The release

Despite being one of the clear highlights of Hunky Dory, ‘Life On Mars?’ was not released as a single until 1973, when David Bowie had attained world fame.

The fans loved ‘Life on Mars?’ when it was released as a single in July 1973, when it charted at Number 3 in the UK and stayed there for thirteen weeks. By that time Bowie had become a huge star. Back in December 1971 hardly anyone seemed to give a damn about us or Hunky Dory. Funny how things ch-ch-change…
Woody Woodmansey
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie

The single was released that year in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, And the United Kingdom.

David’s thing was just to make the music industry more exciting, more colourful, more adventurous – and we were into that as well. But we didn’t think that 40 years later, ‘Life On Mars?’ would still be played on the radio every week. You couldn’t think like that. We just did our best job, for that track and on that day, and hoped that people would like it.
Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, 2018
Music Republic Magazine

In the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa, the single had ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ on the b-side. In Portugal it was backed with ‘Black Country Rock’, while Spanish listeners had the more recent ‘Drive-In Saturday’. These singles were all released in June 1973.

The single reached number three in the UK, and remained on the chart for 13 weeks.

‘Life On Mars?’ was released in Italy in December 1973, with ‘Amsterdam’ on the b-side.

On 13 June 1973, prior to a concert at the Gaumont State on London’s Kilburn High Road, Mick Rock directed Bowie in a promotional film for ‘Life On Mars?’ The shoot took place in Blandford West a studio in Ladbroke Grove.

We had two cameras and we also used stills, so it was relatively sophisticated for its era. It stands up. I didn’t make a single penny out of those films at the time. However, once David split from MainMan and made his final settlement he gave me the visual rights. He has always been a gentleman.
Mick Rock
Classic Rock, November 2007

Bowie wore an ice-blue suit designed by Freddie Burretti, with make-up by Pierre Laroche.

I always knew when Pierre Laroche was having a bad day, as he would give me green eye shadow, which he knew I hated.
David Bowie, 2002
Moonage Daydream: The Life And Times Of Ziggy Stardust

Bowie wasn’t very well-known when I first met him. There were about 400 people at Birmingham Town Hall in March 1972. But I was fascinated with him. Even though they were small audiences, he projected very big. I made videos for him – ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ and ‘The Jean Genie’. Then ‘Life On Mars’ was released as a single in the summer of ’73. The video production values are minimal, all born of necessity. There was no budget at all. I shot ‘Life On Mars?’ in a day at Earls Court. I loved Hunky Dory, but there was something about ‘Life On Mars?’ that really got me. I still couldn’t tell you what it’s about, but that’s art. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s like reading Rimbaud, but it is rock ’n’ roll poetry. There’s something Zen-like about that song, even though it’s so emotional. It was the song that sold me on David. It triggered me towards wanting to write something about him and take some pictures. And as a result, our relationship developed from that. All that came afterwards, from Iggy and Lou to Queen, came in the wake of the stimulation provided by that LP and, specifically, ‘Life On Mars?’. It’s the most significant Bowie song for me.
Mick Rock
Uncut, March 2008