after the record had been released in 1969 under the titles David Bowie and Man of Words/Man of Music. I’m not sure about other Bowie fans, but I don’t include it in my top five Bowie records; I adore the title track and Letter to Hermione, a soul-baring, moody ballad to a former girlfriend, but rarely listen to the other songs. It’s an album that clearly shows where Bowie was coming from in terms of influences – it was a little bit folk and a little bit proggy, likely inspired by both Bob Dylan and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. While Bowie has always been a sharp-eyed magpie of myriad genres and creative ideas, he seemed to find his true footing on my favourite Bowie album, Hunky Dory. Again, I really love the title track of The Man Who Sold the World, but many of the tracks from that record just don’t live up to it, whereas its successor was confident and memorable from start to finish, the first hints of glam rock stirring in its undercurrents. I think the rambling folk side of Space Oddity simply didn’t appeal to me as much as his campy glam and icy experimentalism and therefore remained less memorable for me.

Having gone back to listen to this re-mastered version of Bowie’s debut, I’ve revised my opinions a bit. If you don’t pay closer attention to lyrics, you could dismiss many of the tracks as hangovers from the Summer of Love; delving deeper, I began to realize, that like Bowie’s work and identity in general, it is not to be taken at face value. Several tracks are critical of hippie counterculture and fearful of madness, the latter being a rather constant thread throughout Bowie’s career. Album conclusion Memory of a Free Festival is now reminding me of Jarvis Cocker’s observations twenty-five years later in Pulp’s Sorted for E’s & Wizz; it seems like the disillusion and comedown of a participant in a loved-up scene is a perennial theme. One of many brilliant verses in this song:

Touch, we touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life.
We claimed the very source of joy ran through.
It didn’t, but it seemed that way.
I kissed a lot of people that day.

Unfortunately, the end of song and its repetition of “The Sun Machine is coming down/and we’re gonna have a party” still gets a little too Hey Jude-like for me; both endless finales end up lodging in my brain and irritating me. I have also come to embrace the quite epic Cygnet Committee, which tells the story of a sorrowful messianic leader who ends up violently destroyed along with all he represents; this song also very obviously points to future leitmotifs for Bowie. One of my favourite lines is: “My friends talk/Of glory untold dream, where all is God and God is just a word.” It’s a shame that, in my mind, poetry like this remained overshadowed by the musical style for so long.

The deeply rooted sense of never knowing the self and treating the self as a performance, which David Bowie took to great lengths through multiple musical genres, are some of my favourite aspects of his art, and they’re written all over this debut. Another one of the folky jaunty tunes that I generally didn’t take much interest in was Janine, but through repeated listens, several lyrics stood out:

Janine, Janine, you’d like to know me well,
But I’ve got things inside my head
That even I can’t face.

Janine, Janine, you’d like to crash my walls,
But if you take an axe to me
You’ll kill another man
Not me at all.

Several years later, he was still not up to facing himself and was much too fast to do so.

The second disc of this edition features the bonus material, which is mostly comprised of previously unreleased tracks, including early demos, BBC radio sessions, and even the full-length stereo version of the Italian version of Space Oddity re-titled Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola. Despite the fact I’m a big Bowie fan, I don’t actually own any previous special editions or collectors’ sets, so I haven’t heard any of this bonus material before, including the song London Bye Ta Ta, which reminds me of The Kinks’ David Watts and by extension, Blur’s Tracy Jacks. I think I’ve stayed away from buying the special Bowie recordings all these years because his back catalogue of demos, rarities, live sessions and bootlegs seem like a staggering monster that I can never hope to master. It’s ludicrously autistic of me to think of it that way, but it’s no coincidence that I identify with Bowie’s paranoia of going mad as well.

As with the special edition of Duran Duran’s Rio, I would say this reissue of Space Oddity is something for consummate collectors (though many hard-core Bowie fans may have already ferreted out a fair portion of this material). Despite the infinite flogging of Bowie’s back catalogue, I appreciate this re-release if only because it forced me to take a closer listen to a part of Bowie’s output that I inexplicably hadn’t done so much in the past. And in the absence of new releases from my favourite solo artist for the last six years, it assuages an iota of my thirst for new Bowie material. Space Oddity was Bowie’s understated countdown to a blast-off to happen a few years later, an orbit he hasn’t come down from since.

Cygnet Committee – David Bowie

Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (Full-Length Stereo Version) – David Bowie

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2 Responses to “The Countdown to Blast-Off: 40th Anniversary Special Edition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity”


  1. December 6, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Well, you have convinced me to give Bowie another listen. Thanks


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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