David Bowie

Life On Mars?

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 Atlantic / Elektra / Parlophone / Rhino / Warner Music 3:55
Station to Station 1976 Parlophone / Rhino / Warner Music 0:00
No Image 1980 K-Tel Distribution
Serious Moonlight [1984] 1984 Pioneer
The Singles: 1969-1993 1993 Rykodisc 3:48
The Video Collection 1993 Rykodisc
The Singles Collection 1993 EMI Music Distribution 3:51
The Best of David Bowie 1969-1974 1997 Virgin 3:52
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
Best of Bowie 2002 Virgin 0:00
The Best of Bowie [DVD] 2002 Virgin 3:21
Essential 70's [Universal] 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 3:51
The Platinum Collection 2006 Virgin 3:52
Absolute Rock Ballads Classics, Vol. 2 2006
Various Artists
Eva 3:48
Mini Best of David Bowie 2006 EMI Music Distribution 3:49
No Image 2007
Various Artists
Playlist: 70's Pop 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 3:51
iSelect 2008 Astralwerks 3:50
Seventies Power Ballads 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution / Virgin 3:49
101 Power Ballads [EMI] 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:49
Hottest 100 of All Time 2009
Various Artists
Triple J 3:50
Nothing Has Changed 2014 Columbia / Legacy 3:49
Five Years (1969-1973) 2015 Parlophone / Warner Music 3:55
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) 2016 Parlophone 2:13
Legacy 2016 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Music 3:37
Loving the Alien (1983-1988) 2018 Parlophone / Rhino 4:07
Best of British [Universal]
Various Artists
EMI / Universal Distribution / Universal Music TV 3:49
Life on Mars? EMI / EMI Music Distribution 3:50
Montreal 1983: The Canadian Broadcast 2 CD Set Golden Rain 4:07