David Bowie – Life On Mars? ——— Songs that reference The Beatles

In the next few days, I will be featuring some songs that make references to The Beatles. either separately or as a band. Today will be Life On Mars?. They will be in no order…

Now the workers have struck for fame ‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again

Life On Mars is my absolute favorite song by David Bowie. Not only favorite by Bowie but one of my favorites ever. Both the abstract lyrics and music are perfect. This song was on the Hunky Dory album released in 1971. The song peaked at #3 in the UK charts in 1972.

The piano on the recording was played by Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Bowie came up with this after he was asked to put English lyrics to a French song called “Comme d’habitude.” Paul Anka bought the rights to the original French song and rewrote it in English as “My Way,” later made famous by Frank Sinatra. “Life On Mars?” uses practically the same chords as “My Way” and the Hunky Dory liner notes state that the song is “Inspired by Frankie.”

David Bowie about the song: A sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media”  “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

From Songfacts

The song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums. 

In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house upon Southend Road. The workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

The band Bush used the line, “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” as a tribute to Bowie in their song “Everything Zen.”

This was released as a single in 1973, two years after it appeared on Hunky Dory.

The song was recorded in Portuguese by Seu Jorge for the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anni-Frid Lyngstad, formerly of ABBA, recorded a Swedish version titled “Liv pa Mars?”

If you listen closely to the end of the original recording of this song, you can hear a telephone ringing. 

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain often performs this song at live shows. They claim it is a “song about plagiarism” and that it “wasn’t our idea.” The first verse is played straight as Jonty Bankes sings. As Bankes sings the second verse, George Hinchcliffe sings “My Way” until the bridge (“But the film is a sadd’ning bore”) when Peter Brooke-Turner sings lines from “For Once in My Life.” Then through the chorus, Hester Goodman sings from “Born Free” while Dave Suich sings The Who’s “Substitute.” Watch it here. >>

Mick Rock directed the song’s official video. It was filmed backstage at Earls Court in London in 1973. It features Bowie in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

The BBC television series, Life On Mars, was named after this, while its sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was also named after the Bowie song of the same name.

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has stated he would like this song to be played at his funeral.

This was featured on the first episode of the TV series American Horror Story: Freak Show, where it was sung by Jessica Lange’s character. The series is set in 1952 but used music recorded much later, similarly to how Baz Luhrmann incorporated contemporary tunes into the films Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby.

Ryan Murphy, who created the show, says that he looked for music by artists who were oddities themselves, and proud of it. Bowie fit the bill and approved the use of the song, as did Fiona Apple, who allowed her song “Criminal” to be used in the next episode.

Life On Mars

It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy 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 spit 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 writ again
As I ask you 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?

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

20 thoughts on “David Bowie – Life On Mars? ——— Songs that reference The Beatles”

    1. Yea that was the first one I thought of but…. I already did it. I was thinking of reposting some of the earlier ones or better yet giving a link

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s a magnificent piece of work from a musical genius. One thing I just noticed is one of Bowie’s pupils is giant and one is regular. What’s the scoop in it, do you know? Wes Anderson using Bowie’s music, as sung by Seu Jorge, was a stroke of genius also. It enhanced an already brilliant film into something transcendent. So you found 100 songs that reference The Beatles??? Can’t wait to see them 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think… don’t quote me but I believe it was a childhood playground accident.
      Oh yes over a hundred. I won’t do all but I’ll end up listing the ones I don’t post. Everyone from Merle to Zappa

      I agree

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I won’t do 1/3 of them but it will introduce songs I wouldn’t have done…

        That is the story about his eye I’ve heard.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As with a number of things- we agree here too -my favorite Bowie song. .. I have been passing along the Life On Mars -must tv to folks also- its been nearly a year since I watched it- I am thinking this summer I need to watch it again… There is a lady who comes to the library who is always asking me what i like as far as tv shows go- She likes good stuff- I have dropped The Wire and Life On Mars to her- but I don’t think she has tried either. Funny she always asks me- I give recommendations and she ignores me LOL .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL…Of all shows it’s an easy one to try because of the short length. I should have given it a big plug in this post. I’ve convinced a few people to watch it and all but one liked it and will reference Gene Hunt when they see me to this day.

      After I wrote the post I watched an episode again. The song and the show now go hand in hand for me.

      Speaking of the Wire it’s been almost a year and I’ve thought about watching it again because the first time we binged watched it and I want to take my time this time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This week I began watching The Wire again- not sure how many times but it never gets old to me. Every time I pick up new things. …There are certain shows – or movies even where one character may not be the central character but is the heart of the program- example- Star Trek- Kirk may be the central character but Spock is the heart of the show- … the movie Platoon- Elias…. Life On Mars- Hunt… The Wire- Bubbles.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I usualy enjoy a show the second time around more than the first because I will notice things that I didn’t in the first.
        I agree with you on the characters. Those are the characters that make a show special.

        I agree with your choice of Bubbles…

        I knew the Wire would be different when Wallace was killed. That set a tone that changed everything.


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