How “Space Oddity” Launched David Bowie to Stardom: Watch the Original Music Video From 1969

It may seem odd to con­tem­plate, but rock titan David Bowie’s rise to fame was a long, frus­trat­ing, stop-and-start affair until he burst onto the inter­na­tion­al scene as Zig­gy Star­dust (though he had some suc­cess with his two pri­or albums, the excel­lent The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory). This is part­ly due to poor man­age­ment, and part­ly due to Bowie’s own dif­fi­cul­ty in find­ing a style that fit his ambi­tions. His first hit, “Space Odd­i­ty,” from his sec­ond, 1969, album of the same name, promised great things. (That record, orig­i­nal­ly called, like his first, just David Bowie, was renamed after the song did the Sev­en­ties equiv­a­lent of viral.) Most peo­ple who grew up with Bowie would tell you the song is a water­shed moment in their dis­cov­ery of pop music’s poten­tial. I recall dis­cov­er­ing Bowie at a young age through “Space Odd­i­ty,” and being giv­en the album on cas­sette as a birth­day present. Like many peo­ple, I was a lit­tle flum­moxed by the record. None of it resem­bles the sin­gle, which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad qual­i­ty in gen­er­al, but in this case, it’s hard to know what to make of that strange col­lec­tion of some­times com­ic, Bea­t­les-esque pop frag­ments (“Don’t Sit Down”), some­times cool pro­gres­sive rock (“Janine”), and some­times almost medieval, Judy Collins-like hip­py folk (“Mem­o­ry of a Free Fes­ti­val,” “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud”). I grew to love it, but the album’s eclec­ti­cism did­n’t win many over.

Still, near­ly every­one knows and loves the album ver­sion of “Space Odd­i­ty.” But like a great deal of Bowie’s ear­ly work, the song exists in an ear­li­er, more ten­ta­tive ver­sion. Ini­tial­ly record­ed short­ly after his first album, 1967’s David Bowie—which Bowie biog­ra­ph­er David Buck­ley called “the vinyl equiv­a­lent of the mad­woman in the attic”—the song end­ed up on an abortive pro­mo­tion­al film com­mis­sioned by Bowie’s pro­duc­er, Ken­neth Pitt. Called Love You Till Tues­day, after the sin­gle from the first album, the film fin­ished shoot­ing in 1969, but didn’t see the light of day until 1984, long after Bowie hit it big. The film ver­sion of “Space Odd­i­ty” (first video) dif­fers sig­nif­i­cant­ly in sound and vision from the one right above. For one thing, Bowie, who wore a wig for the extent of film­ing because he’d shorn off his hair to audi­tion for a role, looks decid­ed­ly less, well, like a rock star. As “Ground Con­trol,” his Janis Joplin glass­es clash odd­ly with an arty t‑shirt and what looks like a child’s base­ball cap perched atop his wig, both embla­zoned with “GC.” He stands cross-armed and awk­ward, lip synch­ing between space sequences. Of the lat­ter, “Major Tom” parts, one YouTube com­menter quips, “We have no bud­get, no props, only bak­ing foil and corn­flake pack­ets.… Oh well make the video any­way.” Sums things up pret­ty well.

Even more so than those who bought Space Odd­i­ty after hear­ing its name­sake sin­gle, any­one who heard this ear­ly ver­sion, then went and bought Bowie’s first album would have been thor­ough­ly per­plexed. ‘67’s David Bowie is a very strange, though some­times very intrigu­ing, record, large­ly influ­enced by the musi­cal com­e­dy of pop­u­lar Eng­lish enter­tain­er Antho­ny New­ley. Watch the film’s title track (and open­ing sequence), “Love You Till Tues­day” below, with Bowie, in wig and frilly Austin Pow­ers suit, doing some weird Tom Jones thing that just real­ly does­n’t work.

Had Bowie fol­lowed this tra­jec­to­ry, instead of find­ing his voice in the space­rock of his first big sin­gle, it’s pret­ty like­ly no one would have heard from him again. Lucky for us, the young pop star was noth­ing if not per­sis­tent.  And lucky for us, he still is. The 66-year-old Bowie just released his first sin­gle in a decade, the con­tem­pla­tive “Where Are We Now?” with an album, The Next Day, com­ing in March.

Relat­ed Con­tent

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

David Bowie Cel­e­brates 66th Birth­day with First New Song in a Decade, Plus Vin­tage Videos

David Bowie’s First Amer­i­can Fan Let­ter And His Evolv­ing Views of the U.S. (1967–1997)

Josh Jones is a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (2)
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  • frans says:

    “Where Are We Now” is cryp­tic. Is he lit­er­al­ly show­ing us that the bot­tle is emp­ty?

    This is my inter­pre­ta­tion:

  • Daniel Veevers says:

    I found your arti­cle when look­ing for an orig­i­nal video and ver­sion of Space Odd­i­ty. This video has been removed from YouTube, by the way, but there is anoth­er avail­able on the Inter­net.

    Great piece of doc­u­men­ta­tion, but I real­ly don’t think he was wear­ing a wig around that time.
    Pure­ly because, if he was hav­ing to cov­er a short hair­cut for some part he was play­ing, how did Bowie have his hair so long a year lat­er? It can not have been any short­er and may have appeared wig like because of the style of the time and the fact that his hair was so very thick. Thick enough to with­stand all the perming & dying over the years and main­tain so well.
    Real­ly enjoyed read­ing this though and will check out your oth­er arti­cles thanks.

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