“At the start of 1969, [David Bowie] wrote ‘Space Oddity,’ a song that punctured the global mission for the Apollo moon mission,” Peter Doggett observed in his Introduction to 2011’s The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s — an analysis of Bowie’s songwriting, chronologically speaking, throughout his ’70s commercial peak.
Note use of ‘Future Shock‘ typeface in RCA’s 45 re-launch in US – 1973
Bowie may have cast a cloud over the US space program, but there’s no denying how “Space Oddity” – and the song’s inspiration, Kubrick’s 2001 – tapped into the world’s fascination with the then new reality of space travel. I remember purchasing RCA’s American ‘re-boot’ of Bowie’s 1969 self-titled album (on cassette, actually – and retitled for his US breakout hit) at Cincinnati’s old Swallen‘s on Red Bank Road in 1974/75 (i.e., the period between my Beatles and Who obsessions).
Midcentury Modern – mildly charming in retrospect perhaps but not at the time
Mercury, who signed Bowie for a one-album deal, would release “Space Oddity” in 1969, only to have the song peak at #124. In 1973, RCA would reissue the A-side and hit commercial paydirt in the US: #15.
As it turns out, there’s more to the story: Bowie had actually recorded two versions of ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969 – the original version being not only shorter but a much different arrangement altogether (not really a secret: 14,000,000+ views on YouTube).
Rare 1972 RCA promo EP
However, since Zero to 180 serves to shed light on less-examined aspects of popular music history, it first considered pulling together a bullet point list of ‘early Bowie trivia’ as a tribute to David Bowie, who (along with Red Simpson) just left us [#1 Jeopardy question: Answer: Title of the rarest of Bowie’s three Mercury A-sides for US release. Question: What is “All the Mad Men“? – as confirms 45Cat’s BeatleJohn] .
But then I chickened out and decided to feature one early Bowie rarity that seems to have escaped the world’s attention, relatively speaking. There are but a handful of YouTube clips for “Lightning Frightening” — Bowie’s 1970 bottleneck-blues-meets-glitter-rock composition that went unissued until pressed into service as a bonus track on Rykodisc’s 1991 CD reissue of The Man Who Sold the World — and this clip “only” has 22,479 views:
“Lightning Frightening” David Bowie 1970
Wait! Zero to 180 almost forgot about its piece from November, 2014 that points out Bowie’s innovative use of both (1) the kalimba and (2) stylophone (thanks, Deborah!) in the aforementioned breakout hit, “Space Oddity.”
Check out Bowie’s appearance in this rare 1971 RCA advert
Early David Bowie: The Silver Spring Connection
In the outpouring of grief over David Bowie’s passing, the world has suddenly become aware of Silver Spring, Maryland’s place of distinction as the location where Bowie spent his first ever evening in the US. According to his American host, Michael Oberman, there was a cultural exchange that led to a breakthrough in the conceptualization of Bowie’s next big persona: Ziggy Stardust:
“Fast forward to January of 1971: My brother, Ron, was Director of Publicity for Mercury Records (Bowie’s American label at the time). David was already a star in Great Britain and Europe…but he hadn’t really broken big in the U.S. Ron decided to bring David to America to do a promotional tour and meet the press, DJ’s and others who could help David’s career in the U.S.
David flew from London to Dulles airport in Virginia. He was held in customs for a few hours just because of the way he dressed (shame on you customs people!). My parents and I picked David up at Dulles and brought him back to my parent’s home on Admiralty Drive in Silver Spring. This was David’s first day ever in the U.S. He was delighted to spend it with an American family. David and I already had a connection from a brief 1969 phone conversation for my column.
We spent a couple of hours chatting in my parent’s living room. A lot of the discussion was about the theater and stage acting. After some refreshments, we all went to Emerson’s Restaurant in Silver Spring (not Hofberg’s Deli as some publications have reported). The hostess at the restaurant seated us in a booth and proceeded to close the curtains on our booth. We all had a good laugh over that.
After dinner, we took my parents back home. David, my brother and I went back to my house in Takoma Park. Besides writing for the Star, I also managed a band called Claude Jones and had co-managed a band called Sky Cobb. When we got to my house, the members of Sky Cobb were in my living room…passing a bong around. The band didn’t even try to communicate with David…something that some of them regret to this day. David had never seen a bong before…and, no, he did not partake of the substance in the bong.
Late that night, David went to his hotel in DC and left the next day. An interesting fact for all Bowie fans: David went to Mercury Records headquarters on East Wacker Drive in Chicago. Mercury had signed an oddball artist from Texas named The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. My brother played David a song by that artist. The song was a minor hit called ‘Paralyzed.’ David was intrigued. My brother arranged for David to fly to Texas to meet the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. David was blown away and adopted “Stardust” for his new persona, Ziggy Stardust. Rock-and-roll history was made.”
David Bowie – Silver Spring, md – 1971
Michael Oberman‘s riveting photograph c/o Facebook
The Legendary Stardust Cowboy – it bears mentioning – rates but a single footnote in Doggett’s 1970s Bowie study.