Released: 4 November 2013
The Next Day Extra
David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Gerry Leonard, David Torn: guitar
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Zachary Alford: drums
Janice Pendarvis: vocals
‘Like A Rocket Man’ is the sixth bonus track on The Next Day Extra, the expanded edition of David Bowie’s penultimate album.
A rare late-era drugs song, the protagonist of ‘Like A Rocket Man’ is a dealer, unsubtly named Little Wendy Cocaine, who “stumbles up the hill to pain”. In his portrayal of her customers, Bowie shines a spotlight on his own past, recasting the Thin White Duke as a lonely, tragic figure plagued by desperation and regret: “I have no shape nor color, I’m god’s lonely man/I don’t want to die but I don’t want to live”.
In just three and a half minutes it is possible to trace various strands of musical DNA: the Beatles’ ‘Help!’ in the verses, the vocal mannerisms of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, and shades of ‘Days’ by the Kinks (“Now I wish today that yesterday was just tomorrow”). The title, of course, recalls Elton John’s 1972 hit ‘Rocket Man’.
The backing track for ‘Like A Rocket Man’ was recorded on 5 May 2011, and Bowie’s lead vocals were overdubbed on 2 March 2012.
The song remained unfinished at the time The Next Day was released, but was completed in the summer of 2013.