As The Beatles continued to holiday in various exotic locations across the globe, an ambitious young striver was hard at work at Trident Studios in London today. After more than a year without a record deal, David Bowie had leveraged the buzz surrounding the upcoming moon landing to convince Philips/Mercury to fund an expensive recording session for his song “Space Oddity.” Now he was under the gun to make it happen quickly, so the record could be in stores when Apollo 11 took off on July 20.

Strange and downbeat, “Space Oddity” was hardly in tune with the sunny, can-do optimism of the moment, but did reflect the larger zeitgeist of 1969 — a country coming down from its trip, man. Mindful of the dissonance, the BBC superstitiously refused to play it until the astronauts had returned safely from the moon. Even then, “Space Oddity” was not an immediate hit; according to Chris O’Leary’s Rebel Rebel,

The single barely charted upon release and sales soon tapered off despite [Bowie manager Kenneth] Pitt paying a chart-rigger £140 to get the single into Record Retailer.

Here, it seemed, was the maddening last chapter of Bowie’s career. The song that his label, manager and friends thought was finally the one, the song he felt forced into recording, his big sell-out record, had suffered yet another chart death, performing little better than “Liza Jane.”1 Then he caught a break. With a dearth of new releases in September, Philips’ new marketing director set his entire staff to flogging the single and “Space Oddity” rebounded, peaking at #5 in November.

So in an odd twist of fate, we have the kindness of a marketing department to thank for the fact that David Bowie’s career ever got off the ground. Well, regardless of how it happened, it happened: A little crack appeared in the fabric of reality, and the unstoppable force known as Bowie was unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

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