Major Tom

Major Tom

Major Tom is a fictional astronaut created by David Bowie, heard in his songs "Space Oddity," "Ashes to Ashes," and "Hallo Spaceboy." Bowie's own interpretation of the character evolved throughout his career. 1969's "Space Oddity" depicts an astronaut who casually slips the bonds of a crass and material world to journey beyond the stars. In the 1980s song "Ashes to Ashes," Bowie reinterprets Major Tom as an oblique autobiographical symbol for himself. Major Tom is described as a "junkie, strung out in heavens high, hitting an all-time low". This lyric was interpreted as a play on the title of Bowie's 1977 album Low, which charted his withdrawal following his drug abuse in America. A short time later, there is another reversal of Major Tom's original withdrawal, turning 'outwards' or towards space.[1]

Other major artists who have featured Bowie's character include Peter Schilling in his "Major Tom (Coming Home)" (remade by Shiny Toy Guns in 2009 and William Shatner in 2011); "Major Tom" by Earth Below Us" in 2010; "I'm A Soldier" by Stefán; "Mrs. Major Tom" by K.I.A.; "Somewhere" by Tnaya Ball; "Rocket" by Def Leppard; and "Rain or Shine" by Five Star; among others. Due to some similarities in Elton John's "Rocket Man", some presume this song might also be an allusion to Major Tom. In fact, Bowie made the connection during concerts, calling out during the song, "Oh, Rocket Man!".[2]



In "Space Oddity", on the 1969 album also titled Space Oddity, Major Tom's departure from Earth is successful and everything goes according to plan, but he then cuts off contact with Ground Control. His last transmission is "Tell my wife I love her very much" and the response is that "she knows."

In Peter Schilling's 1983 song "Major Tom (Coming Home)" Tom sends a final message, "Give my wife my love..." with no transmissions back to Earth from that point. He then declares that he's "coming home", being commanded by the light, which can be taken to mean the afterlife. The associated music video also shows an object falling back through the atmosphere, presumably either Major Tom or his ship. In this song the word "light" in "now the Light commands" is often heard or transcribed as "life" but the liner notes of the Error In The System LP (and the original German) confirm the word "light."

Also in 1983, Schilling's song was recorded by Plastic Bertrand, but with slightly altered lyrics, in which Major Tom prefers to stay away from Earth and its selfishness and danger of nuclear war.

Additionally from 1983, the song "Why Me?" by the Planet P Project, also about an astronaut, may be indirectly referencing Major Tom with the line, "The last man to leave here was never heard from again. He won't be back this way til 2010,"[3] though this more likely references the character David Bowman (note the similarity in names) in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who next reappears in 2010 (2010: Odyssey Two).

In 2010 "Major Tom" in fact was heard from once more as Earth Below Us created a modern version of the song.

Matthew Wilder's commercially unsuccessful 1984 title track "Bouncin' Off the Walls" does not name its main character but may continue Schilling's story of Major Tom burning up during atmospheric re-entry to Earth.[citation needed]

The 1986 hit single "Rain or Shine" by British pop group Five Star mentions Major Tom in its lyrics.

In 1995 Bowie's song "Hallo Spaceboy" was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys, with extra lyrics (sung by Neil Tennant) taken from "Space Oddity."

In "Mrs. Major Tom", released by the artist K.I.A. (on Neuphoria Recordings, 2002), the story is continued, but now told from the perspective of the wife left at home.

The introduction to "Cosmonaut" on Relationship of Command (2000) by At the Drive-In contains a "final message" from Major Tom before he dies in space. The message was commonly used to introduce Cosmonaut at live shows.

Major Tom has also had passing references in other songs, such as Def Leppard's "Rocket", The Tea Party's "Empty Glass", Cold's "Happens All The Time" and Marilyn Manson's "Apple of Sodom."

The lyrics "My mother said to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom" appear on the song "Cicatriz: Part III" on The Mars Volta's live album "Scabdates," quoting Bowie's song "Ashes to Ashes" from Scary Monsters.

Major Tom is mentioned in Fantastic 6[4] by Alphabeat in the lyrics "They have crash helmets on, Just like Major Tom."

Major Tom is briefly mentioned in punk band The Cab's song "Angel With A Shotgun".


