Life on Mars? (3:43)

Cover of The Best of David Bowie 1969-74

From The Best of David Bowie 1969-74 and 60 other releases

“Life on Mars?” is a song by David Bowie first released in 1971 on the album Hunky Dory and also released as a single. The song—which BBC Radio 2 later called “a cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dalí painting”—featured guest piano work by keyboardist Rick Wakeman. When released as a single in 1973, it reached #3 in the UK and stayed on the chart for thirteen weeks. The song re-entered the UK charts at #55 over 30 years later, largely because of its use in the original British television series Life on Mars.

In 1968, Bowie wrote “Even a Fool Learns to Love”, a song with lyrics by Bowie set to the music of a 1967 French song (“Comme d’habitude”). Bowie’s song was never released, but Paul Anka bought the rights to the original French version, and rewrote it into “My Way,” made famous by Frank Sinatra in a 1969 recording on his album of the same name. The success of the Anka version prompted Bowie to write “Life on Mars?” as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.
BBC Radio has described “Life on Mars?” as having “one of the strangest lyrics ever” consisting of a “slew of surreal images” like a Salvador Dalí painting. The line “Look at those cavemen go” is a reference to the song “Alley Oop”, a one-off hit in 1960 for American doo-wop band The Hollywood Argyles.
Bowie, at the time of Hunky Dory’s release in 1971, summed up the song as “A sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media”. In 1997 he added “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it”.

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