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.