Space Oddity by Yahel Deljou -
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Space Oddity

  • Joined Dec 2021
  • Published Books 1

“Space Oddity” (1969) is probably one of David Bowie‘s most famous songs.

Although it was released over 50 years ago, the adventure of
“Major Tom” in space lives to this day.

But why? What makes it so special?


Space Oddity was written and recorded by David Bowie.

It was first released on 11 July 1969, and was the opening track of his second studio album “David Bowie”, released on November 1969.

July 11: David Bowie released the single “Space Oddity” in 1969 | Born To Listen

after his debut album (1967) failed miserably, Bowie’s manager Kenneth Pitt attempted to bring Bowie to a wider audience with a promotional film – “Love You Till Tuesday”.


Bowie originally wrote Space Oddity for the film, but it ended up being released much sooner…



The song tells the story of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut who cuts off communication with earth and floats into space.


Major Tom is informed by Ground Control that a malfunction has occurred in his spacecraft but he does not get the message – he either misses it or is in such awe of outer space he does not hear it.


The song was partly inspired by the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey: (1968, Stanley Kubrick), and Bowie’s feelings of alienation at this point of his career.

“Space Oddity” is a play on the phrase “Space Odyssey”, by changing “odyssey” into “oddity”, Bowie captures the feeling of being out of place – both physically and metaphorically.


Timing is everything?

On July 11, 1969 – only 5 days before Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin set out on their journey to the Moon – a relatively unknown British musician named David Bowie released a single titled “Space Oddity.” The timing was no coincidence.


Space Oddity was demoed at the beginning of 1969 and was supposed to be recorded with the rest of Bowie’s album.


But Bowie’s record label saw an opportunity to tap into the Apollo excitement, now that the space theme was more popular than ever – and they rushed the song’s release ahead of the album- before the Apollo 11 moon landing.





1969 Moon Landing - HISTORY



The Story of Major Tom

Space Oddity, first and foremost, tells a story.

every single detail in the song adds to the story and pulls us one step at the time into Major Tom’s (and as a result, David Bowie’s) world.


so how each detail adds to our experience as listeners?



“Space Oddity”/David Bowie


Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on


(Ten) Ground Control
(Nine) To Major Tom
(Eight, seven, six) Commencing countdown
(Five) Engines on
(Four, three, two) Check ignition
(One) And may God’s love
(Lift-off) Be with you


This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare


This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today


For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do


Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
She knows


Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you he—


Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do


“Ground control to Major Tom..”

the song’s hook.


the song starts with ground control trying to reach out to Major Tom, to make sure he is ok and prepared for his space travel.


The repetition of this line pulls us in and intrigues us – what will happen to Major Tom? the fact ground control is calling him over and over again from the very beginning of the song, is making us want to hear the rest of the story – to find out what is going to happen to him.


Throughout the song, Bowie repeats the hook in different keys and pitches – which adds some desperation to the story as well.


right before the song peaks, ground control finally gets an answer from Major Tom (“This is Major Tom to Ground Control..”) – he accepts his fate, knows he is doomed and feels at peace with it, since there’s nothing he can do about it.


this hook has another big role in the song which is to emphasize the theme of communication that has a big role in the song. The entire song is a dialog.


at the very end of the song, when communication is lost – there is no affirmation of who is speaking anymore, and we jump straight from ground control to Major Tom mid-dialog.


Dialog and Storytelling 

while most songs that sung by one person usually has one narrator, Space Oddity is written as a dialog – a conversation between ground control and Major Tom.

David Bowie tells the story from 2 different perspectives and alternates between two characters, who are experiencing the situation from very different points of view. Bowie’s harmonies with himself emphasize it as well.

Bowie, who is a wonderful storyteller, captures the distress, desperation and uncertainty and delivers it with his voice throughout the song.

At the beginning, he is rather calm, yet there is a mysterious edge to his voice. as the song progresses, you can hear his excitement over Major Tom’s successful mission, which then changes to desperation and distress when things go wrong. he manages to deliver these emotions to the listeners.


When Major Tom loses his connection, you can hear Ground Control calling out “can you hear me Major Tom?” over and over again, until he gets cut off mid-sentence – Major Tom and Ground Control have no line of communication anymore, the former cant hear the latter, and the song finishes with his last words – he is accepting his fate.



