The release8 August 1980, more than a month before the album Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps.
The single contained an edited version, reducing the song’s length from 4:25 to 3:37. The b-side was the Lodger song ‘Move On’.
In the UK it entered the chart at number four, and climbed to the top spot a week later, becoming David Bowie’s fastest-selling single to date. It was his second UK chart-topper; the first had been, fittingly, a reissue of ‘Space Oddity’.
Three sleeve variants were issued for ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was released, with different border artwork and central photograph of Bowie. Additionally, the first 100,000 UK copies came with one of four sets of stamps.
In the US the single fared far less well, peaking at number 79 on the Cash Box chart and 101 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart. Its highest placing was on the US Billboard Disco Top 100, where it reached number 21.
RCA sought to play up the links between ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’ by issuing a US promo 12″ single titled ‘The Continuing Story Of Major Tom’. The two songs were joined together on the release by means of a clumsy crossfade towards the end of ‘Space Oddity’, making a single track lasting more than eight minutes.
‘Ashes To Ashes’ was a top ten hit in Australia, Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. It reached the top 20 in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
The song has been a mainstay of Bowie compilations since its release. The single version has appeared more often, and was included on Re:Call 3 in the 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982).
A remix of ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was included on the soundtrack of Brett Morgen’s 2022 film Moonage Daydream.