...that I didn't know until this week:
He sang an Italian version of Space Oddity, titled "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola," which literally translates as "Lonely Girl, Lonely Boy."
The original "Space Oddity" was Bowie's first hit song, and blew me away when it came out in 1969. The title was a play on the great Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and also tapped into the zeitgeist surrounding the US/Russia race to the moon. The lyrics, however, are not so much about space travel, but of isolation and hopelessness.
He became famous and I became an instant fan.
Getting back to the Italian version: According to the liner notes of the recent reissue of the album Space Oddity, Ivan Mogul had written the lyrics for a cover by the Italian group, Computers, and Bowie used those lyrics as well. But here's the funny part: The lyrics had nothing at all to do with the original song!
Tell me lonely boy where are you going,
Why so much pain?
(See Italian and translated English lyrics here.)
Bowie, not knowing the difference in the lyrics, learned them all phonetically and sang this version, not knowing the words portrayed a much more conventional story of love. (The liner notes conclude, though, that he "took it well.")
Mogul went on to write another Italian translation, recorded by I Giganti (The Giants) in 1970, which, after a truly spacey opening, breaks into beautiful multi-part harmony. I Giganti sings "Corri Uomo Corri" (Run Man Run).
To round out the European covers, a French version was recorded in 1971 by Gerard Palaprat, titled "Un Homme a Disparu Dans le Ciel" (A Man Who Fell From The Sky). That alternate title is interesting, as Bowie would star in a movie 5 years later titled "The Man Who Fell To Earth."
The song "Fill Your Heart" from Hunky Dory (1971) was written by Biff Rose and Paul Williams, and was originally recorded by Tiny Tim as the B-side to his hit "Tiptoe Through The Tulips." (And what a grand version that was! No irony intended.)
Over the 40-plus years of Bowie's career, very few of his songs have been what you would call "optimistic," as he tends to focus on existential themes of the human condition such as loneliness, mortality and angst. But the lyrics are fearlessly positive, which should've tipped me off. They begin:
Fill your heart with love today
Don't play the game of time
A real change of pace for a guy known for song titles like "The Man Who Sold The World," and "I'm Afraid of Americans" (me too, Dave!).
Well, here's the original in all it's glory. I love it:
The album it appeared on, The Thorn In Mrs. Rose's Side, is wonderful from first track to last, and if this song appeals to you, is worth checking out. It provides a nice little mood lift in between Bowie discs.