David Bowie

Life on Mars?

Composed by David Bowie

Song Review by

One of David Bowie's most astonishing songs, a masterpiece of fragmented thought and displaced vision, "Life on Mars?" was originally released on 1971's Hunky Dory album, but came to greater attention when it was issued as a single in spring 1973 as the Zig-machine cruised toward its all time high. Featuring Bowie in deep reflective mode, with a pretty melody carried by Rick Wakeman's gossamer piano lines, the song has drawn covers from as far afield as ABBA's Annifrid Lyngstad, a cappella virtuosos the King Singers, and even Barbra Streisand, prompting some observers to describe it as Bowie's own "My Way."

The irony is, it very nearly was. In 1968, Bowie was one of several writers invited to compose an English lyric to a rather lovely French composition, "Comme d'Habitude." The resultant "Even a Fool Learns to Love" was pleasant enough, but it was Paul Anka's "My Way" which eventually took the honors. Bowie didn't forget his own efforts, though, and it was while tinkering around with the chords that he stumbled upon "Life on Mars?" The Hunky Dory sleeve notation "inspired by Frankie" completes that story.

"Life on Mars?" has figured sporadically in Bowie's live set over the years, although the only official release is included on the Santa Monica 72 album. There is also an excellent video in circulation, shot by photographer Mick Rock backstage at Bowie's May 1973 London Earls Court concert.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Hunky Dory 1971 Rhino
Aladdin Sane 1973 Virgin / EMI Music Distribution 3:25
Station to Station 1976 EMI Music Distribution
No Image 1980 K-Tel Distribution
No Image 1981 RCA
Serious Moonlight [1984] 1984 Pioneer
The Singles: 1969-1993 1993 Rykodisc 3:48
The Singles Collection 1993 Parlophone 3:51
The Best of David Bowie 1969-1974 1997 EMI Digital / Parlophone / Warner Music 3:54
Kuschelrock Special Edition 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
The Singles Collection 1 2000 EMI Music Distribution 3:50
Music of the Millennium, Vol. 2 [Universal] 2000
Various Artists
Universal International 3:51
Rarest Live 2001 MF 3:27
Best of Bowie 2002 EMI Digital / Parlophone 3:43
The Best of Bowie [DVD] 2002 Virgin 3:21
A Reality Tour 2004 ISO 4:40
UK Music Hall of Fame 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 3:52
John Peel: A Tribute 2005
Various Artists
WEA International 3:48
The Platinum Collection 2006 Parlophone 3:54
Serious Moonlight [2006] 2006 Powerst
Soft Rock Ballads [EMI] 2006
Various Artists
EMI/Virgin TV
Mini Best of David Bowie 2006 Parlophone 3:43
No Image 2007
Original TV Soundtrack
Sony BMG / Sony Music Distribution 3:44
Head Full of Rock 2007
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:50
Playlist: 70's Pop 2008
Various Artists
Mixed Repertoire / Parlophone 3:43
iSelect 2008 EMI / Parlophone / Warner Music 3:43
Live in Santa Monica '72 2008 Parlophone
Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes 2008
Original TV Soundtrack
Sony Music 3:44
VH1 Storytellers 2009 Virgin / EMI Music Distribution
Hottest 100 of All Time 2009
Various Artists
Triple J 3:50
Nothing Has Changed 2014 Parlophone 3:49
Five Years 1969-1973 2015 Rhino 3:36
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) 2016 Parlophone
No Image 2016 GC / Rhino / Warner Music 3:37
Live Nassau Coliseum '76 2017 Parlophone / Rhino / Warner Music 2:13
blue highlight denotes editor's pick