Bowie writes what will become his first hit after watching the 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey several times, stoned. It reaches #5 in the UK single charts. It is released to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing and the BBC uses it as the background music for their moon landing programs. The session players are Rick Wakeman (mellotron), Mick Wayne (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), plus string musicians. They are paid just over £9 each.
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. It got the song flowing. It was picked up by the British television, and used as the background music for the landing itself. I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all (laughs). 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.