50 years on and David Bowie’s performance of ‘Space Oddity’ at the illustrious Ivor Novello awards on this day in 1970 is proof of why it won the “Special Award for Originality” that year. It sees the Starman begin his ascent into the stratosphere and is the perfect way to toast the mercurial artist.
For many, the track has come to represent a zeitgeist moment in world culture having been released so close to the moon landing in 1969 but in fact, the track was born out of something a little more off the wall. During this performance, Bowie may have been still been a struggling artist but there’s a sparkle in his eye that suggests he’s already a star.
Bowie explained: “In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn’t. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me.”
Instead, the track would forever be associated with the exploration of space, “It got the song flowing. It was picked up by the British television, and used as the background music for the landing itself.” The singer continued, “It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did. Obviously, some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great.’ ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.’ Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that.”
David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ will go down in history as one of the singer’s most iconic songs. After a string of disappointing singles, Bowie finally grabs the public’s attention with this effort. When it was tied in with the moon landing the track took on a whole new level of fame and gave Bowie the taste of what being a popstar was like.
It was on a scale the young Bowie, who only 22 at the time, could hardly live up to in the months following its release. Still a few big years before he introduced the world to his camera-ready alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, in 1970 at the Ivor Novello Awards Bowie is in transition. No longer wanting to write big pop hits and “play the game” to climb the charts, the singer was intent on finding his true identity.
At that year’s event, attended by a wide range of big wigs and journalists there were also nods to The Beatles for their continued dominance as ‘Get Back’ was the highest-selling record in Britain and ‘Ob-la-di’ was ranked as the most performed. But with the old guard now-disbanded Britain was calling out for a new guitar hero.
In the footage below, Bowie himself is caught between two decades, as the swinging sixties media-trained patter was dying off and the singer was beginning to find his true stage persona—the breakout sexuality of the seventies beckoned. It makes this performance a little bit confused but ultimately a testament to the power of his songwriting.
Though ‘Space Oddity’ will go down as a momentous musical passage of history and be somewhat vilified for its ubiquitous appeal, the fact remains that as the esteemed Ivor Novello judge panel felt, the song is truly an original. For that reason alone it willl remain the clearest image of the talent of David Bowie.
Watch David Bowie perform ‘Space Oddity’ at the Ivor Novello Awards back in 1970