David Bowie: 30 Essential Songs

From "Ziggy Stardust" to "Lazarus," we survey the catalog of the late, great art-pop shapeshifter

"Space Oddity" (1969)

David Bowie spent most of the Sixties trying desperately to become a famous musician. He knocked around in groups like the Manish Boys and Davie Jones with the King Bees and released solo singles like "The Laughing Gnome," but nothing seemed to work. Finally, he teamed up with Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon to create "Space Oddity," a song he'd been fiddling with all year. The folk ballad about astronaut Major Tom getting stranded in space was rushed out by his label to coincide with the launch of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the BBC played the song during the coverage of the event. "In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn't," he told Performing Songwriter. "It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing. It was picked up by the British television and used as the background music for the landing itself. I'm sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all. ... Of course, I was overjoyed that they did."