With one of the strangest lyrics ever to have troubled the charts and a towering chorus, “Life On Mars?” sounds like a cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dali painting. - bbc.co.uk
A David Bowie single, Life on Mars? was released on the then unsuccessful 1971 album “Hunky Dory”. The album sold dismally and Life On Mars? had to wait to be released as a single until June 1973, after when David Bowie had reached international stardom with “Ziggy Stardust”.
The song’s story is an interesting one:
When David Bowie was requested to write the English lyrics to the famous French chanson “Comme d'habitude”, he wrote a song called Even a Fool Learns to Love. Incidentally the same year, The Canadian songwriter Paul Anka bought the rights of the original French version, rewrote it, and called it “My Way”! Just then Frank Sinatra made the song worldwide famous, so the version of Bowie was never released.
David Bowie, angry about losing the fortune by inches, recorded Life On Mars? with the same chords as “My Way” and released his own sarcastic version in the 1971 album “Hunky Dory”.
The song is about a girl who goes to a B movie where there's the question “Is there life on Mars?”. The lyrics are oblique and confusing, containing lines such as "It's on America's tortured brow / That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow. / Now the workers have struck for fame / Because Lennon’s on sale again." It's considered to be about the alienation of the teens.
To support this release, Mick Rock was made to shoot a video, too. The single reached #3 in the UK charts and stayed there for 13 weeks.
In 1999, Q Magazine listed the results of a reader poll about the greatest singles of all time. As voted by the readers, Life On Mars? came out to be 57th.