Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Songs #272 & 273 - It's TWOsday!

Song #272 of 9999                                                  Song #273 of 9999

Title: Major Tom (Völlig losgelöst)                            Title: Space Oddity
Artist: Peter Schilling                                                Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1984                                                                Year: 1969
Album: Error in the System                                      Album: Space Oddity

Given the recent events of a crazy man jumping from a giant weather balloon somewhere in our stratosphere 24 miles above the earth, it seems like an appropriate time to feature this interesting duo of songs. I hadn't thought about Peter Schilling's "Major Tom" in 25 years until I saw the incredibly quirky character Gale on Breaking Bad singing it in a homemade karaoke video. I didn't really like the song in 1984 and still don't get too excited about it today but it is certainly notable in that it retells the story of a fictional character immortalized in David Bowie's very popular "Space Oddity."

In Schilling's retelling, it's hard to ascertain whether Major Tom commits suicide by leaving his protective capsule and floating away into the emptiness of space as he does in Bowie's track. In fact, the song repeatedly tells us he is "coming home," but whether this is literal or he is returning as a spirit or some sort of light is uncertain. Either way, the song replaces the cinematic orchestration of Bowie's classic with a synth-driven dance track. I prefer the German version of the song which seems to have better prosody and, since I don't understand it, I can pretend it has better lyrics.

Interestingly, Bowie himself made a few references to the character in songs throughout his career, most notably in 1980s "Ashes to Ashes" and in the Pet Shop Boys remix of 1994's "Hallo Spaceboy." And Schilling was not the last to retell the story (the legend?) of the fictitious astronaut. In 2002, Canadian artist K.I.A. wrote and recorded a track that tells the story of Major Tom from the perspective of his widow and in 2004, another Canadian band, The Tea Party, drops all kinds of Bowie references into a song that asks Major Tom to divulge the meaning of life. (Neither of these songs is worth seeking out. Trust me.)

Since I'm sure just about everyone has heard the original "Space Oddity," I've embedded a rare early version of the song from the 1969 promotional film Love You Till Tuesday.

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