‘Space Oddity’ was first released as a 7-inch single in the UK and USA on 11 July 1969.
The single was issued just days before Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on 20 July. Bowie’s record labels rush-released it in the hope of receiving a sales boost from its topicality.
I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did. Obviously some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great.’ ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.’ Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that!
This [album version] is slightly longer than the single. The sad thing about the record was that not all copies were in stereo. This is definitely a stereo sound and you lost a lot of impact on the single. This is how it’s supposed to sound.
Disc and Music Echo, 25 October 1969
Bowie’s manager Kenneth Pitt had paid £140 to a man, Tony Martin, who promised to make the song a feature of the various music weekly charts. Instead, Martin disappeared with the money.
‘Space Oddity’ was not an immediate hit in the UK, its success hampered by the BBC’s decision not to play it until the Apollo 11 crew had safely returned to Earth. It first charted in September 1969, and in November peaked at number five.
In America, the single was a commercial flop, despite Mercury’s Ron Oberman calling it “one of the greatest recordings I’ve ever heard. If this already controversial single gets the airplay, it’s going to be a huge hit.” The song received limited radio airplay, perhaps due to its bleak subject matter, and the single stalled at number 124.
The song was released in most countries in mono, in keeping with the convention of the times, although stereo copies were available in a handful of countries including Holland, Italy and Belgium. Bowie’s Italian version, ‘Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola’, was also issued in stereo in Italy.
In July 2009 the ‘Space Oddity 40th Anniversary EP’ was released by EMI. This included the rare mono and US single edits, the 1979 re-recording, and eight stem files which isolated the lead vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, strings, bass guitar and drums, flute and cellos, Mellotron, and Stylophone, from the 1969 recording.
An iPhone app was also released to allow purchasers to remix the song. The stem files were later available as individual streams on Spotify, along with the other EP tracks.