Why Tony Visconti refused to produce David Bowie’s 'Space Oddity' and called it a "cheap shot"

19 December 2023, 08:59

Producer Tony Visconti called David Bowie&squot;s classic 1969 hit &squot;Space Oddity&squot; a "cheap shot".
Producer Tony Visconti called David Bowie's classic 1969 hit 'Space Oddity' a "cheap shot". Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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It was David Bowie's breakthrough song.

When 'Space Oddity' arrived in 1969, it'd be no surprise if people thought the 'Starman' crash landed from space himself.

Of course, this pre-dated his Ziggy Stardust years, where David Bowie actually embodied a gender-bending, futurist alien character.

But the quirky, star-gazing, and at times solemn song indicated the chameleonic rocker's ambition when it came to storytelling in song.

'Space Oddity' introduced 'Major Tom' - who would reappear in 1980's 'Ashes To Ashes' - a character that would propel Bowie to the top of the UK charts, eventually.

Tony Visconti was frequently David Bowie's producer of choice, working together on a total of thirteen out of his 26 album releases.

The pair shared a uniquely creative relationship, and had the opportunity to produce 'Space Oddity', though down the opportunity.

In a new podcast, Visconti has revealed that despite knowing the song would be a hit, he called it a "cheap shot".

David Bowie - Space Oddity, Live, 1969

Appearing on The Bob Lefsetz Podcast recently, Visconti admitted: "When David played it to me, I said to him, 'I know what you're doing. There's a guy up in space now.'"

"NASA just put a guy in space in his tin can. I know what you mean by the tin can,'" Visconti explained. "I said, 'But it's a cheap shot. It's based on a special event.'"

"Everyone's saying it's a hit record," Bowie insisted. "I think it is a hit record," Visconti replied. "But I said, 'In good conscience, I can't go this route with you.'"

Visconti seemingly wasn't happy to jump on the 'Space Race' trend, with producing duties being handed to Gus Dudgeon instead.

David Bowie in 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
David Bowie in 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

Recorded in June 1969, the song was rush-released to coincide with the Apollo 11 Moon Landing which unfolded from 16th July to 24th July, just a month after.

Sticking to his principles at the time, Tony Visconti later confessed that he regretted not producing the Bowie classic.

"When I heard [the song], I changed my mind," Visconti admitted. "I said, 'Shit, I should have produced that record."

"But I don't think I could have done Gus's job. He threw the kitchen sink in it, and I wasn't yet a kitchen sink producer. It would have been a more subtle piece of work."

Producer Tony Visconti and David Bowie in the Trident studio in May 1970.
Producer Tony Visconti and David Bowie in the Trident studio in May 1970. Picture: Alamy

Though Visconti didn't want to be responsible for the production on 'Space Oddity', he did contribute flute and woodwinds to the recordings.

Gus Dudgeon couldn't believe his luck with Visconti - who was Bowie's producer of choice, not only in the beginning but throughout the majority of his career - declined his advances.

"In those days a gimmick was a big deal and people who had gimmicks were taken more seriously than those who hadn't," Dudgeon later recalled.

"Bowie’s was that he'd written a song about being in space at a time when the first US moonshot was about to take place. I listened to the demo and thought it was incredible. I couldn't believe that Tony didn’t want to do it."