The record

The sixth record in the Oddityviz series visualises the structure of Bowie's vocal line, showing repetition on the phrase and section level. Repeated phrases are linked by arcs and repeated sections are shown around the middle of the record.

Solid lines link vocal phrases that are repeated exactly, while dotted lines link sections that are recognisably repetitions of one another, but with a slight change the second or third time (modified repeats). We distinguish lyrical from musical or melodic repetition. An example of a repeated melody would be: ‘You’ve really made the grade’, ‘I’m stepping through the door’ and ‘I’m feeling very still’, which are all sung to the same tune. An example of a modified melodic repeat would be: ‘And I’m floating in a most peculiar way’ versus ‘And the stars look very different today’ – the beginning of the tune is the same, the ending is different.


An example of both lyrical and melodic repetition is found in the first two lines: ‘Ground Control to Major Tom / Ground Control to Major Tom’, which are carbon copies of each other.


Space Oddity has an unusual structure. In just over five minutes there are 14 sections. A long guitar intro fades in to start, then Bowie’s voice enters as Ground Control, briefing Major Tom as he sits in his spacecraft: ‘Take your protein pills and put your helmet on’. After a transitional liftoff section, there are two verses and only then, at ‘For here am I sitting in a tin can’, do we get something like a chorus – but it’s bittersweet, resigned. Space Oddity is one of the few songs in which the verses sound more like choruses and vice versa.

Individual vocal phrases are often repeated, but larger sections are not. In fact, the chorus is the only vocal section that is repeated exactly. As the song tells a story, so the lyrics and melody tend to develop and progress, rather than circling back over the same material.


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