Meaning of Life on Mars? by David Bowie & The Story

The famous (Is There) Life on Mars? was born in part thanks to Frank Sinatra. The surreal song with cryptic lyrics was David Bowie’s answer to My Way. If you think that this is how the British musician wanted to pay tribute to the talent of the blue-eyed Frankie, you are mistaken.

Sinatra’s song angered David, forcing him to take up his pen and create a work that BBC Radio 2 would call “a combination of a Broadway musical and a painting by Salvador Dali.”

The story of the song Life on Mars?

In 1968, David Bowie wrote the lyrics to the song Even a Fool Learns to Love, setting them to the music of the French composition Comme d’habitude by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. It was not possible to publish the track, but composer Paul Anka bought the rights to the original work and composed the song My Way for Frank Sinatra based on it.

Bowie later said in an interview on German television:

The next time I heard it, it was Frank Sinatra’s My Way… I got really angry. I thought it was supposed to be my song. And I decided: “I’ll write my own version.”

By copying the chords of My Way, David Bowie wrote the song (Is There) Life on Mars? Here are the author’s memoirs:

This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, I’m sitting on the steps of the bandstand… Middle class ecstasy. I walked down to Bechengham High Street to take the bus to Lewisham to buy boots and shirts, but I couldn’t get the riff out of my head. After two stops, he jumped out on the run and hopped back to the house on Southend Road.

The workplace was a large empty room with a deck chair; a cheap Art Nouveau screen (I told everyone who asked that it was William Morris); a separate huge ashtray full of cigarette butts and a piano… I started composing it on the piano and in the late afternoon I finished all the lyrics and the melody…

In a couple of weeks Rick Wakeman [из группы Yes] embellished the piano part, and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song, which has now become something of an indispensable attribute of my live performances.

Daily Mail, 2008

What is the meaning of Life on Mars?

The lyrics of the song are abstract. According to the story, the girl quarrels with her parents and goes to the cinema to watch a movie that ends with the question “Is there life on Mars?”.

David called the song “a young girl’s reaction to the media”. Bowie later talked about what Life on Mars? was about, explaining the behavior of the main character:

It seems to me that she has become disillusioned with reality… she lives in a dull reality, and she is told about the existence of a much more attractive life, and she is bitterly disappointed that she does not have access to it.

The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg

Some Bowie fans are sure that the song Life on Mars? based on the personal experience of the musician. Perhaps he wrote it under the impression of a short and difficult relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale.

At one of the concerts, David presented the composition with the words

You fall in love – you compose a love song. This is a love song.

Melody Maker 1990

Release and achievements

(Is There) Life on Mars? included in the album Honky Dory, published in December 1971. It was released as a single in June 1973. On the back of the record is The Man Who Sold the World.

The track climbed to number three in the UK charts and hit the charts in other countries. In 2006, the song re-entered the UK Chart after being featured on the television series Life on Mars.

Music critic Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph directed Life on Mars? to number one on the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time. Pitchfork called it the best song of the seventies. Readers of Digintal Spy consider it to be David Bowie’s greatest song.

Video of Life on Mars? by David Bowie

The music video for the song was directed by Mick Rock. Filming took place in May 1973 backstage at Earls Court.

Cover versions

The song was performed by dozens of artists. An interesting version of Life on Mars? Presented by Barbra Streisand.

Did the London Symphony Orchestra record Life on Mars? for the Classic Rock record (1977).

Listen to The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain play Life on Mars? on ukuleles.

Interesting Facts

  • On the sleeve of the Hunky Dory album, David Bowie wrote “inspired by Frankie” (“Inspired by Frankie”).
  • At the end of the first version of the song, a phone call is heard.
  • Billie Armstrong of Green Day said he would like to “hear” either Life on Mars? or Take This Job and Shove It – Johnny Paycheck at his funeral.
  • The line “Look at those cavemen go” is a reference to the song Alley Oop by The Hollywood Argyles.
  • The phrase “Now the workers have struck for fame, ‘cos Lennon’s on sale again” alludes to John Lennon’s Working Class Hero.
  • In February 2018, the songs Life on Mars? and Space Oddity were played when Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster was launched into space.

Lyrics of Life on Mars? by David Bowie

It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousey hair
But her mummy is yelling no
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more
She could sleep in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns

But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be written again
As I ask you to focus on


Life on Mars? Lyrics by David Bowie Alternate

It’s a goddamn little thing
For a girl with dull brown hair
But mom yells “no”
And dad let me go
But the friend is nowhere to be seen
She wanders through sunken dreams
To the best seat in the cinema
And immersed in what is happening on the screen

But the film is sadly boring,
This happened to her ten times, no less.
She is ready to spit in the eyes of fools,
that ask her to focus

Sailors fight on the dance floor
Just look at these savages
This is the craziest show
Take a look at the representative of the law
Beating the wrong guy
I wonder if he even knows
What is involved in the super popular show
Is there life on Mars?

On the jaded American peak
Mickey Mouse turned into a cow
Now the workers went on strike for the glory
After all, Lennon is on sale again
You see millions of mice
From Ibiza to Norfolk Broads
“Rule, Britannia!” – it’s no longer available
To my mother, my dog ​​and clowns

But the film is sadly boring,
After all, I wrote about it ten times, no less
And now I’m writing again
‘Cause I’m asking you to focus


Song quote

In fact, the main theme of my work has not changed over the years. I’m still on the road, I’m still writing Life on Mars, all these years later…

David Bowie

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