zaterdag 17 oktober 2015

Space Oddity/David Bowie. David Bowie

Another album on which I cheat a bit in the 1968-69 series on WoNo Magazine. A little because I do not own this album. I have heard Space oddity before, but not as often as a lot of his 1970s early 80s albums. So here's another one in that series that looks back at my early youth, discovering those amazing singles, where I now turn to the albums. Before you could read about Shocking Blue, Bee Gees, The Nice, Donovan, ....

David Bowie was a hard working, ambitious young man who had been recording for circa fiver years, from the age of 17 onwards, before he finally scored his first hit: 'Space Oddity'. Before that he jumped on every novelty, every trend he could hook up with. A load of flopped singles, an album or two, nothing really scored, despite the fact that he was on British national radio a lot. See his BBC album. There even is an early version of 'Space oddity', but this version misses the space, the oddity, in short the magic that the hit version does have. That little extra in sound, experiment and depth, that makes it one of the great singles in 60s pop.

It took Bowie in the U.K. another two years to really break, in NL even longer. His next hit was 'The Jean Genie' in 1973. For a while he could have become a one-hit wonder. He didn't and is respected as an artist to this day.

'Space oddity' is attached to an album that comes under three different names. The original title is 'David Bowie', the original U.S. title is 'Man of Words/Man of Music', later it was named Space Oddity and since the re-release is 2009 is back as 'David Bowie'. Let's stick with the title of the single, Space Oddity.

Enough of the history. This album starts off with the title track. Another one of those incredible singles that determined my taste in music. A monument of a song, a mini rock opera in its own right. Major Tom floats around his tin can and is losing his way fast amidst all these sounds, things I had never heard before at the time. Nothing came even close. 'Space Oddity' will always remain my favorite Bowie song. I can sing it in my dreams. So here is an artist that had only flops to his name for something like five years and was given a free reign to come up with a song like this. There's nothing comparing to the musical times either.

There's no song comparing to 'Space Oddity' on Space Oddity either. There are song of very different elk on the album. Acoustic guitar runs sounding like Paul Simon, a song ending in laughter after 40 seconds. Top heavy songs can be found that nearly or totally topple over. What David Bowie is doing, is finding/defining himself musically. There are hints at the near future, while that pre 1969 arty pompousness that often characterised his music, is somewhat left behind. Not that the music here can be characterised as pop, far from. Bowie is telling whole stories, still needs to find the right balance between telling all and telling what is necessary to tell. Something he would become very good at a few albums onwards, but the basis for 'Five Years', 'The Bewley Brothers','Station to Station' and 'Moonage Daydream' are all here. But 09.35 'Cygnet Committee'? A bit overdoing things, isn't it? Not that the song is horrible, just far too long.

The directness of 'Janine' is a pleasant surprise having sat through the nearly 10 minutes. The same of the folk of 'An Occasional Dream'. Fleeting, thin, dreamy. The song hits directly home as it is very effective.

And again here is this artist without hits, only misses and what do we do as record company in 1969? We let him record a song with a full orchestra. 'Wild Eyed Boy From Free Cloud' is another monument of a song. Bowie does not really know how to rock yet. This is another song that is very hard to pinpoint to anything. As such it is perhaps closer to classical music that rock let alone pop. A very serious song, yet extremely beautiful without excelling particularly.

It all ends with .Memories of a Free Festival, parts 1 and 2. A bit not going anywhere isn't it, but there is a sort of 'Hey Jude' like ending. (With or without Mick Ronson hand clapping?) What I can imagine could be the summing up of this album not knowing what we know now (for years). Is this going anywhere? Looking back these many years it is easy to note that Bowie is flexing his muscles towards a whole career. A good question is whether without him having a novelty hit in 'Space Oddity' there ever would have been a 'The Man Who Sold the World'. We'll never know. It doesn't matter. Bowie became one of my favorites of the 70s and 80s and then that one song, 'Space Oddity'.

Let me end with an anecdote. Rotterdam 1969. In the summer to be exact. Together with my neighbour friend Hans who was some years older than me (probably 2,5) I went in the direction of the city centre again. On the way we stopped in this little record shop. There were several neighbourhood record shops in those days. He went in a asked to listen to 'Space Oddity'. We both held one of the headphone handles. I was so enraptured that I never saw Hans leave. When the song was over I looked up, found Hans gone and the gentleman behind the counter asking me whether I wanted to buy the song, with me not having a single cent on me. The fright of my life. The impact of music was ingrained on me also. What a profound effect.


You can listen to 'Space Oddity' here:

or buy on


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