8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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25 Facts About John Lennon For His 80th Birthday

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon—who was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940—was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at some facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles.

1. John Lennon grew up near Strawberry Field.

By the time he was 5 years old, John Lennon had been all but abandoned by his parents, so instead went to live with Mimi and George Smith, his aunt and uncle, in Woolton, England. He lived near a local Salvation Army orphanage, and loved to explore its garden, which was known as Strawberry Fields. In Barry Miles’ book Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney recalled how it was "a secret garden. John's memory of it [was] … There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn't manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in.”

2. John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout.

Yes, John Lennon—the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast—was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

3. John Lennon’s first instrument was the banjo.

Getty Images

The first song John Lennon learned to play as a teenage rock ‘n’ roll fan was Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” But he didn’t master the tune on any instrument you might pose with in front of the mirror. “My mother Julia taught it to me on the banjo, sitting there with endless patience until I managed to work out all the chords,” Lennon once said. The infamous banjo went missing after Julia’s death in 1958 and became the subject of the 2012 novel Julia’s Banjo, which spawned the stage adaptation Lennon’s Banjo.

4. John Lennon hated his own voice.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

5. Songwriting was “torture” to John Lennon.

Lennon wrote some of the most indelible pop songs of the 20th century—and he apparently hated every minute of it. Speaking with Rolling Stone just days before his death, Lennon revealed that songwriting was “absolute torture” for him. “I always think there’s nothing there, it’s sh*t, it’s no good, it’s not coming out, this is garbage ... and even if it does come out, I think, 'What the hell is it anyway?'" he said. The only exceptions, he added, were the “10 or so songs the gods give you and that come out of nowhere.”

6. "Twist and Shout" was not kind to John Lennon's vocal cords.

On February 11, 1963, The Beatles spent one very long day recording 10 songs that would appear on their debut album, Please Please Me. At the end of the 12-hour session, they tackled “Twist and Shout,” a song that required Lennon—who was already hoarse—to shred what remained of his voice.

“The last song nearly killed me,” Lennon said of “Twist and Shout” in 1976. “My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”

7. John Lennon was dissatisfied with all of The Beatles' records.

While dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

8. John Lennon was the only Beatle who didn't become a full-time vegetarian.

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

9. John Lennon’s signature eyeglasses were far from trendy.

While filming the 1967 black comedy How I Won the War, John Lennon took a liking to the round spectacles that were part of his soldier character’s wardrobe. These weren’t designer glasses, but rather the utilitarian handiwork of the UK's National Health Service. Lennon loved the ugly “granny” frames so much that he made them his signature look for the rest of his life.

10. John Lennon loved to play Monopoly.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

11. John Lennon was the first Beatle to get married.

Lennon wed Cynthia Powell, whom he’d met in art school, on August 23, 1962. The reason for their union: Cynthia was pregnant, and on April 8, 1963, she gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son named Julian. Beatles manager Brian Epstein worked to keep John’s marriage a secret, but his efforts were futile. When the Fab Four performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, a caption reading “Sorry girls, he’s married” appeared on screen when Lennon got his closeup during “’Till There Was You.”

12. John Lennon was the last Beatle to learn how to drive.

John Lennon at a press conference on September 11, 1964.Vern Barchard, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

13. There’s only one Beatles song featuring just John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

In 1969, while honeymooning in Paris with Yoko Ono, Lennon began writing a song about the controversy surrounding their recent marriage. When he got back to London, Lennon went over to McCartney’s house to finish the composition, which he had already titled “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Lennon and McCartney then quickly booked a session at Abbey Road and recorded the song as a duo (Starr was filming The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers and Harrison was on vacation).

“John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help,” McCartney said. “It’s quite a good song; it has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles."

14. John Lennon reportedly used to sleep in a coffin.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

15. John Lennon recorded one of pop’s first diss tracks.

Everyone remembers Lennon’s 1971 album Imagine for the utopian title track. But the LP also features “How Do You Sleep,” a rather nasty attack on Paul McCartney. “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead,” Lennon sings in the opening verse, referencing the infamous “Paul Is Dead” myth. Lennon later sings, “The only thing you done was yesterday,” referring to the Paul-penned Beatle favorite “Yesterday.” In fairness, Lennon was responding to a handful of subtler lyrical jabs on McCartney’s 1971 album Ram.

16. The last time John Lennon saw Paul McCartney was on April 24, 1976.

William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

17. John Lennon was supposed to sing lead on The Beatles' first single, 1962's "Love Me Do."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

18. John Lennon stole the harmonica heard on “Love Me Do.”

Lennon is known as the bad boy of The Beatles, and true to form, he added a bit of delinquency to the group’s 1962 debut single, “Love Me Do.” The song is notable for John’s use of harmonica, and he reportedly played the signature riff on a mouth organ he swiped from a music shop in Arnhem, The Netherlands, in 1960. In terms of musicianship, Lennon didn’t exactly commit thievery, but he based his harmonica lick on the one heard in Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby

19. "All You Need Is Love" was the best lyric John Lennon ever wrote.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

20. John Lennon wanted Jesus and Hitler for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

After British pop artist Peter Blake came up with the cover concept for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—the band surrounded by cardboard cutouts of famous figures from throughout history—he asked all four Beatles to make lists of people to include. One of Lennon’s picks was Jesus Christ, even though he’d recently gotten into a heap of trouble for saying The Beatles were “more popular” than the Christian messiah. Blake’s team never actually made up a Jesus cutout, but they did create one for another of John’s controversial selections: Adolf Hitler. The Führer apparently made the final cover, but he’s behind the band, so you can’t see him.

21. John Lennon was the final Beatle to have a #1 solo hit in America.

By the time John Lennon released 1974’s Walls and Bridges, Paul McCartney had topped the Billboard Hot 100 three times. George Harrison and Ringo Starr (yes, Ringo) had each reached the summit twice. Among ex-Beatles, only Lennon had yet to notch a #1 single. That finally changed with “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” a jaunty dance number featuring Elton John on piano and backup vocals. It reached #1 on November 16, 1974, giving Lennon his first—and only—U.S. chart-topper.

22. John Lennon had a deep and abiding love of cats.

Though Lennon did have a couple of dogs, he was absolutely crazy for cats. He had many of them over the years, each one holding a very special place in his heart. As a kid, he had a cat named Elvis—named after Elvis Presley—but discovered that Elvis was a female when she gave birth to a litter of kittens. Still, the name stuck. More than a dozen feline friends would follow over the years.

23. John Lennon made his final concert appearance after losing a bet.

After helping Lennon record “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” Elton John bet the former Beatle that the single would reach #1 in America. A doubtful Lennon took the wager, agreeing to perform with John at Madison Square Garden if he lost. Sure enough, the song topped the Hot 100 on November 16, 1974, and 12 days later—on Thanksgiving night—Lennon joined John for three songs, including the Beatles classics “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” It would be Lennon’s final proper concert appearance.

24. John Lennon was into new wave and punk.

John Lennon seen in 1966.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On December 6, 1980, two days before he was murdered, John Lennon sat for an interview with Andy Peebles of the BBC. During the chat, Lennon professed his admiration for punk provocateurs the Sex Pistols, English ska revivalists Madness, and American new-wave party-starters The B-52’s, among others. Lennon credited his assistant Fred Seaman with hipping him to these new artists, even though he was initially reluctant to listen.

25. The last photographer to snap John Lennon’s picture was Paul Goresh.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post has been updated for 2020.