David Bowie felt the same way about “Space Oddity” that Radiohead feel about “Creep.” He recognized that it launched his career and he was fond of it in a certain way, but it also felt like juvenilia he’d rather not have been forced to re-live when he did a concert. He put it away at the end of the Diamond Dogs tour in 1974, and he didn’t revive it until he played it on Saturday Night Live five years later for the 10-year anniversary of the tune. In 1990, he did a farewell tour to his hits and opened with “Space Oddity” every single night, expecting he’d never have to play it again.
His subsequent 1990s tours were indeed free of big hits, focusing instead on tunes from his new albums and deep cuts from the past like “Andy Warhol” and “Teenage Wildlife.” Then, in January of 1997, he agreed to play a 50th birthday show at Madison Square Garden where he was joined by Frank Black, Dave Grohl, Robert Smith, Billy Corgan, Sonic Youth and Lou Reed. The big time guests, as well the pay-per-view cameras, compelled him to break out well-known songs like “All the Young Dudes,” “Fashion” and “The Jean Genie,” but he still mostly stuck to relatively obscure tunes.
Five years earlier, Bob Dylan closed out his all-star Madison Square Garden 30th anniversary concert with solo acoustic renditions of his early tunes “Song to Woody,” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Girl From the North Country.” In the same spirit of that moment, Bowie relented and ended the night with a haunting, solo acoustic “Space Oddity,” which you can watch right here. Bowie un-retired the hits on the 2003/04 Reality Tour, but despite doing 112 shows, he never once did a complete “Space Oddity.” Every once in a while he’d say to the crowd, “You remember this one…” and play the first few lines of the song to insane applause before stopping cold. “But we’re not playing that one.”
David Bowie’s art curator discusses the late musician in a video promoting ‘Bowie/Collector’ exhibition/auction. Watch here.