Music, Vocals and Production



A Journey To Outer Space


During the first verse of the song, when we are introduced to Major Tom and his upcoming journey, we can hear a voice counting down from 10 to 1 for his lift off.

When the countdown ends, the key changes – signaling a change in the song’s atmosphere – Major Tom’s journey has begun.

The countdown, which is associated with spaceships lift offs, adds to the space theme of the song, and at the same time keeps you on your toes – what is going to happen at the end of the countdown?


Music and Production

Given Space Oddity revolves around radio communication, it’s appropriate that the song fades in (silence, then the receiver gets a faint signal – the acoustic guitar riff – which gets stronger – sparse bass, snare drum, and electric guitar – until it gets good enough to transmit – the vocals, with the stylophone helping it sound as if it was coming from a radio) and fades out (the signal gets so weak the only response is silence – a mellotron playing a note that sounds like a deflating balloon).


The song fading in and out evokes a sense that the song is in orbit around the relatively fixed point of the listeners – which adds to the overall feeling of outer space.

The build up also makes us feel the progression of the journey.


Once Major Tom lifts off, his travel to orbit is represented by a spacey guitar riff, and once he reaches space, the song goes from sparse instrumentation to being full-blown.


The instrumental interludes between verses represent Major Tom’s journey in space and bring us along with him.


Space Oddity has been characterized as a psychedelic folk ballad, and it has unique instruments (such as the stylophone) and structure which adds to the feeling of something foreign, out of this world.



The many key and chord changes adds to the story – the song portrays a dynamic story, with ups and downs, and different emotions according to the situation.


Bowie sings in higher notes to express excitement, distress, and desperation, and lower notes when the atmosphere is mysterious or calm.


It is the most noticeable at the two main turning points of the song:

  • when the journey officially starts – ground control is excited and nervous (higher notes and chords).
  • at the climax – ground control is calling out to major tom in distress and desperation, however major tom sounds rather calm when he accepts that “there’s nothing he can do”. he alternates between the higher and lower pitches during the conversation.

Bowie delivers the song in an authentic way, while the music builds up the atmosphere – the whole package makes us feel the protagonists emotions as well.


we feel like we are a part of Major Tom’s journey and story, an that draws us into the song and make us love it so much to this day.


but that is not all..




Who is Major Tom?

  1. “Major Tom” is a fictional character created by David Bowie for Space Oddity in 1969, but his story doesn’t end here – Bowie continues to tell his story in later releases (“Ashes to Ashes” and “Hallo Spaceboy”). other artists mention him in their songs as well (Peter Schilling’s – “Major Tom (coming home)”, (K.I.A.’s “Mrs Major Tom” and possibly Elton John’s “Rocket Man”). Bowie’s own interpretation of the character evolved and changed throughout his career. This could be another reason for it’s immortality – the story didn’t end there, it lived on through other songs.
  2. Major Tom represents Bowie’s feelings of alienation – he feels out of place, like he doesn’t belong on planet earth, feeling helpless. Bowie said once: “I have always dealt with alienation and isolation. I have often put myself in situations where I am isolated so I can write about that”
  3. some say Major Tom represents an addict that lost connection with reality.

Major Tom - Wikipedia


So Maybe We Are Major Tom?

we feel for major tom because Bowie is being sincere while telling his story – since he represtents himself.

but we also feel for major tom because he represents us.


most of the people can relate to major tom – feeling lost even when you thought everything is under control, like the situation is out of your hands no matter how hard you try to overcome it.


and most of the people can also relate to ground control – feeling helpless when you see someone falling apart yet you can’t help them.





Space oddity tells a story in a genuine way and is making us feel like we are a part of it, and the fact we can relate and see ourselves as the protagonists makes it’s impact even greater. and that is, in my opinion, the main reason it is an immortal song.

Add the outstanding vocals, the captivating instruments, the amazing lyricism and the brilliant production – I believe this song is here to stay for a long time.



one of the most famous covers of space oddity, preformed by an astronaut in a space station:


(parameters discussed in this ebook: story, hook, feelings, empathy, musical tricks, production, singer and voice, timing and advertising, melody, instruments, effects, lyrics, theme, creativity, continuity and covers)

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