1001 Songs Challenge,  1970s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #320: Life on Mars? (1971)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)

Welcome to 1971, dear reader. I trust you enjoyed the selection from 1970? I certainly hope so anyway. Let’s see what a brand new year brings for us, shall we? First up, we return to the UK and drop in on David Bowie who is making his second appearance on our list. Last time out we had The Man Who Sold the World which showed Bowie’s potential but legendary status was not there yet. In 1971 he released the album, Hunky Dory, and from that record 1001 Songs has selected the fourth track – Life on Mars? 

Life on Mars? focuses on a girl and her unsatisfying experience of both the media and reality itself. Bowie opens by saying that the girl decides to leave her conflicting parents at home and heads to the cinema to catch the latest film. Unfortunately, the film is disappointing and monotonous, offering nothing new, just the same old images that she has seen before. This seems to spill over into reality with a plethora of images such as “sailors fighting in the dance hall” and a “lawman beating up the wrong guy.” Such events have happened many times before and yet they continue to be recycled both in films and in real life, the same old mistakes being made over and over again in an endless cycle. We do not learn from history. We repeat the same errors and calamities of old. The girl begs the question about there being life on mars and is crying out in the hope that there is something different, something beyond this reality that is hers.

Hunky Dory was a well received album but it was the follow-up The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars that propelled Bowie to stardom in 1972. Riding the crest of the Ziggy wave, the record company went back and released Life on Mars? as a single in 1973 and it reached the Top 5 in the UK. It’s one of Bowie’s undeniable classics, easily one of his ten best songs. The imagery throughout is fantastic though sometimes rather perplexing. We sadly don’t get an answer to the question about life being on mars but a song like this reverberates today given the sheer madness that the world has become, especially when you look at the US and my home here in the UK.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)

The Kinks – Days (1968)

King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King (1969)

Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)

David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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