There are multiple cover versions of the David Bowie songs mentioning Major Tom as well as Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)": In 1999 the band Helloween released a cover of "Space Oddity" on their album Metal Jukebox. A cover of "Space Oddity" also appears in the special edition edition of Space Metal, a collection of science-fiction and topically related songs, on the second disc. The American rock band I Hate Kate included a cover of "Major Tom (Coming Home)" by Peter Schilling on their CD Embrace The Curse. This cover does not include the verses after the second chorus, which includes the message from Major Tom. Colin Forsythe sang a cross-over mix of "Space Oddity" with "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" on his debut album, 2007's He's Just Not That Into You. In 2007 The Contact also created well-received a cover of "Major Tom (Coming Home)" on the album Canvas Tears. [1]

Singer Cat Power recorded a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" for use in a commercial for the 2009 Lincoln MKS. Later, The American band Shiny Toy Guns recorded a cover of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)" in 2009 for use in a commercial for the 2010 Lincoln MKZ.[5] It reached #36 on the iTunes Top 200 Songs chart, causing it to debut at #97 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cold recorded a cover in 1998 for their Oddity EP release.

Tears for Fears recorded a cover of "Ashes to Ashes" for "Ruby Trax", a 1992 collection of covers for NME Magazine.

Collide recorded a modern (but close to the original) version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in 2009 on their album These Eyes Before.

Blackened Death Metal band Behemoth covered "Hallo Spaceboy" in the Limited Edition Digipak release of Thelema.6 in 2000.

Early nineties rock band Saigon Kick also covered "Space Oddity" on their 1993 album Water.

Natalie Merchant covered "Space Oddity" during her Tiger Lily concert tour.

The New Zealand comedic folk duo Flight of the Conchords allude to the character in their 2008 tribute song "Bowie" where they place Bowie himself in space, and give him the rank of Lieutenant.

The Flying Pickets also made a (vocal) version of the song.

Animal puppeteer group "Fluff & Such" has created a puppet video version [6]

William Shatner released an album in 2011 entitled Seeking Major Tom, which included covers of "Space Oddity," Peter Schilling's "Major Tom," K.I.A's "Mrs. Major Tom," and Elton John's "Rocket Man." [7]

References in other media

There are several references to the character and the songs in the video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. A character otherwise known as Major Zero briefly used the codename Major Tom (although the character in-game describes his name as a reference to the movie The Great Escape). At one point in the game however, whilst Major Zero is using the Tom codename, calling him by codec causes Snake to recite the "Can you hear me Major Tom" section of lyrics from the song. An enemy boss known as The Fury was a former cosmonaut, and wears a protective uniform that resembles a space suit in battle. His final words upon his defeat are "I'm coming home.", a reference to Peter Schilling's song. The director of the game, Hideo Kojima, has mentioned these were intentional references, and originally planned to have "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes" play in the end credits of the game. Space exploration was intended to be one of the major themes early on during the development of the game, most of which was eclipsed in the final product, save for the prior mentioned Major Tom references and several lesser story elements.[citation needed]

Major Tom, and his partner 'The Action Man', are used as the names of two minor characters in the television program The Venture Bros. Major Tom (and later his ghost) play an important role in the episode "Ghosts of the Sargasso" where a flashback reveals he was killed in the crashlanding of an experimental rocketship). A large part of the dialogue in the flashback scene is taken from the lyrics of "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes". Also, it is later revealed that The Action Man had gone on to marry Major Tom's widow.

In the television show Chaotic, a character has the name Tom Majors, and his username in the show is MajorTom. In the American remake of the television show Life on Mars, in a twist, Gene Hunt in 1973 turns out to be astronaut 'Major Tom' Tyler – Sam's father – in the conclusion.

In the British television show Red Dwarf series VIII, prior to lifting off in a space craft, Cat is asked to identify himself and gives the name "Major Tom". In an episode of Animaniacs, Wakko Warner used part of the lyrics.

In the iOS game Astronut from developer The Iconfactory, there is an achievement called 'Major Tom'. The player has to quit mid-game 20 times to acquire this achievement.

In the TV sitcom Friends, "Space Oddity" is referenced in "The One Where Ross Can't Flirt", where Chandler is seen performing the opening lines on a home video, and also in "The One After Vegas", in which Joey sings it to Phoebe after they have argued with each other. In the film Mr. Deeds, "Space Oddity" is sung by Adam Sandler's character while on a helicopter ride travelling to New York City.

Illustrator Andrew Kolb has created a PDF illustrated children's book; a print version published by HarperCollins may appear in the future.[8]

In the TV drama series Breaking Bad during Season Four the leads find a recording of the character Gale (David Costabile) singing a camp karaoke version of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)."

See also


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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