David Bowie’s 1969 album Man of Music/Man of Words was retitled a few years after its debut, most likely because it was quickly becoming known as Space Oddity and Those Other Eight Songs We Could Care Less About. Strategically released just weeks before the Apollo 11 moon landing, that cinematic leadoff single recounting Major Tom’s dramatic liftoff has forever obscured the album’s remaining content.
In fact, the whole of Space Oddity is engaging, if frequently naive and pretentious. (On the Bowie Pretentiousness Scale, it ranks second only to Hunky Dory.) Although it was his second LP, it was the first to showcase the chameleonic artist who would spend the next decade shapeshifting. Leapfrogging from folk prog (“Cygnet Committee”) to Disney-esque balladry (“Wild-Eyed Boy from Freecloud”) to Elvis pop (“Janine”), this is exactly the Portrait of the Young Artist Having a Genre Crisis that you’d expect from the guy who’d later pretend to be an alien glam icon, write a musical version of 1984, and dive nose-first into ice-numb cocaine music.
The 40th-anniversary reissue includes a second disc of both rare and previously released stuff, most of it worth your while: a never-before-bootlegged demo of “Space Oddity” that shows Bowie in very different voice; the vastly superior two-part-single version of “Memory of a Free Festival,” Bowie’s own “Hey Jude”; and a handful of great singles, wanna-be singles, and BBC sessions. And then there’s “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola,” a version of “Space Oddity” sung in Italian that encapsulates the Bowie Allure, a blend of cojones, WTF, and pure romanticism.