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Song by David Bowie
from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
B-side"Suffragette City"
Released28 April 1972 (1972-04-28)
RecordedTrident Studios, London
4 February 1972
GenreGlam rock
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)David Bowie and Ken Scott
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"Starman" is a song by David Bowie, recorded on 4 February 1972[1] and released as a single that April. The song was a late addition to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, included at the insistence of RCA’s Dennis Katz, who heard a demo and loved the track, believing it would make a great single.[2] It replaced the Chuck Berry cover "Round and Round" on the album.[3]

Music and lyrics[]

The lyrics describe Ziggy Stardust bringing a message of hope to Earth's youth through the radio, salvation by an alien 'Starman'. The story is told from the point of view of one of the youths who hears Ziggy. According to Bowie himself, speaking to William S. Burroughs for Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, Ziggy Stardust is not the Starman but merely his earthly messenger – contrary to received opinion which often paints Ziggy as an extraterrestrial.[3] The song has inspired interpretations ranging from an allusion to the Second Coming of Christ,[4] to an accurate prediction of the plot for the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).[5]

The music is in a gentle pop rock vein, featuring prominent acoustic guitar and a string arrangement by Mick Ronson, not dissimilar to the style of Bowie's previous album Hunky Dory (1971). The chorus is loosely based on Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" from the film The Wizard of Oz, alluding to the "Starman"'s extraterrestrial origins (over the rainbow) (the octave leap on the word "Starman" is identical to that on the word "Somewhere" in "Over the Rainbow").[6] Other influences cited for the track are the T. Rex songs "Telegram Sam" and "Hot Love" (the "boogie" references and "la la la" chorus) and Holland–Dozier–Holland's "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (the morse code-esque guitar and piano breaks).[2]

Release and aftermath[]

From a commercial point of view, "Starman" was a milestone in Bowie’s career, his first hit since 1969's "Space Oddity" three years before. NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray reported that "many thought it was his first record since 'Space Oddity'", and assumed that it was a sequel to the earlier single.[7]

The single initially sold steadily rather than spectacularly but earned many positive reviews, John Peel for example calling it "a classic, a gem".[8] Its turning point came when Bowie scored a place on Top of the Pops in July 1972. (Although this performance, recorded on 5 July 1972 and broadcast on 6 July, is often cited as being the first UK TV performance of the song, it had in fact been performed on ITV's Lift Off With Ayshea three weeks earlier.)[9] Bowie's performance with the Spiders became famous; according to author David Buckley, "Many fans date their conversion to all things Bowie to this Top of the Pops appearance".[4] It embedded Ziggy Stardust in the nation’s consciousness, helping push "Starman" to No. 10 and the album, released the previous month, to No. 5. The single remained in the UK charts for 11 weeks. The Top of the Pops performance is included on the DVD version of Best of Bowie.

In the United States, the song was Bowie's first single to reach the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number 65 in August 1972.[10]

In addition to the TV performances, Bowie played the song for radio listeners on the BBC's Johnny Walker Lunchtime Show on 22 May 1972. This performance was broadcast in early June 1972 and eventually released on Bowie at the Beeb in 2000.

In February 1999, Q magazine listed the single as one of the 100 greatest singles of all time, as voted by readers.

A limited edition 7" picture disc of the single was released on 21 April 2012, coinciding with 2012's Record Store Day.[11]

The "Starman" single originally featured a "loud mix" of the "morse code" section between the verse and the chorus.[12] This single mix appeared on the original UK album, but not on other vinyl editions of the album internationally (which had a more subdued mix of this section), and it did not appear on CD until the song was included on the compilation album Nothing Has Changed in 2014.

Track listing[]

  1. "Starman" (Bowie) – 4:16
  2. "Suffragette City" (Bowie) – 3:25


Chart (1972–2016) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[13] 37
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[14] 55
France (SNEP)[15] 4
Israel (Media Forest)[16] 9
Italy (FIMI)[17] 41
Japan (Japan Hot 100)[18] 58
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[19] 5
UK Singles (OCC)[20] 10
US Billboard Hot 100[21] 65

Production credits[]

  • Producers:
  • Musicians:
    • David Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, string arrangement
    • Mick Ronson: lead guitar, organ
    • Trevor Bolder: bass
    • Mick Woodmansey: drums

Other releases[]

  • The Italian release of "John, I'm Only Dancing" from September 1972 used "Starman" as the B-side.
  • The Portuguese release of the single had "John, I'm Only Dancing" and "Hang on to Yourself" as additional B-sides.
  • "Starman" has appeared on numerous Bowie compilations:
    • The Best of David Bowie (Japan 1974)
    • The Best of Bowie (1980) – original UK single mix
    • Chameleon (Australia & New Zealand 1979)
    • ChangesTwoBowie (1981)
    • Fame and Fashion (1984)
    • Starman (Russia 1989)
    • Changesbowie (1990) (LP and cassette versions)
    • The Singles Collection (1993)
    • The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 (1997)
    • Best of Bowie (2002)
    • The Platinum Collection (2006)
    • Nothing Has Changed (2014) – original UK single mix
    • Bowie Legacy (2016) – original UK single mix

