BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Music
Listen Live.

 Full Schedule

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

57 | Top 100
'Life On Mars'
David Bowie
With one of the strangest lyrics ever to have troubled the charts and a towering chorus, “Life On Mars?” sounds like a cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dali painting. The song was originally released on Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory, but
David Bowie
Song facts
Composer David Bowie
Genre Pop
Album Hunky Dory
Year of release 1971
UK Chart Position  3
that LP failed to sell as well as Bowie had hoped and “Life On Mars?” had to wait until 1973 for a single release, by which time Ziggy Stardust had made him a star.
The song strongly resembles Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” – it has identical chords – and with good reason. Back in 1968 Bowie had written English lyrics for a French song called “Comme, D’Habitude”, calling his version “Even A Fool Learns To Love”. It was never released, but soon afterwards Canadian songwriter Paul Anka heard the original version, bought the rights and rewrote it as “My Way”. Bowie recorded “Life On Mars?” as a Sinatra parody in anger at having missed out on a fortune, although the Hunky Dory liner notes state that the song was merely “inspired by Frankie”.
Otherwise it couldn’t be much more different from “My Way”. A slew of surreal images – “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” etc – are combined with Bowie’s operatic delivery, string arrangements by Mick Ronson and piano thrills from Rick Wakeman to ensure this is one of the oddest hit singles ever.

David Bowie on the story behind Life On Mars
David Bowie
David Bowie reveals how the bitter shadow of My Way casts itself over Life On Mars - "there are clutches of melody that was definite parodies of My Way".


Other versions
Flaming Lips
 The Flaming Lips recorded their stripped-down version for a John Peel session which was broadcast on 21 November 1992, and was commercially released as an extra track on their This Here Giraffe single in 1995.

Great lyrics, brilliant imagery, totally surrealist, sing-along, from a great album


Make a comment

Songwriting tips

Looking for inspiration for your own miniature space opera? Look no further than our Songwriting Guide.
Try the stream of consciousness approach:
More in Writing Lyrics
Test your knowledge

Hunky Dory featured tributes to two of Bowie’s Heroes. Who were they? Answer this and other questions in our Bowie quiz.


Like this song? Try these...

Wish You Were Here
Pink Floyd

Doves Doves
Special guests on Dermot's show this week

What's on

Radio 2 Documentaries
Find out more about current and forthcoming documentaries on Radio 2.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy