David Bowie - Life on Mars? - 1971

David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" is a song that transcends mere musical composition, becoming an enduring symbol of the early 1970s music scene. It's a masterpiece of art rock, blending elements of pop, rock, and glam to create something entirely unique. This aiMOOC will delve into the song's creation, its lyrical themes, and its impact on music and culture.


"Life on Mars?" was released in 1971 on David Bowie's album "Hunky Dory." With its complex piano arrangement by Rick Wakeman and Bowie's cinematic lyrics, the song critiques the media landscape of its time while posing existential questions. Its enigmatic nature has captivated listeners and critics alike, leading to widespread acclaim and numerous interpretations.

The Making of "Life on Mars?"

The song was written by David Bowie, with contributions from pianist Rick Wakeman. Inspired by Frank Sinatra's "My Way," Bowie sought to create a song that matched its grandiose style but with a unique twist. The recording process highlighted Bowie's penchant for theatricality and experimentation, setting the stage for his later works.

Lyrical Themes

"Life on Mars?" touches on themes of alienation, disillusionment, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world. Its lyrics paint vivid pictures, juxtaposing mundane reality with fantastical imagery, and questioning the media's role in shaping our dreams and expectations.

Interactive Tasks

Quiz: Questions on the song

What inspired David Bowie to write "Life on Mars?" (Frank Sinatra's "My Way") (!The actual possibility of life on Mars) (!A science fiction movie he watched) (!A dream about space travel)

Who played the piano arrangement for "Life on Mars?" (Rick Wakeman) (!Elton John) (!Brian Eno) (!David Bowie himself)

In what year was "Life on Mars?" released? (1971) (!1969) (!1973) (!1975)

On which album is "Life on Mars?" featured? (Hunky Dory) (!Ziggy Stardust) (!Aladdin Sane) (!Diamond Dogs)

What themes does "Life on Mars?" address? (Alienation and disillusionment) (!Space exploration) (!Romantic love) (!Political unrest)

Quiz: Questions on the Performer

David Bowie is known as a pioneer in which music genre? (Glam rock) (!Country) (!Hip-hop) (!Classical music)

Besides music, what was one of Bowie's notable talents? (Acting) (!Painting) (!Dance) (!Cooking)

What is the real name of David Bowie? (David Robert Jones) (!David Edward Johnson) (!Robert David Smith) (!Edward Robert Bowie)

Which instrument is David Bowie famously known for playing? (Vocals and guitar) (!Drums) (!Bass guitar) (!Violin)

Which of the following albums is NOT by David Bowie? (The Dark Side of the Moon) (!Ziggy Stardust) (!Hunky Dory) (!Aladdin Sane)

Quiz: Questions on the lyrics

The lyrics of "Life on Mars?" were inspired by which song? (My Way by Frank Sinatra) (!Space Oddity by David Bowie) (!Rocket Man by Elton John) (!Starman by David Bowie)

Which of the following themes is NOT directly referenced in "Life on Mars?"? (Political unrest) (!Alienation) (!Disillusionment with media) (!Fantastical imagery)

What does Bowie critique in "Life on Mars?"? (The media landscape) (!The education system) (!The fashion industry) (!The food industry)

How does "Life on Mars?" contrast mundane reality? (By juxtaposing it with fantastical imagery) (!By ignoring it completely) (!By focusing solely on space exploration) (!By presenting a utopian vision of the future)

What question does "Life on Mars?" evoke regarding our dreams and expectations? (Their shaping by media) (!Their irrelevance in modern society) (!Their fulfillment through technology) (!Their suppression by governmental forces)


Song Title Life on Mars?
Release Year 1971
Album Hunky Dory
Piano Arrangement Rick Wakeman
Main Theme Alienation and disillusionment

Open Tasks


  1. Create a visual art piece: Inspired by the themes of "Life on Mars?", create a visual art piece that expresses your interpretation of the song's meaning.
  2. Write a poem: Write a poem that reflects on the concept of seeking meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe, drawing inspiration from "Life on Mars?".
  3. Research project: Research the early 1970s music scene and present how "Life on Mars?" fits into the broader context of that era.


  1. Analyze the lyrics: Perform a detailed analysis of "Life on Mars?" lyrics, discussing the themes of alienation and disillusionment.
  2. Compare and contrast: Compare "Life on Mars?" with another David Bowie song from the same period, focusing on thematic and musical differences.
  3. Presentation: Prepare a presentation on the impact of "Life on Mars?" on music and pop culture.


  1. Music cover: Create your own music cover of "Life on Mars?", focusing on maintaining the essence of the song while bringing your unique style.
  2. Video essay: Produce a video essay exploring the significance of "Life on Mars?" in David Bowie's career and its cultural impact.
  3. In-depth research paper: Write an in-depth research paper on the influence of glam rock on contemporary music, using "Life on Mars?" as a case study.

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