Study Guide

Life on Mars?

Life on Mars? Introduction

In a Nutshell

What do you get when you combine imagery straight from a freak show cinema, a whiff of Marxist class consciousness, an ironic meta-commentary on the creative process, and the melody from Frank Sinatra's crooner classic "My Way"?

Why, you get David Bowie's "Life on Mars," one of the weirdest—and awesomest—tracks you're ever likely to encounter atop anybody's "Greatest Songs Ever" list:

Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show

Indeed.

About the Song

ArtistBowie, David
Year1973
LabelRCA Records
Writer(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)Ken Scott
Musician(s)David Bowie (vocals, guitar), Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass), Tony Visconti (bass), Mick Woodmansey (drums), Rick Wakeman (piano), Ralph Mace (moog synthesizer).
Learn to play
AlbumHunky Dory

Music Video

Influences on Bowie, David

The Beatles
Bob Dylan
The Rolling Stones
T. Rex
The Velvet Underground

Influenced by Bowie, David

Arcade Fire
Bauhaus
Iggy Pop
Lou Reed
Madonna
Marilyn Manson
Morrissey
Nine Inch Nails
Gary Numan
Queen

Life on Mars? Resources

Books

David Buckley, Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story (2005)
Celebrity biography David Buckley's take on David Bowie.

David Bowie, Moonage Daydream: The Life & Times of Ziggy Stardust (2005)
Put together by David Bowie and photographer Mick Rock, this is an intimate look into the figure that made Bowie world famous.

Albums

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
Bowie's breakthrough glam-rock concept album is about a space traveler named Ziggy Stardust coming to Earth to deliver a message of hope. It reached #5 on the UK charts.

Aladdin Sane (1973)
Described by Bowie as "Ziggy goes to America," Aladdin Sane (A Lad Insane) was Bowie's follow-up to Ziggy Stardust. While critics debate the album's quality, it exhibits a variety of musical styles from the fast-paced "Cracked Actor" to the funky "Aladdin Sane" to the ballad "Lady Grinning Soul."

iSelect (2009)
A compilation of Bowie's favorite Bowie songs, the album features only one hit—"Life on Mars?"—and many fan favorites from the '70s and '80s.

Hunky Dory (1971)
Besides "Life on Mars?" this album also features such favorites as "Changes," "Oh! You Pretty Things," and "Queen B---h." While this critically acclaimed work didn't pave Bowie's path to fame—that would be his next album—it's often considered one of the best albums of all time.

Images

"Life on Mars?" Cover Art
The cover of the "Life on Mars?" single depicts Bowie as his famous alter ego Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie and Mick Ronson, 1972
Check out Bowie with Ronson, who wrote the strings for "Life on Mars?" and played the guitar part.

The Big Note
A portrait from the set of Mick Rock's 1973 promotional video for "Life on Mars?"

Bowie the Chameleon
1970s David Bowie, as he moved from look to look.

Movies & TV

A Reality Tour (2004)
This DVD from Bowie's latest tour—said to be one of his best—demonstrates Bowie's standout ability to perform, adding new life to songs dating back to 1970 and earlier.

Life on Mars: Series 1 (2009)
The British television series inspired by David Bowie's song. It blends science fiction and police drama as detective Sam Tyler wakes up after a car crash to find himself in 1973—the year when "Life on Mars?" was released as a single. The series is well known for its great early '70s soundtrack.

Best of Bowie (2002)
A survey of David Bowie's classics through promotional video material that's been released throughout the years. Beginning with performances on television programs and culminating with his more sophisticated music videos, this is a very comprehensive look at Bowie's sound and vision up through his 2000 release.

Websites

David Bowie's Official Site
Despite Bowie's 2016 death, his official website continues to be maintained with great news, photos, and information.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and David Bowie
A quick and gushing trip through Bowie's career.

David Bowie on IMDb
Bowie's more than a singer/songwriter; he's acted extensively throughout the years.

Video & Audio

"Life on Mars?" Music Video
Here's our song of the hour in all its Bowie glory.