Cover versions[]

  • 10,000 Maniacs – Single (1992)
  • Bob DowneGreatest Hits
  • Boy Eats Drum Machine – Bonus digital-only track on Bridging the Distance: a Portland, OR covers compilation
  • Claudio Mingardi – 'Star' Single (1984)
  • Culture Club – Live recording, Culture anthology album and Don't Mind if I Do (1999); also included on Starman: Rare and Exclusive Versions of 18 Classic David Bowie Songs, CD premium from the March 2003 issue of Uncut magazine. Also released as a double A-Side in November 1999, reaching number 43 in the UK singles chart.
  • Dan – Single (1996)
  • Dar Williams – Web release
  • Golden SmogBlood on the Slacks
  • Jaurim靑春禮瓚 (청춘예찬) (2005)
  • Joe Dolan21st Century Joe
  • Leningrad CowboysZombie's Paradise
  • Magni AsgeirssonRock Star: Supernova (2006)
  • Mates of StateAll Day EP
  • NenaCover me (2007)
  • Nenhum de NósBrazilian Portuguese version named Astronauta de Mármore (1989) (English: Marble Astronaut)
  • NosferatuGoth Oddity – A Tribute to David Bowie (1999)
  • Phillip BoaFine Art on Silver, also released as a single
  • Seu JorgeBrazilian Portuguese version (previously composed by Nenhum de Nós) for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • SlackdaddyLoving the Alien: Athens Georgia Salutes David Bowie
  • The Glitter BandWham Bam, Thank You Glam (1996)
  • The Living SistersLove to Live (2010)
  • Tomoyasu HoteiGuitarhythm 2 (1991)

Popular culture[]

  • Writer James Robinson's Starman comic book series featured a story about an alien named Mikaal Tomas, who went by the alias of Starman while living on Earth. In the opening scene of the tale, Mikaal claims that the people of Earth gave him the name due to the similarities between his own life and Bowie's song.[22]
  • The song was featured in the 2015 film The Martian and appears on its soundtrack album.[23]
  • The song was covered by John C. Reilly in the 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. [24][25]
  • The song is featured in the 2015 The Simpsons episode "The Musk Who Fell to Earth." [26]
  • U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has used the song prominently throughout his campaign.[24]
  • The song is featured in the Doctor Who episode "Aliens of London".
  • The song was played in the Torchwood episode "Random Shoes" during one of the focus character's flashbacks, and also over the closing credits of the first episode of the second series of Life on Mars, in keeping with the various David Bowie allusions throughout that series.
  • The song is heard in the background of the "Commander" Audi R8 Super Bowl 50 commercial.[24][27]


  1. Kevin Cann (2010). Any Day Now – David Bowie: The London Years: 1947–1974: p.242
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: p.203
  3. 3.0 3.1 Nicholas Pegg (2000). Ibid: pp.276–277
  4. 4.0 4.1 David Buckley (1999) Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.148–151
  5. Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.44
  6. Trynka, Paul (2011). Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography. London: Sphere. ISBN 978-0751542936.
  7. Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Ibid: p.8
  8. Michael Harvey. "The Ziggy Stardust Companion - The Release". Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  9. "The Ziggy Stardust Companion: Lift off with Ayshea - 15 June 1972". Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  10. "David Bowie - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  11. "McCartney, Bowie, Phish drop rare vinyl for Record Store Day", MSNBC,, retrieved 21 April 2012
  12. "Starman – David Bowie. Original UK LP and 45 mix is AWOL!!". Retrieved 23 March 2008.
  13. Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  14. " – David Bowie – Starman" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  15. " – David Bowie – Starman" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  16. "Media Forest weekly chart (year 2016 week 02)". Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  17. " – David Bowie – Starman". Top Digital Download. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  18. "David Bowie Chart History (Japan Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  19. " – David Bowie – Starman" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  20. "David Bowie: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  21. "David Bowie Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  22. Starman (Vol. 2), #28
  23. Newman, Melinda (2 October 2015). "Will the '70s Disco Soundtrack of 'The Martian' Be the Next 'Guardians of the Galaxy'?". Billboard. Retrieved 16 February 2016. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Robinson, Will (4 February 2016). "See Audi's Super Bowl commercial featuring David Bowie's 'Starman'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 16 February 2016. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  25. "STARMAN - Walk Hard:The Dewey Cox Story David Bowie". YouTube. 13 August 2008. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  26. "David Bowie: addio al duca bianco del rock che amava i film e il cinema - Sky Cinema". 11 January 2016. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  27. "Audi Super Bowl ad blasts off with Bowie's 'Starman'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 3 February 2016.


Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5

External links[]

  • Template:MetroLyrics song

Template:David Bowie singles